The Moon Epic

Old Moon had two daughters who were devoted to each other. They shared chores at home, dug wild camass bulbs in the mountain meadows together, and whispered their secrets back and forth.

One day, after they had spent more time talking than digging, it became too dark to go home. So they settled down among the tall blue and white camass flowers to spend the night. But the sisters could not sleep. Instead, they lay awake staring up at the thick black sky that sparkled with tiny stars.

“Oh how I would like to marry that shiny white star over there,” said the younger girl.

Her older sister smiled and said, “I would like to marry that bright little red one over there.”

The next morning when the sisters awoke they were no longer in the field of camass flowers but seated in the sky next to their chosen star husbands. The older sister smiled at the strong young man with long black hair and bright red eyes who sat beside her. But the younger sister gasped when she looked beside her and saw the gnarled old man with long white hair and a tangled beard.

All around them were Star People—men, women, and children of all sizes and shapes. Some of them were handsome, others not so attractive, but all of them were kind.

The women took the sisters to a meadow in the sky that was blanketed with beautiful camass flowers just like the one they had left on earth. They gave the sisters digging sticks and told them to dig up small bulbs, but not ones that grew too deeply.

The sisters did as they were told and went out each day and filled their baskets with bulbs. But they missed their family and friends on earth. Their husbands tried to make them forget their sadness, but they could not. The younger sister was especially homesick, as she yearned for a man her own age.

One day, after the sisters began digging, the older one whispered, “I am with child, dear sister.” The younger girl hugged her and wept. She was happy for her older sister, but sad that she would never have a child of her own. That evening the younger sister disguised her weeping by sitting in front of the fire so that smoke blew in her face.

Still the sisters dug camass bulbs every day. One morning the younger sister asked, “Why do you think we must not dig bulbs that grow deeply?”

“I do not know,” said the other. “Shall we try and find out?” So they searched until they came upon a bulb that was long and grew deep down. “I have one,” said the younger sister, and she dug gently all around the bulb, removing the dirt as she dug.

When she finally pulled it out, a great blast of cold air rushed up through the hole it had left in the sky. The girls peered down through the hole and saw their family and friends below.

“This is the reason we were told not to dig up bulbs that grow deep down,” said the older sister. “Now we must make plans to escape. We will make a ladder, drop it down through the hole, and climb down to earth.”

The next day when the girls went to the sky meadow, they dug camass bulbs part of the time and collected long tough vines the rest of the time. Day after day they collected more and more vines and twisted them into a long ladder. But each time they dropped it through the hole in the sky, it was too short.

Then one day, a baby boy, whom they named Young Moon, was born to the older sister. The girls, who wanted Young Moon to grow up among his own people on earth, now had even more reason to complete their ladder. They took turns caring for Young Moon, digging roots, and collecting vines.

Finally, one day when the younger sister dropped the ladder it touched the earth. She cried out excitedly and jumped up and hugged her sister.

“You go first. I will hand you the baby and follow,” said the older sister. After they were all safely on the ladder the older girl pulled some cedar boughs over the hole so that a forest would grow over the meadow and their husbands would not know where to look for them.

When the news spread on earth that the children of Old Moon and his wife had returned home, the villagers gathered to celebrate. “Go with your family and friends,” said the old blind grandmother. “I will take care of your son.” The older sister propped the cradleboard with her sleeping son against a large tree and thanked the old lady.

No one knew that Dog Salmon, an ugly salmon with large teeth and a protruding jaw, was thrashing about beneath the bushes waiting to steal the child. After the old woman dozed off, Dog Salmon took Young Moon out of his cradleboard, tucked him under his murky brown jacket, and put a rotten log in the child’s place.

After the celebration was over, Young Moon’s mother came back to get him. “Oh,” she screamed. “My son. My son. Where are you? Look at this rotten log in my son’s cradleboard,” she said throwing the log on the ground. “Please everyone—Woodpecker, Bluejay, Raven—you must help me find Young Moon.”

Bluejay arrived first. He was the only one who knew that Young Moon held great powers, and the only one who knew where to look for the kidnapped baby. He flicked his round-tipped black and white tail in the air, and called, “Sassy. Sassy. Sassy.”

Within minutes Woodpecker alighted on a bush beside the worried mother. He bobbed his head up and down as if trying to toss off the black mustache that circled his little beak. He was eager to join Bluejay.

Raven, the most clever of the birds, heard the young mother’s plea and figured there might be some meat for him if he joined the chase. He flapped his huge black wings, stuck his wedge-shaped tail in the air, and headed off to join the others.

After the birds had left to find Young Moon, his mother went down to the river to wash out his cedar-bark diaper. After she had rinsed it several times she heard a noise. There standing before her was a handsome little dark-haired boy. “I have come to console you. I am Sun, brother of Young Moon,” he said. “Be patient and do not worry. Bluejay will find him.”

Meanwhile, Bluejay had flown to where sky and earth come together. Back and forth, back and forth he flew, looking for a hole to fly through. At last he found one and tried to squeeze his head underneath, but the hole was too small, and he crushed his crest of fine blue feathers.

Cocky Raven was sure he could get through by sheer force, so he stuck his fat beak in the hole and pushed and pushed. But nothing happened. Woodpecker tried to peck a hole in the sky, but that did not work. Then he tried to peck one in the earth. That did not work, either. The sky and earth were firmly locked together. Discouraged, Woodpecker and Raven flew home.

But Bluejay would not give up. He stayed and waited for many years until he found an opening large enough to squirm through. Then he traveled far and wide until he found Young Moon who was living in the sky with the Dog Salmon People.

“So this is where the Dog Salmon live,” said Bluejay. “And it is they who kidnapped you so long ago. We have been very worried about you. You must come home to earth and use your power to transform things for our people.”

Young Moon hung his head. The Dog Salmon People had always lived in the sky, and he did not know if he could convince them to follow him to earth. “I will need time to think,” said Young Moon to Bluejay. “I will come when the time is right.”

Young Moon thought for many days. At last he called the Dog Salmon People together and asked them to come home with him. He promised to put them in the great clear-water rivers that flowed out of the mountains and into the Pacific Ocean along the Northwest Coast if they would agree to be food for his people.

The Dog Salmon People agreed. At first they swam downriver, but Young Moon turned them around and showed them how to swim upstream against the current. Then he traveled easily over the land, and he changed many things along the way on his journey home.

The first strange-looking creatures he encountered were fighting. He turned them into birds and stones. The next group, little birds who ran around stupidly, he made into sandpipers.

A group of fishermen in a canoe on a lake he turned into sawbill ducks, and others, standing in shallow water, he made into mallard ducks. The last group of creatures, whom he could not identify, were lounging on the beach, so he turned them into clams.

After Young Moon had changed everything he encountered on earth, he created a great waterfall to challenge the Dog Salmon on their way upstream. When he finally arrived at home, his family waited to cheer him. Young Moon was pleased with himself.

“I will show you my great powers,” he boasted to his family and friends. “Which one of you would like to be Sun by day and Moon by night?” Raven tried out for Moon. But he failed. Woodpecker tried out for Sun. And he failed.

“I am afraid that my brother and I will have to do these jobs ourselves,” said Young Moon. So he called his brother Sun and asked him to give the people bright warm light during the day. Sun was a great success, and the people were very happy. Moon rose after Sun was gone and made a long slow journey across the night sky. Again, the people were pleased.

“Before I take my place in the sky forever,” said Young Moon, “I must finish my work on earth.” Then he created the humans and placed them along the rivers and streams of the region, where they have fished for Dog Salmon ever since.

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