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Storyteller

Mother Earth's secret

Like all mothers, Mother Earth excels like no other in the art of teaching. To this day, we live by her commandments. Sometimes we do not listen, but we need to stop and really listen. Perhaps if we do, we will hear her heartbeat. It is around us all the time. All we need to do is listen.

Queel was a simple man of the village. Above all, he was innocent. He was a bit slower, with a voice one could barely hear. He was a big child, yet he was everyone's brother and friend. No matter what, he had a forever smile for all he met. Everyone knew he was special.

Queel often would wander off by himself into a clearing near the village. The people kept a watchful eye on him. When he was off on his own, his people would always see him dancing and hear him singing. They just thought, ''That's Queel.'' Sometimes when he returned home, he would sit and tell the children stories of what lived deep in Mother Earth. The children loved the stories, but that's all the people and the children thought they were: just stories.

But this never bothered Queel. He still would go to his favorite place and dance. One day he asked his mother if he could have a small amount of berries, roots and maybe a small fish to give to his friends that he danced with.

''Why Queel, we see no one with you when you dance. We do not have a lot of food to waste on your story friends,'' his mother replied.

This made him sad but he never disobeyed his mother. So he went out on his own to gather some food and maybe catch his own fish for his friends. As evening started to hide the day, everyone noticed that they had not seen Queel all day. His parents were terribly worried. They all got together and decided to go out looking for Queel. They looked everywhere by the river and in the woods, but he was nowhere to be found. Finally, one of the children spotted what appeared to be Queel.

He was in his favorite place, dancing by the light of a fire. Everyone hurried toward the fire, calling his name.

''Queel, where have you been?'' his mother asked, happy tears running down her cheeks. ''I have been so worried. Everyone has. Where were you?''

Queel proudly spoke. ''I went fishing and caught many fish. Then I dug for roots and gathered more than I could carry so I made a bowl out of the river reeds. And after that, I even had time to gather all these berries. See?''

Queel's mother and his people looked at all he had gathered and were truly surprised. They did not know that Queel could do any of these things. They were even surprised he had made a fire.

''Queel, you could have gotten hurt or fallen,'' his mother said. Queel replied, ''I had to bring food for my friends. They live deep within Mother Earth. They are like us, but very little. I just call them the Little People. They play their drums and sing and dance. I hear them and so I dance, too. It is like Mother Earth has her own heartbeat.

''The Little People help Mother Earth by protecting her. But sometimes they get very hungry and cannot leave to get food, so they asked me. I could not break my promise to them, and you said we did not have enough food, so I kept my promise and gathered all this myself.''

Queel had the biggest smile on his face, for he was proud. But everyone around him felt bad.

''We are sorry for not listing to you. We all should have shared to feed the Little People,'' his mother replied.

''That's all right,'' Queel giggled. ''I never get mad, but you have to hear Mother Earth and treat her like you would the wise elders. Listen. Do you hear her heartbeat?''

All became very quiet and one by one everyone started to smile.

''Yes, yes, we hear it,'' the people answered.

Queel said, ''See. The Little People are happy. They are dancing and singing.''

After that day, no one ever thought Queel was just a storyteller. He was special. Mother Earth had used him to teach all of them. They realized Mother Earth is alive all around us - in the rivers and lakes, the animals and rocks and the changing seasons of her womanhood. And, like all good children, they learned to respect her and keep her safe.

And as for Queel, as far as we know, he is still smiling and dancing to the heartbeat of Mother Earth's drum.

Dedicated to Shelly, who makes the world a better place.

Lim Lim.

Ken ''Rainbow Cougar'' Edwards, from the Colville Indian Reservation in Washington state, is an accomplished painter and storyteller. Edwards is a graduate of the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, N.M., and a longtime cartoonist for Indian Country Today.