Winner of 2017 Giller Prize

Winner of 2017 Giller Prize
Michael Redhill for his novel Bellevue Square

Friday, May 9, 2008

THE BEGINNING

By: Joy Asham

Nodin blew in the other day and we spent a while swapping stories. I was particularly interested finding out more about Water Spirits, as my family had several incidents of being “pulled” by Water.

Nodin said, there are many stories of people being attracted or magnetized to the water. Although he was not sure whether the old story he had heard was touched by post-European beliefs or not, he shared with me his Nation’s interpretation.

“When we all began,” he said, “we were living well, in harmony, but things began to change.” The Two-Leggeds began to take more than they needed. They lost respect for the land and their sisters and brothers, the animals. After a while of trying to work with us, even the Great Manitou lost faith in us and sent a flood to challenge us.

All the creatures as well as man, gathered on a large rock. This was all that was left of solid Earth. The Two-Leggeds had lost their way and had never been very good in the water in the first place. They could not breath under water as the fish, nor could they swim with sleek determination like the Otter. Everyone knew the Two-Leggeds could not solve the problem.

They had been told that the only solution was to dive down very very deep to the original face of Mother Earth now long submerged. A scoop of dirt from the very bottom was needed and if it could be brought back to surface and sprinkled on the Waters, there would be an answer.

All the water animals, save one, began to brag: “Oh, I can do that” the Beaver said, then, more loudly the Otter cried “No, I am the best swimmer” and then the weasel squealed and they kept challenging each other. Silent in the background was the Muskrat who only received his usual attention: he was often bullied by the others because he liked to be quiet and by himself and therefore no-one seemed to be able to recognize his good qualities.

The Otter won the argument and dove deep into the water. He had taken a very large breath and went down and down and down, his lungs becoming more burdened with every movement. Down he went and then he could not hold his breath any more: he drowned and floated to the surface. And with him all the other Otters died off.

Oh my, the Beaver said, I will do it! And jumped in with a big gasp of air. Down and down and down. His lungs could not stand it any more and with him, the Beaver died off.

The bragging animals went through this one by one till almost all who knew the water died off. The others were very worried: “what can we do now?” none of the rest of them could swim.

But they did not know that the quiet muskrat was still watching and had decided that he must also try, regardless of what others thought of him. Down and down he went. Down, down, down.

His lungs were bursting but still he went down. With his very last gasp he touched bottom, but it was too much for him and he also drowned.

The land animals saw him floating the next day in the waters. They were sad as they knew there would be no more Muskrats and that their last hope for land was gone. But, because he had been so brave, they managed to get him to shore and began a ceremony to say goodbye and thank him for his efforts as they had done with the other water animals. Just as they were placing him in the Sacred spot, they saw that there was something in his paw.

Opening it, they found a small clump of muddy earth from the very bottom of the waters. Taking this little bundle to the edge of the waters, they dispersed its granules across the glistening surface.

And there the Creator brought islands of earth forth, big islands, small islands, islands joined together to make large continents. And, because the Muskrat had been so unassuming yet so brave, he rekindled the Muskrat spirit so again we could learn from them.

In his great humility and wisdom, the Muskrat realized that it would be a very lonely world without other water animals and he asked the Creator to restore the others as well.

And thus the lowly Muskrat saved the world and his brothers and sisters.
Nodin is a good friend of mine. This is not his real name. Nodin also means “Northwind”.
Joy Asham is a free-lance writer, cultural activist, Storyteller and Storymaker. She can be reached at joyasham@gmail.com or by writing care of the Chronicle-Journal.

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