Thursday, December 29, 2005

LC's Tree: The Last-Chance Woodpecker, and a Story

I bought this almost-lifesize woodpecker long ago, at a Ben Franklin store-liquidation sale. It seemed like a good idea at the time. And in fact, it's a handy decoration to have for a Christmas tree with, say, a big hole amid the branches, or with an overly tall top branch that needs some embellishment.

And as long as we're talking woodpeckers, here's an Anishnabe story about the origin of the woodpecker. There were indigenous people living, or at least hunting, right in my back yard, once upon a time -- I have the arrowhead to prove it. So maybe my woodpecker now serves as a nod to the previous tenants. The star of this story is Nanabozho, an interesting figure in Anishnabe mythology, a bit like Jesus (human mother, spirit father; sent by Kitchi Manitou, the Great Spirit, to teach the people); a bit like the trickster Coyote of Southwestern Native American mythology; and a bit like the demigods of classical paganism.

Once upon a time an old woman wearing a red headdress, black dress and white apron was making a batch of bread dough, when a stranger came to her doorway. "I'm terribly hungry," said the stranger. "Would you mind sharing some of your bread with me?" "Sure," replied the old woman. She went to her fire and placed a big piece of dough over it; but as it cooked, it looked so perfect, so beautiful, that she thought, "This is much too nice to give to a stranger." So she took that piece of bread and hid it in the ashes, and instead pinched off another piece of dough to make more bread. But that piece, as it browned over the fire, looked even more beautiful than the first. "This bread is too fine to give away," thought the woman, and hid that bread as well. "The stranger can have this last bit of dough instead." She set the last little piece of her dough over the fire; but it too grew large and golden and lovely. "I can't possibly give away such a fine piece of bread," thought the old woman. She slipped the last of the bread into the ashes with the others.

She went back to the stranger. "I'm sorry," she lied, "but my dough fell into the fire and was ruined. So I have no bread to give you."

At this point the stranger revealed himself: He was Nanabozho, the great teacher and magician of The People, son of a human mother and The West. "You greedy, selfish woman! Because you would not show hospitality to a hungry stranger, you yourself will know hunger, and will have to forage for your food in the very wood of the trees!" And with that the woman was turned into a woodpecker. And even now you can see her red headdress, and black clothing, and white apron, and hear her remorseful call as she flies through the forest.

The moral of the story...share your breadPosted by Picasa


Kathryn said...

It's a very fine woodpecker, and looks very much at home on your tree.

bls said...

Thanks for that story, LC. I love the ancient tales, really; can't get enough of 'em.

The funny thing, to me, is that this is called a "red-bellied woodpecker."

LutheranChik said...

Yeah...what's up with that?