Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Where The Wolf Ran

As a small child some of the greatest words to hear came from my grandfather when he would say, "Usdi Duya (Little Bean) nvla (come)." There would be no telling where we would go or what we would do but you knew it would be something exciting. My heart would leap at the sound of those words.

It was June ("Dehaluyi"), the month of the green corn moon and I was busy tracking a trail of ants through the garden when I heard, "Usdi Duya nvla". By the time I reached the back door Grandfather had his old leather bag and was heading down the road. Catching up and out of breath I asked grandfather where we were going and he replied with one of his short one-word answers, "Equoni." My heart raced faster knowing we were going to the river.

The sun was sinking behind the trees by the time we reached the river bank. Grandfather began walking along the river's edge tying fishing lines to low hanging tree limbs. Seeing this I knew we were there for the night. The sun was gone by the time all the lines were secured and the hooks baited. Now grandfather sat down and pulled out a mason jar of sweet spearmint tea a refreshing treat for the long night ahead. As darkness came closer the noises changed from day light sounds to those of the night creatures. Now stretched out on the river bank we listened to the sounds as we gazed up into the night sky and watched the stars twinkle.

At each sound I would ask grandfather what made the noise. The sound of a fish ("atsadi" ) jumping, the croak of a bullfrog ("kannuna" ). "Close your eyes and see with your ears, grandfather said." See with your ears? "I don't understand, grandfather," ("Tlaigagoliga, edudi" ) I replied. Grandfather had a way of confusing me until I thought out the words. He did not answer, so I listened and saw with my ears. I "saw" the whippoorwill (tsgawalegwala), I "saw" the rabbit (tsisadu) moving towards the water, I "saw" the owl (wahuhi) as it flew lower in search of the rabbit. Opening my eyes I saw millions of stars moving across the sky. I knew that those stars made up the Milky Way.
"Grandfather how did the Milky Way come to be?" Pulling out some of grandmother's homemade bread from his bag, grandfather broke me off a piece and began a story that I remember to this day.

" Listen, Usdi Duya, once there were people in the southern part of the world that made corn meal. The women would pound the dried corn in a pounder with a large stick till it was a fine powder. They would work all day to make the powder and then store it in large kettles, pots, and bowls in a storehouse for the winter. After a few days of pounding the corn they began to notice that some of the kettles were not as full as they were supposed to be. It was being taken. They examined the ground around the storehouse and noticed tracks. They decided to hide and watch the next night to see who was stealing the corn meal.

Seven women decided to hide inside the storehouse. They crouched behind the large pottery kettles and waited. Well after midnight all the women had gone to sleep except one. She watched and waited in the darkness. Suddenly she heard a noise outside and then noticed a bluish glow like a bright moonlight. The light came closer to the storehouse. The woman crouched even further behind the kettles, afraid of what was coming toward her. She picked up a stick laying beside her. The door to the storehouse opened.

In walked a wolf with a strange glow around it. The wolf walked over to one of the kettles that was brimming with freshly made corn meal and began to eat. Suddenly the woman began to scream, waking the other women. They opened their eyes and noticed the wolf inside. They all jumped up and ran towards it. The woman with the stick began hitting it till it ran out of the storehouse. The wolf became so frightened that he jumped into the air and began flying in a wide circle back toward the north. As he flew drops of corn meal fell from his mouth. They glowed as the wolf did and so he left a trail that today we call the Milky Way.

I laid there thinking about this remarkable story as "edudi" silently slipped off into the night to check the lines. Sleep came upon me as I pictured the "waya" flying across the sky. A gentle touch to my forehead woke me as "edudi" stood there with his old leather bag over his shoulder and a large string of fresh catfish in his hand. "Where are we going, grandfather ?", I asked. As he walked off I heard him say in his quiet voice, "owenvsv "(home).

It was this childhood story that was the inspiration for this series of "Cherokee story bowls". "Where The Wolf Ran" ("Waya Tsunstanunyi") is the first in the series as I try to take the stories held in oral tradition and make them a living piece of Cherokee history. I hope you enjoy "reading" the bowl and sharing the story with others.

This gourd bowl measures 21 inches around with a diameter of 7 inches. The opening is 5 inches in diameter with a height of 4 1/2 inches.

It is decorated with blue beads and copper cones with Bluebird feathers. It tells the Cherokee story of how the Milky Way was made.

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  1. Great story! And great work on all of your wares. I think you are becoming quite good! I am proud to be called your friend! Love, Jer

  2. What a really neat story! Beautiful bowl!!

  3. BEAUTIFUL...Flowing image...the story comes alive with your words, the Bowl is alive. The Story and Bowl compliment each other and paint a whole picture...I can "see" it happening.

  4. What a wonderful way to capture a story! The bowl is gorgeous and the story with it makes it a true treasure! Be sure to print the story and send it to the buyer! Teri

  5. Van,
    You paint pictures with your words as surely as you do with your brush. I can see your grandfather, feel your excitement and hear the whippoorwill. Your stories and bowls go so well together. I'll look forward to the next one. (Oh and I'm glad to see the wolf has 4 legs!)

  6. What a wonderful story! And what a wonderful bowl. I agree with Teri that you should send it to the buyer as well. It's truly beautiful. And the next time I look up at the Milky Way, I'll be looking for the Wolf.

  7. You have such a way with words, it was like I was listening to you tell the story rather than reading it. Your bowls are beautiful works of art but are even more special now that I know the story behind them. Thanks for sharing.


  8. Wow is all I can say. What wonderful gifts you have! And look how far you have come.... your blog is awesome my friend!!

  9. A story for a saner time. Thank you.

  10. Wonderful story, wonderful work. More please.

  11. Incredible. The bowls are fantastic. Your writing is wonderful and the story is beautiful. Thank you.

  12. Beautiful Story, your memories come to life in your words, and the bowl you created to Honor these is incredible!
    Peace and blessings....