(from the Colville Native American tradition)
Long before humans were born on the earth all the animals felt pretty gray. The sky was always gray, and half the time about to rain. Food and shelter and comfort were scarce. There was never quite enough to go around.
All day long the animals got grouchier and grouchier. They were missing out on something, and no one could figure out what it was. At night they got together and fretted over how bad their day had been—Mine was bad—No, mine was badder—Don’t you know, mine was baddest of all.
Bears couldn’t find their skunk cabbage. Black-tailed deer couldn’t quite reach those willow shoots to nibble. Termites weren’t giving themselves up to crows and flickers. And moles broke ground and came up for air just starving for worms. Then they’d all go to bed in a bad mood. This went on forever. Or it seemed like forever. How bad was your day? Oh, mine was worse. No, mine! NO, MINE!
About halfway to forever they were getting so tired of this. But one evening a crow flew in late to the gathering. No one saw him, but he began to caw and make a frantic scene. They were irritated and told him to pipe down.
“No, no, this is big. I saw something.”
“Something? You saw something? Is this a joke?”
“No, something BIG! A hole in the sky, right up there.”
They all craned their necks but the sky was getting dark.
“Looks like rain,” the squirrel chirped. “I gotta scramble.”
“No, no, it’s up there,” cawed the crow. “Can’t you hear the beautiful sounds?”
They all peered up and cocked their ears. Even the mole squinted all around. “I don’t see. I don’t hear.” His ears were a little too tiny.
“Wait,” cawed the crow. “It’s all so beautiful. Listen, try to listen.”
They all listened. And the faintest sounds came on the breeze, floating from that hole up there. But they faded out and everyone was too tired to listen anymore. They fluttered along to their branches and crawled into their hovels, and fell fast asleep.
Next day the crow and the red-tailed hawk saw that hole was still up there in the sky. They heard those beautiful and that evening they told the others, and as they talked the sounds floated down on the breeze. Everyone listened. They all wanted to hear more.
Red-tail shook his feathers and strutted around. “If I get some exercise and plenty to eat I’ll get strong enough to fly up there and catch some of those sounds. I’ll bring them down.”
They all liked this plan—all but the rabbits and mice and moles, who scurried underground. Those critters didn’t need to worry. The biggest bear offered to bring coyote meat to the hawk, who was well-fed for a week and built up his flight muscles.
Frogs croaked in the marshes. Birds chattered in the branches. The hawk straightened his red tail and fluffed up his back feathers. A robin saw all that fluffiness and flew down on the hawk’s back. The robin liked it there, soft as a robin’s nest. And red-tail didn’t even feel him.
The hawk clamped down his back feathers and trapped the robin inside. Red-tail didn’t know he had a passenger. He flew away into the sky, up toward that hole where the beautiful sounds were. He circled higher, circled higher and higher. But he couldn’t quite fly there. He swooped around and tried again. But no, the air was too thin. His muscles ran out of strength. He was too heavy. So he had to fall back down to the forest where the animals were waiting.
As soon as he started to fall, his back feathers loosened and the little robin was let go. The robin wasn’t too heavy or out of strength. This air wasn’t too thin for him. He flew right up into that hole in the sky where all those beautiful sounds were.
He fluttered through those vibrant sounds. They made him feel like a chick again, and like a chick he opened his mouth wide, and even WIDER. Beautiful sounds flooded in and kept flooding in, so that he felt light and happy. With them inside, he dove back down to the forest.
But all the animals were gone. That big hawk had brought back nothing. No beautiful sounds, only bitter defeat. They all went home. Here was the robin wanting to share the beauty inside him. So he found bears and gave them big grumbly sounds. He flew to the deer and gave them sniffing and squealing sounds. To crows, flickers, frogs, mice and little chickadees he gave out spinning, harping, blabbering and even peeping sounds. The mole, deep in his hole, got no sound at all, unless a grunt could be called a sound.
But robin redbreast kept for himself the very best of the sounds. On a lazy afternoon he’ll sing out a trill on the air, running up high—and higher—the way he remembers from the hole in the sky.