Saturday, August 8, 2009

The Bear and the Mocassin

Many years before the Europeans came to North America to colonize, there were many people there. They are referred to as Native Americans. They inhabited the land from coast to coast and from the sea to the northern ice. They were primitive by modern standards and yet lived well in the land they were born into. They had many beliefs and they varied according to tribe and custom. Each had a deity or several to whom they prayed and whom they revered above all others. Most of them worshiped the natural elements and thus something as simple as rain when needed was the provision of a deity to his people. The thunder was the voice of god and it often was a fearful one. Lightning would strike the ground and set the forest on fire and sometimes people died from them. Today many legends remain from those people. Some have been forgotten or distorted and some survive. One such story occurs several generations before the Pilgrims landed in the New World. In many cultures leadership is often determined by ones birth. So it was with the small tribe nestled in the mountains of the northeast. If ones father was Chief, his son became Chief on his death. Many times the son ruled while the father lived. The older Chief advised and helped make major decisions. Unfortunately for one small tribe the Chief was left with a dilemma. His first born was not one but two boys, twins! The boys grew up under their father’s wise lessons. Each was capable of leading the tribe. They were agile and wise in the woods. Their ability to hunt was the talk of the tribe. The similarity ended there. One was loud and rambunctious. The other was quiet, given to long contemplation. It happened one winter the snow was deep and lasted long. The cold was the worst any could remember. The old Chief would go to each hut and check to make sure each family had wood for fire and food. He became sick with a coughing sickness. Too quickly it set him into racking coughing fits and one night he motioned for his two sons to sit beside him. Taking a hand of each he lifted his head, but before he could speak, he died. No son had been appointed to the position of first Chief. The elders of the tribe set several tasks for each to complete and the one who did so first would be accepted as Chief. They set to the tasks and each in his own way accomplished his goals. The one through wisdom the other through brute force and determination. The last task each was to perform would decide who would lead. It seemed simple enough. All they had to do was get a bear with her cub to across the river near the village. The wise son went to the woods and found a tree with honey bees in it. He took a piece of the comb and went into forest in search of a bear. He found one with a cub and began leading it to the river. The succulant honey dripped as he walked and the bear licked at the drippings hungrily. The people watched from above in the rocks as the bear followed the boy. The other son waited at the river and stood with an evil grin on his face. When his brother approached the water and was about to throw the honey comb across the river the brutish brother shot an arrow knocking the honey into the water. The bear angry at her loss charged the wise son. He, realizing his peril, ran into the river and swam across with the bear and her cub in pursuit. The brutish son pointed and said, "see I have caused the bear to cross chasing my brother. I should be Chief." The elders were not pleased with how he had done it, but agreed he had completed the tasks. Some of the people disagreed and left the tribe. They decided they would follow the wise son and ran to the bridge across the river. It was only vines and branches but strong enough for one person to cross at a time. Thirty crossed and after ward the earth shook and the bridge fell as the earth opened and the river sank deeply into a chasm. The two groups were cut off from each other. The wise son watched as his friends crossed. When the earth shook and opened the gulf between him and his brother he stepped from the forest. "Brother. As the earth has caused the great chasm and separated us, let us live in peace with each other and apart." "Agreed. We will remain apart until the earth bridges the chasm with a bridge not made by mens hands." They walked away from the spot and soon forgot about the others who lived near but far away. No one went to the spot for many years. The wise son took a wife of those who came to him. They were blessed with a girl child. She grew and was more beautiful than any other. The other brother also took a wife and to him was born a son. His son reminded him every day of his wise brother. He was not harsh as his father but given to much thinking. He was wise and often went into the forest to return days later. When questioned about his journeys he merely replied, "I went to see what was past that mountain." Finally his father forbade him to leave again. The young man went to the highest point in the chasm and sat beneath a tree. From there he could see the depth to the river below and the white clouds billowing across the blue sky. It was a quiet place. One day as he sat beneath his great oak tree he saw a shadow on the other side of the chasm. The shadow moved along the edge. A bright ray of sunlight touched the shadow and he could see a young woman. She was more beautiful than any in his village. He knew there were people on the other side of the river but no one in his tribe spoke about them openly. This woman must be from that tribe. He watched as she filled a basket with berries. After a time she stopped and sat under a large birch tree. Her dark skin and hair was a contrast to the white bark of the birch tree. The young man whistled like the bird which was red. The woman looked about to see where it was hiding. Her eyes happened to find the young man sitting by his tree. Startled she grabbed the basket and was about to run away. "Please, don’t leave." The young man called to her. "You are safe, there on your side of the river." "I was not running way because I am afraid of you." She turned and faced him showing no fear of his presence. "My father said this is a forbidden place and we should not come here. Yet the berries here are fat and abundant so I come." "Oh. My father says we should not come here as well. I like this place it is peaceful." That was how the young man from one tribe met the young woman from the other. They talked and agreed to return again. For many weeks they talked and walked along the edge of the chasm. Hours passed and when their fathers asked where they had been, they simply said near the river in the forest. They shared their dreams and hopes for themselves and their people. The winter came bringing the deep snow. It was many weeks before they could get to the spot where the great oak tree stood. The snows came less often and the sun grew warm. The snow melted and the river below became a raging, boiling snake of water. The green began to return to the trees and forest. The spring storms came as well. One day as the two talked a storm came very quickly. Leaves and branches spun about in the air. There was no time to run to the village so each ran to their great tree. The sky darkened till it was like night. Lightning streaked across the sky. The booming voice as it struck thundered down on them. One bolt of blue -white light struck the great oak tree. The tree groaned in agony as it leaned over. The weight of its great branches pulled it over. Crashing to the ground, it spanning the great chasm. The young man had grabbed its branches and pulled himself into the great tree hoping to be protected from the storm. When the tree fell and bark splintered into the chasm the young man hung by one hand under it. The rain made the branch and his hand slippery. Crying out his love to the woman he felt he could hold on no longer. She crawled in fear onto the tree and slid along the great girth of its trunk. Laying against the rough bark she cried to him through the shrieking of the wind. Reaching down through sobs she begged him to grab her hand. He stretched and pulled against the branch. Their fingers touched then slowly his fingers walked up her hand to grasp it. The thunder roared again. Twin Chiefs stood quickly. In the storm, there was a scream. The only person missing was their only child. Running into the blinding storm in the direction of the scream it took only minutes until they saw the great oak tree laying across the chasm. Confused they stared at each other. Who had screamed? Where was their child? The lightning struck and in its brilliant light a small mocassin could be seen caught in the branches of the oak tree. The wise son started to climb across, hoping, fearing, where could his daughter be. The other Chief climbed onto the trunk. When the lightning struck again and the chasm below flashed into brilliance. There among the rocks he could see the broken body of his son. Along side of it was a young woman. Their hands were clasped together. He gasped as he realizing what had happened! This was where his son had been coming! Tears fell down his cheeks. He looked along the tree and there he saw his brother. In his hand was the small mocassin of his daughter. Groans of agony came from trembling lips. The two stood facing the other. There on a bridge not made by mans hands, they met. Joy and sadness in full, burst from each. The wise son reached out to his brother. In his other hand was the necklace that marked the young man as a prince among his people. It had become caught on the branch as well. The image of a bear and cub carved in wood strung on hide. The two people became one that day. Over time you could not tell one tribe from the other. They filled the forest until it was full. The great oak tree was carved until it was a flat safe bridge. It spanned the river for ages. On each side of the bridge was the carving of the necklace and a mocassin. Whenever a child would ask why they were there, the parents would tell them this. It is a reminder of the cost of pride and greed. The bridge remained until many years later in their lust for this New World it was burned by Europeans to keep the Indians from crossing and fighting against them. These many years later the people have passed into dust. The great chasm has been filled with their dust and much more dirt to make a place to build houses. The people who live there often comment that when a spring storm roars through their town, some say they can hear a loud scream. One as someone falling a great distance and dying. Then weeping, long groaning sobs. Who know the sounds of the wind through the trees when the spring rains come? Then again, it is just a story, isn’t it?

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My childhood was spent growing up on a farm in the mountains of northern Pennsylvania. In those years I learned the lessons that would mold my character and moral center. In my teens I moved to a small city in southeastern PA. Like many teens I had my rebellion and found the futility of it. During my late teens I moved to central PA and in high school lost my heart to the girl who is now my wife. Presently I'm well into midlife and slowing rapidly. The things I used to do, I can't even remember. Married for 37 years, we have a son, a daughter and five grandchildren. My son has two boys, my daughter three girls, I love irony! I'm self-employed for most of 25 years in construction. Doing a project for a customer and getting their approval is wonderful and inspiring. I started writing when my children were younger. I did some stories for them and over time it became more of an interest. I now have four completed novels and several shorts and am working towards getting one or more published. One short has been published.

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