In the Time That Was
by James Frederic Thorne
In the Time
In the Time That Was
And There Was Light.
Zachook of the Chilkats told me these tales of The Time That Was.
But before the telling, he of the Northland and I of the Southland had
travelled many a mile with dog-team, snowshoes, and canoe.
If the stories suffer in the telling, as suffer they must afar from
that wondrous Alaskan background of mountain and forest, glacier and
river, wrenched from the setting of campfires and trail, and divorced
from the soft gutturals and halting throat notes in which they have
been handed down from generation to generation of Chilkat and Chilkoot,
blame not Zachook, who told them to me, and forbear to blame me who
tell them to you as best I may in this stiff English tongue. They were
many months in the telling and many weary miles have I had to carry
them in my memory pack.
* * * * *
I had lost count of the hours, lost count of the days that at best
are marked by little change between darkness and dawn in the Northland
winter, until I knew not how long I had lain there in my blanket of
snow, waiting for the lingering feet of that dawdler, Death, to put an
end to my sufferings.
Some hours, or days, or years before I had been pushing along the
trail to the coast, thinking little where I placed my feet and much of
the eating that lay at Dalton Post House; and of other things thousands
of miles from this bleak waste, where men exist in the hope of ultimate
living, with kaleidoscope death by their side; other things that had to
do with women's faces, bills of fare from which bacon and beans were
rigidly excluded, and comforts of the flesh that some day I again might
Then, as if to mock me, teach me the folly of allowing even my
thoughts to wander from her cold face, the Northland meted swift
punishment. The packed snow of the trail beneath my feet gave way,
there was a sharp click of steel meeting steel, and a shooting pain
that ran from heel to head. For a moment I was sick and giddy from the
shock and sudden pain, then, loosening the pack from my shoulders, fell
to digging the snow with my mittened hands away from what, even before
I uncovered it, I knew to be a bear trap that had bitten deep into my
ankle and held it in vise clutch. Roundly I cursed at the worse than
fool who had set bear trap in man trail, as I tore and tugged to free
myself. As well might I have tried to wrench apart the jaws of its
Weakened at last by my efforts and the excruciating pain I lay back
upon the snow. A short rest, and again I pulled feebly at the steel
teeth, until my hands were bleeding and my brain swirling.
How long I struggled blindly, viciously, like a trapped beaver, I do
not know, though I have an indistinct memory of reaching for my knife
to emulate his sometime method of escape. But with the first flakes of
falling snow came a delicious, contentful langour, deadening the pain,
soothing the weariness of my muscles, calming the tempest of my
thoughts and fears, and lulling me gently to sleep to the music of an
old song crooned by the breeze among the trees.
When I awoke it was with that queer feeling of foreign surroundings
we sometimes experience, and the snow, the forest, the pain in my leg,
my own being, were as strange as the crackling fire, the warm blanket
that wrapped me, and the Indian who bent over me smiling into my half
So were our trails joined and made one; Zachook of the Northland,
and I of the Southland, by him later called Kitchakahaech, because my
tongue moved as moved our feet on the trail, unceasingly. And because
of this same love of speech in me, and the limp I bore for memory of
the bear trap, for these and possibly other reasons, and that a man
must have a family to bear his sins, of the Raven was I christened by
Zachook, the Bear, and to the family of the Raven was I joined.
Orator among his people though he was, Zachook was no spendthrift of
speech. But surly he never was; his silence was a pleasant silence, a
companionable interchange of unspoken thoughts. Nor did he need words
as I needed them, his eyes, his hands, his wordless lips could convey
whole volumes of meaning, with lights and shades beyond the power that
prisons thought. Not often did he speak at length, even to me, unless,
as it came to be, he was moved by some hap or mishap of camp or trail
to tell of the doings of that arch rascal, Yaeethl, the raven, God,
Bird, and Scamp. And when, sitting over the fire, or with steering
paddle in hand, he did open the gates that lead to the land of legend,
he seemed but to listen and repeat the words of Kahn, the fire spirit,
who stands between the Northland and death, or of Klingat-on-ootke, God
of the Waters, whose words seemed to glisten on the dripping paddle.
So it was upon an evening in the time when we had come to be as sons
of the same mother, when we shared pack and blanket and grub alike, and
were known, each to the other, for the men we were. We had finished our
supper of salmon baked in the coals, crisply fried young grouse and the
omnipresent sourdough bread, and with the content that comes of well
filled stomachs were seated with the fire between us, Zachook studying
the glowing embers, I with that friend of solitude, my pipe, murmuring
peacefully in response to my puffing.
As usual, I had been talking, and my words had run upon the trail of
the raven, whose hoarse call floated up to us from the river. Idly I
had spoken, and disparagingly, until Zachook half smilingly, half
He who fires in the air without aim may hit a friend.
And as I relapsed into silence added: It is time, Kitchakahaech,
that you heard of the head of your family, this same Yaeethl, the
raven. Then will you have other words for him, though, when you have
heard, it will be for you to speak them as a friend speaks or as an
enemy. Of both has Yaeethl many.
I accepted the rebuke in silence, for Zachook's trail was longer
then mine by many years, and he had seen and done things which were yet
as thoughts with me.
For the time of the smoking and refilling of my pipe Zachook was
silent, then with eyes gazing deep into the fire, began:
Before there was a North or South, when Time was not,
Klingatona-Kla, the Earth Mother, was blind, and all the world
was dark. No man had seen the sun, moon, or stars, for they
were kept hidden by Yakootsekaya-ka, the Wise Man. Locked in a
great chest were they, in a chest that stood in the corner of
the lodge of the Wise Man, in Tskekowani, the place that
always was and ever will be. Carefully were they guarded, many
locks had the chest, curious, secret locks, beyond the fingers
of a thief. To outwit the cunning of Yaeethl were the locks
made. Yaeethl the God, Yaeethl the Raven, Yaeethl the Great
Thief, of whom the Wise Man was most afraid.
The Earth Mother needed light that her eyes might be opened,
that she might bear children and escape the disgrace of her
barrenness. To Yaeethl the Clever, Yaeethl the Cunning, went
Klingatona-Kla, weeping, and of the Raven begged aid. And
Yaeethl took pity on her and promised that she should have
Kayah, the Light, to father her children.
Many times had Yaeethl, because of his promise, tried to
steal the Worlds of Light, and as many times had he failed.
But with each attempt his desire grew, grew until it filled
his belly and his brain.
Was he not Yaeethl, the Great White Raven, the Father of
Thieves? What if the Wise Man put new and heavier locks upon
the chest after each attempt? Were locks greater than the
cunning of the Raven?
Now Yakootsekaya-ka, the Wise Man, and his wife had a
daughter. Of their marriage was she, a young girl, beautiful
and good. No man had ever seen her face. On no one, god or
man, had the eyes of the young girl ever rested, save only her
father and mother, the Wise Ones. Ye-see-et, a virgin, was
Yaeethl, of his wisdom knowing that the weakness of men is
the strength of children, that a babe may enter where a
warrior may not cast his shadow, bethought him of this virgin,
this daughter of Yakootsekaya-ka. As the thought and its
children made camp in his brain Yaeethl spread wide his
Thrice he circled high in air, then took flight towards
Tskekowani, the meeting place of Memory and Hope. Like Chunet,
the Arrow, he flew, straight, and as Heen, the River, swift.
Twice ten moons, and another, flew Yaeethl without rest of
wing before he drew near the cabin of the Wise Man. Away from
the lodge he alighted, by the edge of the spring were his
white wings folded, by the spring where the daughter of the
Wise Man would come for water.
Then, with the power that was his, Yaeethl, the God, changed
the shape that was his, the shape of the raven; into a small
white pebble did he change, and lay in the water of the
spring, and in the water waited for the coming of the girl.
Long waited Yaeethl, the Pebble, with the patience of wisdom
and great desire. And the girl came.
Beautiful in her maidenhood, graceful in the dawning of her
womanhood, came the girl, the virgin, the daughter of
Yakootsekaya-ka, the Keeper of the Worlds of Light. Stooping,
she dipped her cup into the cool water. From the edge of the
spring rolled Yaeethl, into the cup he rolled, and lay quiet
in the shadow of her hand. Quiet he lay, but full of the Great
And the girl saw him not.
To the lodge returned the maiden, bearing the cup, the water,
and the Pebble. Into the lodge entered the maiden. In the
lodge where lay the Sun, Moon, and Stars, was Yaeethl.
From the cup the Wise Man drank, but Yaeethl moved not. From
the cup the Mother drank, and Yaeethl was motionless. When the
Daughter raised the cup to her lips, toward her lips rolled
Yaeethl. Softly he rolled, but the Mother, ever careful, heard
the sound of the pebble on the cup-side, and the keen eyes of
the Father saw the white pebble shine.
'Do not drink, Daughter,' said the Wise Man, laying his hand
on the maiden's arm. 'Small things sometimes contain great
evils. A white pebble it may be, and only a white pebble.
Yaeethl it may be, Yaeethl the Raven, Yaeethl the Father of
Then the Mother took the cup and out through the door cast
the water. Through the door cast the pebble. And when the door
of the lodge was closed behind him Yaeethl, the Disappointed,
once more took his own form, the shape of the raven, white of
wing and white of feather.
Back to earth flew Yaeethl, angry, ashamed, but more than
ever filled with a great longing for the Worlds of Light that
lay locked in the chest of the Wise Man.
Klingatona-Kla, Earth Mother, wept long and sore when
empty-handed returned Yaeethl, loud she wailed, making sure
she must remain forever dark and barren. But Yaeethl, the
Undaunted, comforted her with strong words, and renewed his
promise that the Light should be given her in marriage, and
her disgrace forgotten in many children, children should she
have as the shore has sand.
Though he had flown as speeds Hoon, the North Wind, the going
and coming of Yaeethl had eaten three winters and two summers.
Awhile he rested in the lap of Klingatona-Kla, for the winter
he rested, but with the coming of the spring, he spread again
his wings and took flight towards the lodge of the Wise Man,
towards the Great Desire. Mightily he flew, and swift, for
though the dead make the journey between the opening and the
closing of an eye, for the living it is a long trail.
When again he alighted, wing weary, by the spring where the
daughter of Yakootsekaya-ka drew water, Yaeethl remembered the
shape and whiteness that had betrayed him, remembered the
traitor Pebble, and from the memory gathered wisdom.
Close to his side folded he the wings of whiteness, beneath
his feathers tucked head and feet, and grew small. Small and
yet smaller he grew, as melts ice before the fire, and when
the shrinking was ended he had taken upon himself the form of
Thlay-oo, the sand grain. As Thlay-oo, the Little, he waited.
As Thlay-oo, the Invisible, watched Yaeethl for the coming of
the maiden. Waited as does the bear for the coming of Takeete,
the After Winter. Watched as does the lynx for the young
And as before came the girl, cup in hand, innocent in her
maidenhood, wise in her womanhood, in both beautiful.
Gracefully she stooped and filled the cup with the water of
the spring. Into the cup floated Yaeethl in the shape of
Thlay-oo. In the spring water he sank and lay against the
bottom of the cup. Small was Yaeethl, but big with desire for
what was within the chest of the Wise Man.
Then the lodge door opened and received the maiden and the
cup, received Yaeethl the Grain of Sand, Yaeethl the Raven.
To Yakootsekaya-ka, her father, the girl gave the cup, and
the Wise Man drank of the water. Drank, but saw not Yaeethl,
the Invisible. To the wife, her mother, the maiden gave the
cup, and of the water the Mother drank. Drank, but heard not
Yaeethl, the Still. Then the maiden, Ye-see-et, the Virgin,
daughter of Yakootsekaya-ka, the Keeper of the Sun, Moon, and
Stars, lifted the cup to her lips.
The Mother spoke not. The Father moved not. The Daughter
Past the red of her lips, by the white of her teeth, down the
throat of the girl rolled the grain of sand. Rolled until it
lay close under her heart, and paused. Under the heart of the
maiden lay Yaeethl, waited Yaeethl, grew Yaeethl. Warmed by
the heart of the maiden Yaeethl grew.
And time passed.
Then the mother of the maiden, looking upon her daughter,
became troubled in her mind. Troubled was the mind of the
Mother, but silent her tongue.
And time passed.
Again the Mother looked upon her daughter, and looking, spoke
to the Wise Man, her husband, of the thought that was hers.
Spoke she of the troubled thought concerning the maiden, their
When the Mother's thought was the thought of the Father his
heart was filled with anger at his daughter for the disgrace
she would bring upon his name. Angrily he questioned her, that
he might revenge himself upon the thief of her innocence. But
the girl looked into the eyes of her father and denied both
thief and theft. No man had she seen save him, her father. Of
the cause of The Thought that troubled them was she ignorant,
and as innocent as ignorant. And the truth shone from her eyes
as she spoke, straight was her tongue. Empty of shame was her
And the Mother, looking into the eyes of her daughter,
believed. And after a time was the Wise Man convinced. Yet
troubled were they and lost upon the trail of thoughts. Tender
had they always been of their daughter. Ten times as gentle
were they now, for Yaeethl lay big under the heart of the
girl, though they knew him not, and of their love was she in
And time passed.
Then upon the maiden came Kod-se-tee, the Woman Pain, and
Yaeethl entered the lodge.
Yaeethl whom they knew not, Yaeethl the Boy in the maiden's
arms. Tokanay, the Baby, they called him, with love-light in
their eyes they named him. Strong and large grew he quickly.
So quickly grew he that the maiden and her mother were in a
valley between the mountain of pride and the mountain of
wonder. And in the Wise Man's heart flowed a great river of
love for Tokanay the Beautiful, Tokanay the Swift Growing. In
the hands of the Boy were the three hearts held. Their eyes
and their thoughts were filled with him, so that room for
other things there was not. So was the locked chest and its
Then on a day, a day of days to the Three, the Boy spoke his
Kakoon, the Sun, was the word, and 'Kakoon, Kakoon, Kakoon,'
said the boy, crying and stretching his arms toward the chest
in the corner of the lodge.
The Wise Man listened and laughing said: 'He would take my
place as Keeper of the Worlds of Light.' Then because his
heart was so soft with love that he could refuse the Boy
nothing, Yakootsekaya-ka undid the many curious locks and
fastenings of the great chest and took out the Sun.
Kakoon, the Sun, he took and gave it to the Boy wherewith to
play. And the Boy ceased his crying when the Sun was in his
hands, laughing as he rolled the Yellow World about the floor
of the lodge. All day did the Three watch him with loving
On the next day the Sun lay in a corner of the lodge,
unheeded by the Boy. A new word had he learned:
Dis-s, the Moon, was the second word, and as before, 'Dis-s,
Dis-s,' cried the Boy.
Proudly and lovingly the Wise Man laughed, saying: 'Surely is
he eager to take my place.' And from the moving of the love in
his heart that answered to the cry of the Boy as arrow to
bowstring, Yakootsekaya-ka unfastened the strong and heavy
locks of the chest and into the hands of the Boy gave the Moon
for plaything. Of Dis-s, the Moon, made he plaything for the
Boy. And for that day were the Boy's cries hushed as he spun
and tumbled the White World on the lodge floor. And his
laughter was music to the ears of the Three.
But the next day the Moon lay with the Sun. In the corner
they lay and the Boy looked not at them. Another word was his
cry, a new word.
Takhonaha, the Stars, was the cry of the Boy, and again, to
comfort him, the Wise Man opened the great chest, and from it
poured the Stars into the lap of the Boy, poured the chest
empty of the Worlds of Light. And the Boy laughed loud.
Laughed until the Wise Man, the Wife, and the Maiden, his
mother, laughed that he laughed, as he dripped the bright
stars through his fingers, dripped the waterfall of stars.
Then the Wise Man questioned as he laughed: 'What shall he cry
for tomorrow? And what shall we give him, the Unsatisfied, now
that the chest is empty?'
And the Boy laughed.
Night came, and the Wise Man, and his Wife, and the
Maiden-Mother, their daughter, slept. With Tokanay, the Baby,
in the hollow of her arm slept the girl.
As they slept, from the hollow of the arm of the maiden there
crept a raven, Yaeethl the Raven, Yaeethl the Snow-White,
Yaeethl the Father of Thieves.
Softly crept he, with many times turned head and watchful eye
on the Three, sleeping. To the corner where the Boy, careless,
had dropped the Shining Worlds, to the corner by the open,
empty chest crept Yaeethl the Noiseless.
And the Three slept.
Beneath his right wing hid Yaeethl the Sun. Beneath his left
wing hid he the Moon. Within his claws gathered he the Stars.
Asleep were the Three.
The lodge door was closed, locked was the door of
Yakootsekaya-ka, Keeper of the Worlds of Light. Fastened tight
were the windows. Barred were door and windows to keep out
Yaeethl, the Thief. For a moment stood Yaeethl, turning his
head to find some hole through which he might escape, then
toward the wide chimney he flew.
Still slept the Three.
Wide spread were the wings of Yaeethl, the Flying, and the
great light of the Sun was uncovered. Brightly it shone,
straight into the eyes of the Wise Man gleamed the fierce
Awake was Yakootsekaya-ka, crying: 'Yaeethl! Yaeethl! 'Tis
Awake was the Wife and the Daughter, and the Three strove to
catch the Raven, the White One. But the great light of the Sun
was in their eyes and they were blinded so they fell in each
other's way. And in the throat of the chimney was Yaeethl,
Then did the Wise Man call upon Kahn, his sister's son, Kahn,
the God of Fire, to aid him. Up blazed Kahn and tried to catch
Yaeethl, the Fleeing, in his red teeth, but near the top of
the chimney was Yaeethl, so that the teeth of Kahn could not
Then Kahn called upon the Wise Man to blow, and the Wise Man
puffed out his cheeks and blew with full lungs, and by his
blowing Kahn stretched high his long black arms and tightly
curled them about the White Raven.
Then did Yaeethl, the Strong of Wing, struggle mightily.
Against Kahn, the Fire God, did he struggle, beating with his
white wings. Long did they struggle, until from the lungs of
the Wise Man was the breath gone, and the arms of the Fire
God, the smoke arms, grew thin and weak.
With his wings beat Yaeethl, breaking the hold of the smoke
arms, Yaeethl the Free, Yaeethl the Ever Black One.
Forever were the wings and feathers of the Raven blackened by
the smoke arms of Kahn, the God of Fire.
Back toward Klingatona-Kla, the Earth Mother, the Barren,
flew Yaeethl holding tight the Sun, Moon, and Stars. But after
him came the Wise Man, full of anger. And the Shining Worlds
grew heavy. Heavy was the pack of Yaeethl, and weary his
wings. Afar off was Klingatona-Kla.
Then did Yaeethl, the Pursued, Yaeethl the Heavy Laden, cast
from him Kakoon, the Sun. To the east threw he the Sun, and
Again did the Wise Man come close behind, and again did
Yaeethl ease his burden. From him threw he Dis-s, the Moon. To
the West cast he the Moon.
Then was Yakootsekaya-ka left behind for a time, but the
Raven weary and burdened, flew slowly, and once again he felt
the breath of the Wise Man ruffle his feathers. No time had
Yaeethl to stop, on nothing could he rest.
Opened he his claws and scattered wide the Stars. To North
and South fell Takhonaha, the Stars, to East and West fell
Then was the promise of Yaeethl fulfilled. Thus kept he his
word to the Earth Mother, and gave her light, that she might
see. Gave her Kayah, the Light, to father her children and
wipe out the disgrace of her barrenness. And the children of
Klingatona-Kla were as the sands of the sea.
But upon Yaeethl, the Raven, had fallen the curses of the
Wise Man. Three curses: Blackness, Hoarseness, and the Keeping
of One Shape. And as his feathers were blackened, so,
thereafter, was his heart darkened with eternal selfishness.
I was silent. My pipe had gone out, and Zachook was bent low over
the dying fire. I was thinking of another story of a Child who had
given Light to the World, and suffered for the bringing.
The Water Carrier
When You Give a Potlach, Forget Not He Who Carries the Water.
Thank Yaeethl for that, said Zachook as I rose with dripping beard
from the stream where I had drunk deep, with many sighs of satisfaction
and relief. His pack is not heavy with thanks of men these days.
Thank the Raven? For what?
The starving man asks not the name of the owner of the cache, but
his heart is filled with gratitude.
That may be, but no cache of Yaeethl's is in this stream.
The ignorant deny all they cannot see.
Wise sayings feed neither fire nor belly, I retorted, provoked by
the criticism of my companion, thinly veiled behind his customary
proverbs, and attempting to pay him in his own coin from my slender
store of Klingat adages. 'Only a beggar gives thanks.' Is it not your
teaching that he who gives in this world receives the benefit, since in
Tskekowani his possessions shall be as his gifts here? If Yaeethl
wants my thanks, if they are the due of the Raven, he has them, but why
or for what I know not. Your words are like the ice of a windy day,
rough and cloudy.
 The next world.
You are right, Cousin. I forget at times that you are only a white
man. Let me touch thy ear with my tongue.
Cha-auk. In the Time before Time, there was no water upon the
earth or in the bowl of the sea, and Shanagoose the Sky gave neither
rain nor snow.
 Ages ago.
In one place only was Heen, the water. In a deep well it was, the
father of wells, hidden among the mountains that lie between here and
To Heenhadowa, the Thirst Spirit, belonged the well, by Heenhadowa
was it guarded. By the door of the well-house sat he by day, in front
of the well-house door was his bed by night. And none might enter.
Never did he leave the well, morning, noon or night. From the water
he took life, to the water he gave life. To no man, woman, or child, to
neither animal nor bird, to nothing that walks, creeps, or flies would
Heenhadowa give of the precious water. Not so much as would moisten the
tongue of Ta-ka the Mosquito would he give, though men died.
To quench their thirst men chewed the roots of young trees and the
stalk of Yan-a-ate.
 Species of wild celery.
A few men there were, brave of heart and moose-legged, who had
travelled the weary journey to the well among the mountains, the
mountains marked with the trail of Oonah, the Gray One, Death, seeking
the water that is life.
And of them?
Is it not well said that Oonah, Death, and Koo-stay, Life, are
brothers, and he who seeks one finds the other?
And Heenhadowa laughed, first at their black lips, later at their
white bones, and drank deep but gave not.
Now Yaeethl, the Raven, Desirer of All Things, longed most for
those that were forbidden, concealed, or like the favor of women, not
to be had for the asking. And since the water was denied, his tongue
ached with dryness, and Yan-a-ate lost its savor. Also was his heart
moved by the prayers of men and the cries of women. But his tongue
troubled him more than did his heart, his tongue and his cupidity, so
that he was moved to try his cunning where the strength and bravery of
men had failed.
No crooked trail through forests and over mountains had Yaeethl to
measure with his feet, but on his wings of blackness was he borne
straight to the place of the well.
Well and well-house he found, found also Heenhadowa, watchful,
moving not from his place. As one greets an old friend new found spoke
Yaeethl to the Thirst Spirit. With smooth tongue and soft words spoke
the Raven, claiming kinship through the cousin of his grandmother's
grandmother. Said also that when he left his father's country he was
bidden seek that old and true friend of the family, Heenhadowa the
Wise, the Generous Giver of Water. As bidden, so had he obeyed and
flown straight without halt or rest to bow before his mighty relative,
and taste of his wonderful well, the like of which not even his father
had, who possessed all things.
But the Maker of Thirst laughed at the Raven and mocked him,
bidding him, if he would drink, find or dig a well of his own.
Again Yaeethl recounted their connected lineage, from mother to
mother's mother, from family to family and tribe to tribe, tied with
proof and argument, lashed with meek bows, and smoothed with soft
Heenhadowa laughed scornfully, cast from him the claim of
cousinship, and mocked at Yaeethl's tongue, dry from the dust of many
Then Yaeethl drew about him the parka of anger and answered scorn
with scorn, mockery with mockery, and laughter with laughter.
In his father's country, said Yaeethl, they gave the name of
Heenhadowa to mangy dogs and unclean women. Glad was the heart of
Yaeethl that the Thirst Spirit denied the relationship he had laid as a
snare, the denial would make his father proud. As for the well, 'twas
now known to the most stupid, even to men, that it was but an empty
hole in the ground, covered by the well-house to hide the dryness
thereof, and no deeper than Kaelt-tay, the Seagull, scratches in the
sand for nesting.
Laughed Heenhadowa again, saying that belief or unbelief of Raven
or man lessened not his treasure by a drop.
Then Yaeethl's words flared as firesparks. Hot words of evil
sounding names, vile as only the brain of Yaeethl could fashion, taunts
that bit and stung festeringly like the nettles of Sech-ut, names
that would disgrace the family of a Siwash, callings that would make
even a squaw-man hang his head in shame. Can I say more of the
bitterness of the tongue of Yaeethl?
 Devil's Club.
To battle Yaeethl challenged the Thirst Spirit: 'Come forth and
meet me, you fatherless son of a shameless mother, littering of a
'Come with me to the plain below and I will make of thy blood
another well, for another of thy family of dogs to guard.'
Flatteries and arguments, insults and challenges fell into the same
echoless hole, bringing to Yaeethl only the laughter of Heenhadowa and
increase of thirst.
Then was the heart of Yaeethl heavy within him, but not so heavy as
his face said, for it is not the way of the Raven to eat quickly of
discouragement, though he turned and left the well and its guardian
like a gambler who has lost his last blanket.
Not far did he go. Only so far as to be hidden from the eyes of
Heenhadowa, where silence might mother the children of his brain. And
since the brain of the Raven is full of the seeds of cunning a plan was
Back toward the well flew Yaeethl, but, since he who sees the tail
of a lone wolf imagines the whole pack, he alighted at a distance where
the eyes of Heenhadowa saw as one sees in a fog. A space the size a man
uses for his lodge he cleared of all bushes and weeds, to the smallest
blade of grass he cleared it of everything that grew.
When the space was as the palm of a man's hand the Raven spread his
wings until every feather showed and, first bowing low to Hoon-nach,
Yunda-haech, Sa-nach, and Deckta-haech, who guard the four corners
of the earth, walked slowly around the sides three times, at every
third step stopping and making strange motions and stranger sounds, as
does an Icht when he would drive the evil spirits away.
 North, East, South and West.
 Witch Doctor.
From each corner he took a stone and spat upon it and cast it over
his shoulder, and in the dust drew the shapes of animals like unto
rolled deer-thongs, animals with two tongues such as no man has seen
 Snakes are unknown in Alaska.
To the space Yaeethl dragged logs and laid them end across end and
bottom on top. As each tier was laid he sang words in a strange
language, and as he sang, spat upon and cast pebbles over his shoulder
But toward Heenhadowa were the eyes and tongue of Yaeethl the eyes
of the blind and the tongue of the dumb. Busily he worked and loudly
sang his charms, but to the Thirst Spirit he gave neither look nor
On Yaeethl were the eyes of Heenhadowa fastened, strained were his
eyes, watching the doings of the Raven, wide his ears to catch the
words of the songs and charms.
When the roof was on and the house finished to the last piece of
moss between the logs, Yaeethl again circled it three times, bowed
again to the guardians of the earth's ends, and without looking behind,
entered the lodge and closed the door.
Curiosity filled eyes and ears, heart and belly of Heenhadowa.
Though he had lived since the Beginning, never before had he seen what
that day he had seen, never had his ears been greeted with such words
And to Heenhadowa the inside of the lodge was the pack, as was the
outside the lone wolf tail.
Even so had Yaeethl planned, nor was that the end of the cunning of
the Raven, who knew that no door can bar the going in of curiosity.
Long sat Heenhadowa before the door of his well-house, gazing at
the lodge of Yaeethl. And the longer he sat and the longer he gazed the
keener grew his desire to see what was hidden from his eyes by the
walls and closed door, grew until it tortured him as the thirsty are
tortured, beyond endurance.
And Heenhadowa rose from his seat by the well.
From the place where he had sat for ages rose the Thirst Spirit and
stepped softly. Toward the closed door he moved as moves one who is
pulled at the end of a thong, for the fear of the unknown was upon him.
But stronger than his fear was his desire to know what lay behind the
door, stronger even than his fear of those strange animals that were
drawn in the dust, dust pictures that made his blood ice.
Before the door he stopped and glanced back the way he had come, at
his well and well-house he looked, then pushing against the door with
his hand, stepped within the house builded by Yaeethl, made by Yaeethl
the Raven, Yaeethl the Cunning.
No man knows what Heenhadowa found within the lodge of the Raven.
Only this we know.
When the time of the boiling of a salmon had passed, from the door
stepped Yaeethl walking as a man walks who has been carrying a heavy
pack. Behind him he closed the door and against it rolled a heavy
stone, a stone so heavy that not even K'hoots the Grizzly, the Strong
One, could have moved it away again.
Within the lodge was silence, silence big with unborn noise.
To the well of Heenhadowa, the father of wells among the mountains,
the well untasted of man or beast, flew Yaeethl, Yaeethl the Desirer of
And when the Raven stood beside the well he bowed his head and
Some say that it took him many moons, some put it the length of a
man's life, but, long time or short time, when the head of Yaeethl the
Raven was lifted the well was dry.
Of water there was none in the well of Heenhadowa.
In the belly and mouth of the Raven was the water. All.
Then did Yaeethl spread wide his wings of blackness and fly the way
of his coming.
As he flew over the bosom of Klingatona-Kla, the Earth Mother, in
this place and in that he spat out some of the water. And where spat
the Raven there sprang up streams, and rivers, and lakes.
When he had flown so long and so far that the water was gone from
his mouth, and in his belly was not fresh, then from his belly and his
mouth he cast it, salt, and Athlch, the Ocean, was.
* * * * *
I waited silently, for there was an uplift in Zachook's voice that
made me think there was more to follow, but it was only:
If you listen to the words of them that know not, they will tell
you that Haechlt is a great bird the falling of whose eyelids makes
thunder, the flashing of whose eye is the lightning, but if my words be
the words of truth, then is thunder the angry voice of Heenhadowa whom
Yaeethl made prisoner, and lightning the cracks in the lodge walls when
he throws himself against them, struggling to be free. Should he
But, bird or Thirst Spirit, from Yaeethl is the gift of water. So
say I againwhen you drink, give thanks to the Raven that chewed
roots are not the answer to thy dry lips,give thanks, and pray that
the rock rolls not away.
And I gave thanks, quoting to myself another of Zachook's sayings,
Better a wasted arrow than lost game.
Ta-ka the Mosquito and
Khandatagoot the Woodpecker
As Foolish as One Who Shoots Arrows at Mosquitoes.
Zachook, with a half amused, half sympathetic smile at my futile
efforts to slaughter a small percentage of the mosquito cloud that
enveloped us, made a smudge of leaves, and I willingly exchanged the
tortures of being eaten alive for those of slow strangulation in the
My remarks had been neither calm nor patient, consisting mainly of
my entire vocabulary of opprobrious adjectives and epithets several
times repeated and diversified, aided by a wide, but wholly inadequate,
range of profanity in the various languages at my command. And, to
digress slightly, I would recommend the study of Arabic and Spanish to
those feeling a similar need; they do not meet all requirements of
forcible expression, but they add some wonderful flights of imagination
to the more practical English expletives.
Zachook was apparently as unimpressed as the mosquitoes, but when I
had recovered some portion of my breath and equanimity, remarked: He
who shoots with his tongue should be careful of his aim.
Choking with anger and smoke I could only splutter in reply, while
Ta-ka is Ta-ka, and Yaeethl is Yaeethl.
What has the Raven to do with these insufferable pests? Has he not
enough to answer for without linking his name with these suckers of
blood? Yaeethl is Yaeethl, but Ta-ka is Ta-ka.
Yaeethl or Ta-ka. The get of the Raven are ravens, and from Yaeethl
comes Ta-ka the Biter.
When the selfishness of men had driven the gods from the earth, the
Great Ones held a council in Tskekowani, a potlach in the World Beyond.
All the gods were there. They talked of the sins of men and of the
punishments that should be visited upon them. Long they talked.
Then Theunghow, Chief of Gods, called each by name, and bade him
name his sending.
And each god named a sickness, a pain, or a killing.
At one side stood Oonah the Death Shadow, and in his hand held his
quiver. And as each punishment was named, into his quiver placed Oonah
an arrow, sharp-pointed, swift-flying, death-carrying.
The quiver was full, and all had spoken, all save Yaeethl the
Raven, who by the cook pot sat smiling, eating.
To Yaeethl spoke K'hoots the Grizzly, saying:
'Dost thou send nothing, Brother? Behold, the Quiver of Death is
full, and from the Raven is there no arrow of punishment for men. What
arrow gives Yaeethl?'
'Why bother me when I am eating? Is there not time after the pot is
empty? Many arrows there are. Because men insult me shall gods spoil my
eating?' Thus spoke the Raven as he scraped the pot.
Then Hckt the Frog urged, saying:
'Art thou a god, or is thy belly a god, that in the council the
Raven takes no part?'
'A god am I, and a god have I been since the Beginning, thou son of
wind and slime. But that my ears may be no longer troubled, a little
punishment will I send, that the sons of men forget me not. No arrow
from Yaeethl shall find place in Oonah's quiver. Arrow and messenger
both will I send. Thy punishments carry the peace of death, mine the
torment of life.'
'And this punishment of thine?' asked Hckt, sneering.
And Yaeethl, as from the pot he cleaned the last morsel, replied:
Of all the punishments named by the gods, the first to reach the
earth was that of Yaeethl,Ta-ka the Mosquito.
To Khandatagoot the Woodpecker, the simple-minded, went Ta-ka, and
from the Woodpecker claimed hospitality. And the rights of a stranger
gave Khandatagoot to Ta-ka, gave him a place by the fire, and of his
food a share, for his head a shelter, treating him as the son of a
sister is treated. Together they fished and hunted, together they ate
and slept. Of the hunting and fishing the chief part was
Khandatagoot's, of the eating and sleeping Ta-ka's, Ta-ka who from
On a morning the Woodpecker fixed his canoe, and alone to the hunt
went the Mosquito.
All day was Ta-ka gone. Low hung the sun when to camp he returned.
Slow flying came the Mosquito, and as blood is red, so was the body of
Ta-ka, and swelled mightily.
Then was the Woodpecker frightened, thinking his friend wounded,
and crying, ran to help him. To the ground sank Ta-ka, but no wound
could Khandatagoot find.
Many questions asked the Woodpecker, and to them Ta-ka replied:
'No hurt have I, but full is my belly, full of the choicest eating
that ever made potlach. Yet much did I leave behind, the feasting of
many months did I leave.'
Then was the belly of Khandatagoot pinched with hunger for this
good eating, and of Ta-ka claimed his share.
On the tongue of the Woodpecker placed Ta-ka a drop, saying: 'No
more can I give of what I have eaten, but as you have shared with me,
so shall I share with you. The fill of many bellies is there left.'
'Where is this sweet eating?' asked Khandatagoot, 'Tell me the
trail that I too may feast until my wings are heavy.'
'No trail is there, Brother. The red juice of a dead tree is this
eating, a dead tree in the forest. It's name I know not, but hunt, and
you shall find it. Go quickly, lest others get there first.'
* * * * *
And since then, said Zachook, throwing another handful of leaves
on the fire, since then the Woodpecker spends his days seeking in dead
trees the red juice that flows in the veins of live men.