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The valley of the whisperers

Now, I grew up with old tales from the rez - stories that would scare you so much that simply walking home was frightening. The rez has its own spirits of the night. So I think I'll just sit in my favorite chair and go back to the first time I heard this story ... a tale my mother still tells in order to put the chill in the grandchildren. So close the windows, lock the doors and silence the whispers.

Little Wolf and his family were very happy, for they had been traveling for so long with their people trying to find a place to set up a village. After days of walking, they came upon the most beautiful valley, where there were tall trees to shield them and countless berry bushes of every kind. The bluest river they had ever seen rolled along the banks of the valley and the fish jumped out of the river like rabbits showing themselves. Deer and elk seemed to be everywhere. Everyone hurried to set up their homes. Firewood was gathered, and lodge pole pines stood high as the clouds. The women hurried to get their new lives in order while the older men made plans for a good hunt and the young men who could not wait went fishing. Children picked the tender berries. It seemed to be the perfect place.

Little Wolf found himself scurrying off into the forest to see what lay within. Everywhere he looked he saw beautiful flowers and reeds in pinks, blues and purples. He saw bushes with big, fat berries and small game like pheasants, rabbits and squirrels. The birds filled the trees with songs - so many songs.

Hours passed and he was still finding new places to play, fish or just to go off alone. When Little Wolf finally started to get tired, he chose a nice little patch of grass and flowers to rest. The giant tree that protected him from the sun seemed to reach clear to the sky with its massive branches. The birds' sweet songs sang Little Wolf to sleep.

Little Wolf was awakened by a scratchy little voice chattering: ''Wake up, boy! Please wake up!'' Rubbing his eyes and trying to see who was talking to him, he was surprised to see a squirrel sitting right on his chest.

''Are you talking to me?'' he asked, puzzled.

''Yes,'' said the squirrel. ''I have been trying to wake you up for a long time. You need to run home fast and hold your hands over your ears when the night comes - it's almost here now. Tell all your people to shut out the sounds of the night. Hurry! Run home!''

''What are you talking about?'' Little Wolf asked, confused.

''The whisperers, boy!'' the squirrel answered. ''The whisperers of all who came before you. Those who came here to live just like you and your people. Run home!''

''I will not run home until you explain this story to me. You make no sense, silly squirrel.''

By now the squirrel was completely scared and jumping from branch to tree to the ground, chattering uncontrollably.

''Slow down,'' Little Wolf said. ''Please calm down and I will listen to you. I promise.''

The squirrel finally calmed himself down and began his story. He spoke of a curse for those who chose to live in the forest, all because of people from long ago who'd abused the land and water. They had been greedy, taking from the land but never giving back. So brother Wolf, who had strong medicine, punished them and all whoever wanted to live here. Wolf wanted this place to always be alive with the souls of man.

''Beware when the night comes. You will hear voices so soft, like a whisper. It could be a baby crying; your mother calling you; your friend. They will find a way to call you. They are tricksters. They are the people before you calling you out to the forest and then turning you into a tree, a bush, or a fish in a stream - whatever they wish. That is why this place is so full of life. Brother Wolf never wants it to be barren again. So run. Tell your people. Close your ears to the night and leave tomorrow,'' the squirrel said.

''Thank you,'' Little Wolf stammered as he started off to the village. But he stopped for a minute - just long enough to catch a glimpse of the squirrel as it turned into the biggest black wolf he had ever seen. The wolf growled and vanished into the mist, for night was almost upon him. Little Wolf ran like he never had before.

As he ran into the village, he was yelling for all to come and listen to his story; and that's what his people thought it was - a made-up story from a small boy's dream. Little Wolf desperately tried to make them listen, but even his own parents laughed and told him he was a storyteller.

That night, Little Wolf did not sleep. He tried to cover his parents' ears with moss he had gathered, hoping they would not hear the whisperers. But it did not help, for as he sat with his fingers in his ears, he saw his parents get up and start walking to the forest. For a brief moment he forgot and uncovered his ears to grab his mother. He heard crying babies and people calling names ... even his own name was being called by his grandmother who had died two winters ago. Quickly he stuffed his fingers in his ears and helplessly watched as the people of the village disappeared into the forest.

Finally, morning came and Little Wolf stood alone. Everyone was gone, just as he'd been warned. And the forest looked greener: he saw trees and flowers that hadn't been there the day before. As he bent down to pick a flower, he remembered what he'd been told about taking from the earth. He realized the flower could be his mother or a friend, so he stopped. He gathered up his things and resolved he would never take without somehow giving back.

To this day, Little Wolf tells the story and teaches us to plant and always give back to the land ... or else the land will whisper you away.

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.