- Do I remember my song?
- Where does my song come from?
- Am I willing to sing it?
A Hole in the Sky
(from the Colville Native American tradition)
In the time before humans were born, the critters and birds had a tough time of it. The sky was always gray, about to rain. There was never enough food to go around and not much comfort either. All day long everyone scratched out a living. They were missing something, but no one could figure out what that was. So, they got to feeling pretty grouchy. In the evening they’d come together to puzzle and fret over how bad their day was. Mine was bad. No, mine was badder. Don’t you know, mine was baddest of all.
Bears couldn’t muck out enough skunk cabbage roots. Black-tailed deer couldn’t quite stretch their necks enough to nibble those high willow shoots. Crows and flickers couldn’t find any ants or termites. Moles came out of the ground starving for bugs and worms. Then all the critters would go to sleep in a bad mood. This seemed likely to go on forever. How bad was your day? Oh, mine was worse. No, mine! NO, MINE WAS WORST OF ALL!
One evening a crow flew in a little late to the gathering. He started cawing and cawing, making a scene. They told him to pipe down.
“Caw, caw, this is big. I saw something.”
“You saw something? Is this one of your jokes?”
“No, something BIG! A hole in the sky, right up there. Look, go on, look!”
They all craned their necks, but the sky was getting dark.
The squirrel chirped at the gray clouds. “Looks like rain, I gotta scramble.”
“No,” the crow cawed. “Open your ears. Listen. Can’t you hear those beautiful sounds?”
The critters turned toward the sky. Even the mole, twisted upward and strained his back. “I don’t see. I don’t hear.” His ears were barely even there, and his eyes were tiny dots.
“Wait, wait.” The crow hopped around in the circle. “It’s so beautiful. Try to listen.”
They listened, and faint sounds came to them on the breeze, floating down from that hole between the clouds. The sounds faded, darkness was coming, and rain was beginning to fall. Everyone was too tired. They wandered off and crawled into their hovels, or fluttered up to their branches, and fell asleep.
Next day the crow was chasing the bald eagle from his crow territory. Then they stopped. Beautiful sounds came floating from that hole in the sky. That evening they told all the critters, and sounds floated down on the breeze. Everyone listened. Everyone wanted to hear more.
The eagle shook his feathers and strutted around. “If I can eat right I’ll get strong and fly up there and catch some of those sounds. I’ll bring them down.”
Everyone liked this plan, everyone but the rabbits and mice and moles. They scurried underground. But no worries. Bear brought a big salmon to Old Baldy. He was well-fed with salmon for a week. On the big day he flapped and flapped his wings to show off his muscles and fluffed up his back feathers. From a bush a little hermit thrush caught sight of all that fluffiness. He flew onto Old Baldy’s back. He liked it there, soft as a nest. And the big eagle couldn’t even feel him.
Old Baldy clamped down his back feathers and trapped the thrush inside. The eagle flew away, toward that hole in the sky. He circled high, higher and higher toward those beautiful sounds. But he couldn’t quite fly there. He swooped and tried to glide upward in circles. The air was too thin. His wings were heavy. He was too tired. He faltered downward.
As soon as he began to fall, his back feathers loosened and let go of the hermit thrush, who fluttered up. His little gray wings weren’t too tired. This air was not so thin for him. He flew right into that hole in the sky and swished through those beautiful vibrating sounds. In that moment he knew why he was born, for all those songs. Yes, they were songs! They made him feel like a chick, and like a chick he opened his mouth wide, WIDER. Beautiful sounds flooded in, making him felt light and happy. With them inside, he flew back down to the forest.
But the critters had gone home. Old Baldy brought them nothing. Here was little hermit thrush, alone, wanting to share the songs inside him. He found the bears, opened his tiny beak, coughed up some grumbles, and the bears got comfortable for once. He found the deer and opened his beak. They whistled in the willows, jumped and settled back asleep. To crows and flickers he sang chortles and pipings, and de-de-dee to the chickadees. He sang croaks to the frogs and squeaks to the mice. He almost missed the mole, who popped up from the dirt. Thrush opened his beak and hummed. The mole went underground to curl around his missus and hum in her ear. Hermit thrush gave out songs of all kinds in the world. But he saved the best for himself. Any afternoon you may hear him sing a trill, running high, higher, the way he remembers that hole in the sky.