The snow people
Winter's cold makes you remember how good it feels to be warm, the smell of cakes and cookies to be eaten with family and friends, and the bright cheer of trees decorated and twinkling like a cold winter's night. It seems to me that at least one day out of the year we find goodness in others, and sometimes we surprise ourselves, so that means there is still hope - and, well, hope can do many wonderful things. Hope cradles our dreams, and dreams can come true. Keep hope tightly in your heart and never let it go.
This is a story about a small child's hope. A little snow person thought it would be a good story, so let the snow fall and the wind blow as we look at a small village that seems frozen in time.
It seemed to be the coldest winter to the people of Wani's village. There were days when it was all they could do to keep warm. The cruel weather made it almost impossible some days to track animals or even find wood or kindling for warm fires. Wani tried her hardest to take care of her younger brother and keep him happy. But not being able to go out and play made for a very cranky brother.
He was not the only one, though. Wani's parents seemed to be alternately sad and then mad at each another. Wani would sit quietly when they had their disagreements, but it made her so sad to see this. If only the snow would stop and the harsh winds would go to sleep, it would give all a chance to hunt and find wood for the fire. Most of all, everyone could see one another and share stories, and the children could play outside again even if just for a little while.
Every night she would sit and peek out her tipi flap, wishing and hoping the snow and wind would go to sleep for just a short time. She knew her parents loved each other and that their worries were turning into anger and fighting. But Wani never gave up hope.
One night, just as she was falling asleep, she heard her name. She laid still, and she heard it again: ''Wani, Wani, Wani.'' Was she dreaming? Then she realized it was the wind. It was calling to her.
How could this be? But a child's curiosity is pure just like fresh snow; so ever so quietly, she wrapped herself in furs and ventured out into the fierce snow. She could hardly see, but she heard her name over and over. Before she knew it, she had wandered far from her village and found herself in a forest.
She could not place this forest: and she would have remembered this one. The trees were all white, and there were even trees made out of blue ice. Oddly, it was warm and Wani found herself taking off her furs. There was no wind blowing and it was not even snowing, yet the ground was covered in snow. It winked like the starlit night, but in colors of the rainbow.
Wani whispered, ''Hello, who are you? I heard you call my name. I am here. Won't you tell me who you are?''
A voice came out of nowhere: ''I will do better than that. Turn around, Wani.'' As she turned around she could not believe her eyes. There stood people, just like herself ... but they were all made of snow.
Wani rubbed her eyes. ''Am I dreaming?'' she asked. Laughter came from the people. ''You are not dreaming Wani. We called for you. We are the snow people.
''We have walked Mother Earth for a long, long time. We have been watching you, and we heard you at night hoping the cold winds and snow would go to sleep for a while. We walk among you all winter, but you cannot see us for we just become the snow that you see on the ground, trees ... everywhere and anywhere. We were born a long time ago from the first snows that fell from the sky to the earth.''
''Oh,'' Wani said. ''I am happy to meet you. I am sorry to ask the snow and winds to stop, but it is so hard for my people this winter. Can you help us? Please?''
The snow people replied, ''Wani, it was you wishing and hoping for your people that brought you here. We will help you. Listen well.
''Brother wind will only pass over the lands when all are sleeping. We also will only bring the snow at this time, too. You will have the sunlight in the day so your people can hunt, find firewood, visit with one another and, most of all, the children can play and enjoy the snow. Remember, the snow is just as important as the rain. When the sun grows hot, the highest mountains share the snow with all that live below them.''
Wani said, ''I will remember what you have told me, and I will tell the others so they will understand that you are important too! Thank you so much. Now my mother and father will stop worrying and smile again.''
''You are a special child,'' the snow person declared. ''So much hope for one so small. Never forget that hope melts away. There are many spirits other than us that hear and feel this hope, and when we can we will make it true.
''Now, does hearing the wind at night and waking to the snow seem fair to you?'' asked the snow person.
''Oh yes,'' said Wani, ''but I think I should leave now and go home. If my parents wake up they will really be sad and worried. But, how do I get home? I don't know the way.''
''Do not worry. We will see you get home safely,'' answered the snow people. Before Wani could ask how, the snow people started playing flutes made out of ice and the most beautiful sound came from them. It was like nothing she had ever heard before.
Then Wani heard what she thought was the wind. But before her eyes, out of the sky, came a big white snow eagle. Its eyes looked like two gems of blue ice and every feather winked like the starry night. The snow person said, ''This is Sena, the spirit of the snow. She will take you safely home.''
Wina climbed up upon the great eagle's back. To her surprise, she was warm and soft to the touch. Before she could speak, up into the night sky they flew. She waved to the snow people, knowing in her heart she would see them again. In a moment, she realized Sena had her safe on the ground and she could see her village. She thanked Sena, gave her a hug and ran to her parents.
She was so happy to see them and started telling her story, describing where she had been and all about the snow people and Sena who brought her home. Wani's father laughed, ''That was you in the sky? It looked like a big, beautiful star with a long tail.'' Wani just giggled and went to bed.
The rest of the winter wasn't so cruel and hard that year. All because of a warm spirit called hope.
Ken ''Rainbow Cougar'' Edwards, from the Colville Indian Reservation in Washington, is an accomplished painter and storyteller. Edwards is a graduate of the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, N.M., and is a longtime cartoonist for Indian Country Today.