The long way home

There was a point in time when the Creator was still creating the animals, trees and plants that we all see today. The people of this time were always amazed. This brings me to a small village of people who lived on the highest mountaintops. These people still are among us today and, as in days gone by, still repeat their ritual as we know it.

The people of this village were a quiet people, good hunters and strong, but their village was on one of the Creator's highest mountaintops. It was a beautiful place, as if they lived in the sky and could touch the clouds. Spring and summer were a wonderful time, with plenty of food to hunt and gather. The village leader, Sky Dancer, always made sure his people had what they needed. The elders were always his concern and always had all the young men share their hunt with them. No one minded doing what needed to be done. They knew the elders were wise and had provided for them when they were young.

All was well until fall came and the hard times began. It was so cold and the snows fell like it was winter. The winds howled and had the strength of a pack of wolves on the hunt. It was terribly difficult for everyone; and as the village was like one big family, this worried Sky Dancer. As they did their best to survive and care for one another, winter came. It seemed like the Earth was angry. There never seemed to be any relief from the cold, which tormented them.

One night, Sky Dancer was very restless. He saw how his people were suffering. Try as he might, he could not sleep. So he did what he thought would be the right thing to do: he wrapped himself as warm as he could in his bear hides and went out in the cold to call to the Creator for help.

The moon was full that night and the mountains took on a beautiful blue hue. The snow shone like twinkling stars. Sky Dancer thought it was so beautiful, but so hard to survive this season of the snow. He thought he would go for a walk, smoke his pipe and ask the Creator to share the pipe with him. As he smoked, he sang for the Creator to hear him and talk. It seemed like he was out in that awful cold for a long time, desperately calling for the Creator in his song.

Just when he was about to give up, he heard the sound of a bird's wings. All had grown still. The winds faded away. The snow stopped falling and there sat an eagle as white as the snow on an old stump. Sky Dancer stood still. Then the eagle finally spoke.

''I heard your song, Sky Dancer, so I have come to talk about what troubles you so.''

''Are you the Creator?'' Sky Dancer asked timidly.

Eagle replied, ''My name is not important, but the Creator has sent me, for he heard your song. I speak for him. That is a fine pipe you have.'' Sky Dancer looked at his pipe and then the eagle.

''Thank you. I was hoping to share my pipe with the Creator.''

The eagle laughed. ''You already have, for the smoke from your pipe climbed higher than the clouds to the Creator and he was touched by the sharing of your pipe. What troubles you? The song you sang was a sad one.''

''I wish it was not,'' Sky Dancer replied. ''And I do not want to complain. There is no way off this mountain that the Creator has put me and my people on. From the time when the leaves fall and the time of snow that follows, it is so cold here. I worry for my people, especially the very old and very young. No matter how much wood we gather in the season of berries and warmth, it is never enough to keep us warm. I am afraid many of us will die. Could Creator help us?''

The eagle quietly listened. After hearing the whole story, he told Sky Dancer he would be back. He flew beyond the clouds to tell Sky Dancer's story to the Creator.

The following day, the eagle returned and Sky Dancer was there to greet him along with all of his people, standing huddled against the cold winter winds. All had great hope the Creator would help them. Sky Dancer approached the tree with great hope in his eyes and the eagle could see this. Eagle wasted no time in telling the people the Creator's answer.

''The Creator has listened to you and will help you. In the season of falling leaves, you will turn into geese; and with the wings of the bird, you will fly and find a place that is warm. Then when spring comes to your mountain, you will know and fly back to your home as you know it and return to the human form you are now.''

Everyone had smiles mixed with confusion on their faces, for they knew their lives would never be the same again.

Sky Dancer gathered the people and explained that the women and girls should be on one side and the men and boys on the other side, so as they flew there would be order. If he should tire, he would return to the back and a new brave will lead. This way, their unity would get them to their new home or, perhaps, a place to rest. Eagle nodded his head in agreement.

''That will please the Creator, for you always are there for one another and watch out for the family that you are.''

Sky Dancer said, ''We are ready. Let the change begin.''

And as the wind whirled about them, one by one they were transformed into geese. The sounds they made were strange at first to one another, but it did not take long for all to understand the honks they made. Sky Dancer took to the air on strong wings and had no trouble against the cold winds; the rest followed one by one and formed what we see today - the formation of the geese.

We see them in the fall and hear their calls to one another as they leave to a place for them until winter gives way to spring. Their families have grown since that long time ago, but one thing still remains - they are family and will be even when we don't hear them anymore. So the next time you look to the sky and hear their calls, remember how important family is and that it is all the members of the family that make it that way.

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.