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Why Blackfoot Never Kill Mice

Why Blackfoot Never Kill Mice

(Indian Why Stories- Author Frank Bird Linderman, 1869-1938)



Muskrat and his grandmother were gathering wood for the camp when they came upon an old buffalo skull.  The plains were dotted with these relics of the chase, for already the hide-hunting white man had played havoc with the great herds of buffalo.

 This skull was in a grove of cottonwood-trees near the river, and as they approached two Mice scampered into it to hide. 

Muskrat, in great glee, secured a stick and was about to turn the skull over and kill the Mice, when his grandmother said: “No, our people never kill Mice.  Your grandfather will tell you why if you ask him.  The Mice-people are our friends and we treat them as such.  Even small people can be good friends –remember that.”

All day long the boy wondered why the Mice-people should not be harmed and at dusk he went to War Eagle’s lodge. When he entered he found the other children already assembled there. As soon as he was seated Muskrat sounded the question:

“Grandfather, why must we never kill the Mice-people?  Grandmother said that you knew.”

“Yes,” replied War Eagle, “I do know and you must now know too.  Therefore I shall tell you all about why the Mice-people must be let alone and allowed to do as they please, for we owe them much; much more than we can ever repay. 

“It happened long, long ago, when there were few men and women in the world.  Old-Man was Chief of all then, and the animal-people and the bird-people were greater than our people, because we had not been on earth long and were not wise.

“There was much quarrelling among the animals and the birds.  You see the Bear wanted to be Chief, under Old-Man, and so did the Beaver. Almost every night they would have a council and quarrel over it. Beside the Bear and Beaver, there were other animals, and also birds, that thought they had the right to be Chief.  They couldn’t agree and the quarrelling grew worse as time went on.  Some said the greatest thief should be chosen.  Others thought the wisest one should be the leader; while some said the swiftest traveller was the one they wanted. So it went on and on until they were most all enemies instead of friends, and you could hear them quarrelling almost every night, until Old-Man came along that way.

“He heard about the trouble.  I forget who told him, but I think it was the Rabbit.  Anyhow he visited the council where the quarrelling was going on and listened to what each one had to say.  It took until almost daylight, too.  He listened to it all–every bit.  When they had finished talking and the quarrelling commenced as usual, he said, ‘Stop!’ and they did stop.

“Then he said to them: ‘I will settle this thing right here and right now, so that there will be no more rows over it, forever.’

“He opened his paint sack and took from it a small, polished bone. This he held up in the firelight, so that they might all see it, and he said:

“‘This will settle the quarrel.  You all see this bone in my right hand, don’t you?’

“‘Yes,’ they replied.

“‘Well, now you watch the bone and my hands, too, for they are quick and cunning.’

“Old-Man began to sing the trickster song and to slip the bone from one hand to the other so rapidly and smoothly that they were all puzzled.

Finally he stopped singing and held out his hands–both shut tight, and both with their backs up.

“‘Which of my hands holds the bone now?’ he asked them.

“Some said it was in the right hand and others claimed that it was the left hand that held it.  Old-Man asked the Bear to name the hand that held the bone, and the Bear did; but when Old-Man opened that hand it was empty–the bone was not there.  Then everybody laughed at the Bear.



Old-Man smiled a little and began to sing and again pass the bone.

“‘Beaver, you are smart; name the hand that holds the bone this time.’

“The Beaver said: ‘It’s in your right hand.  I saw you put it there.’



“Old-Man opened that hand right before the Beaver’s eyes, but the bone wasn’t there, and again everybody laughed–especially the Bear.

“‘Now, you see,’ said Old-Man, ‘that this is not so easy as it looks, but I am going to teach you all to play the game; and when you have all learned it, you must play it until you find out who is the cleverest at the playing.  Whoever that is, he shall be Chief under me, forever.’

“Some were awkward and said they didn’t care much who was Chief, but most all of them learned to play pretty well. 

First the Bear and the Beaver tried it, but the Beaver beat the Bear easily and held the bone for ever so long.  



Finally the Buffalo beat the Beaver and started to play with the Mouse.  Of course the Mouse had small hands and was quicker than the Buffalo–quicker to see the bone.  The Buffalo tried hard for he didn’t want the Mouse to be Chief but it didn’t do him any good; for the Mouse won in the end.

“It was a fair game and the Mouse was Chief under the agreement.  He looked quite small among the rest but he walked right out to the centre of the council and said:

“‘Listen, brothers–what is mine to keep is mine to give away.  I am too small to be your Chief and I know it.  I am not warlike.  I want to live in peace with my wife and family.  I know nothing of war.  I get my living easily.  I don’t like to have enemies.  I am going to give my right to be Chief to the man that Old-Man has made like himself.’

“That settled it.  That made the man Chief forever, and that is why he is greater than the animals and the birds.  That is why we never kill the Mice-people.



“You saw the Mice run into the buffalo skull, of course.  There is where they have lived and brought up their families ever since the night the Mouse beat the Buffalo playing the bone game.  Yes—the Mice-people always make their nests in the heads of the dead Buffalo-people, ever since that night.

“Our people play the same game, even today.  See,” and War Eagle took from his paint sack a small, polished bone.  Then he sang just as Old-Man did so long ago.  He let the children try to guess the hand that held the bone, as the animal-people did that fateful night; but, like the animals, they always guessed wrong.  Laughingly War Eagle said:

“Now go to your beds and come to see me to-morrow night.  Ho!”



The End


With Lips Gone, Teeth are exposed to Cold

With Lips Gone, Teeth are exposed to Cold

(From: Spring and Autumn Annals)

 Re-written by BoSt


Long ago, Duke Xian of the state of Jin wished to expand his realm and power; the Duke hence, bade Xun Xi to launch an expedition against the powerful State of Guo. The great distance however was of some concern and the campaign’s success depended on traversing the State of Yu. At the time there was a tentative alliance with Yu so Duke Xian asked Xun Xi for his counsel on this matter.


“In order to secure Duke Yu’s promise to let our army pass …. Hmm…” Xun Xi remained hesitant for a moment, before resuming, “The surest way My Lord, would be to present Duke Yu with our Chuji Jade and good number of Quchan steeds.”

(Note: Xhuji in Xhanxi Province was famous at the time for producing excellent jade stones and Quxhan in Shanxi Province was renowned for its fine breed of horses.)


“Is there no other way?” The Duke Xian was displeased with the suggestion. “The stone is an inherited treasure and should remain so for the next generations. And the idea of losing my steeds to that loathsome, pompous Lord is quite unacceptable. “Duke Xian grumbled, “Perchance, what if Duke Yu accepted our gift but refused our request, what then?”

Xun Xi braved Lord’s fury with this quick riposte: “Well my Lord, if Lord Yu refuses the fine gifts, we can be certain of his veiled hostility and look elsewhere for the safe passage. If however, his Lordship does accept it, we’d only be allowing his Lordship temporary custody of the treasures. What is there to be worried about?”

Duke Xian nodded with approval and soon after sent Xun Xi to the State of Yu to negotiate the army’s safe passage.  


Xun Xi was quick to gain admittance to the Yu court.  He presented a splendid figure in his fineries holding the large precious stone before him.  Many courtiers gasped witnessing the magnificent steeds that were corralled into the courtyard, dazzling everyone. 

Duke Yu greedy for the fine gifts, was about to make the emissary of Jin Xun Xi a rash promise when one of his loyal subjects, Gong Ziyi, came forward to protest: “My Lord, I beg a private council with you, if you please.”

“What, now?” Duke Yu was annoyed.

“How preposterous an intrusion! Has propriety and good sense left Gong Ziyi” Many courtiers grumbled under their breath.

Nevertheless Guo Ziyi was a well respected, loyal minister and Lord Yu was bit intrigued. He signalled Guo to advance and gave him permission to speak his mind.

Guo Ziyi was most direct. “There shall be no promise of any kind, your Grace.” His strong, resounding voice simply ripped through the stone cold silence that had enveloped the court.

“What Yu is to Guo is like gums to the cheeks. Gums are closely related to cheeks and cheeks to gums; which is exactly the present situation of Yu in relation to Guo. As the old ancestral saying goes, ‘If the lips are gone, the teeth will be exposed to cold.’  The fact that Guo is able to exist depends on Yu while Yu’s ability to survive hinges on Guo.  This inter-dependency will be jeopardized, if we make way for Jin army, allowing Guo to perish.  Their demise will transpire in the morning to be followed by Yu in the evening.”


Guo again spoke in good strong voice: “Why should we ever let Jin pass?  Why seek a small gain, only to harm vital interests?”

Duke Yu, however refused to listen to reason and, blinded by greed, in the end still gave the Jin army convenient access to Guo.

Thus Xun Xi attacked Guo and conquered it, and on the way back attacked Yu and conquered it too.

Xun Xi then triumphantly returned to Jin. The jade and the horses were once again restored to Duke Xian who, greatly pleased, said in good humor: “The jade remains the same, but he horses have got some more teeth!”












The Celestial Sisters



Arthur Heming

Arthur Heming


From: The Indian Fairy Book , The Original Legends

Author: Cornelius Mathews


The Celestial Sisters

 Waupee, or the White Hawk, lived in a remote part of the forest, where animals abounded.

Every day he returned from the chase with a large spoil, for he was one of the most skillful and lucky hunters of his tribe. His form was like the cedar; the fire of youth beamed from his eye; there was no forest too gloomy for him to penetrate, and no track made by bird or beast of any kind which he could not readily follow.

Arthur Heming

Arthur Heming

One day he had gone beyond any point which he had ever before visited. He traveled through an open wood, which enabled him to see a great distance. At length he beheld a light breaking through the foliage of the distant trees, which made him sure that he was on the borders of a prairie. It was a wide plain, covered with long blue grass, and enameled with flowers of a thousand lovely tints.

The Celestial Sisters (3)

After walking for some time without a path, musing upon the open country, and enjoying the fragrant breeze, he suddenly came to a ring worn among the grass and the flowers, as if it had been made by footsteps moving lightly round and round. But it was strange—so strange as to cause the White Hawk to pause and gaze long and fixedly upon the ground—there was no path which led to this flowery circle. There was not even a crushed leaf nor a broken twig, nor the least trace of a footstep, approaching or retiring, to be found. He thought he would hide himself and lie in wait to discover, if he could, what this strange circle meant.

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Presently he heard the faint sounds of music in the air. He looked up in the direction they came from, and as the magic notes died away he saw a small object, like a little summer cloud floating down from above that approaches the earth .

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At first it was very small, and seemed as if it could have been blown away by the first breeze that came along; but it rapidly grew as he gazed upon it, and the music every moment came clearer and more sweetly to his ear.

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As it neared the earth it appeared as a basket, and it was filled with twelve sisters, of the most lovely forms and enchanting beauty.

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As soon as the basket touched the ground they leaped out, and began straightway to dance, in the most joyous manner, around the magic ring, striking, as they did so, a shining ball, which uttered the most ravishing melodies, and kept time as they danced.



The White Hawk, from his concealment, entranced, gazed upon their graceful forms and movements. He admired them all, but he was most pleased with the youngest.

Art of Dance (1)

He longed to be at her side, to embrace her, to call her his own; and unable to remain longer a silent admirer, he rushed out and endeavored to seize this twelfth beauty who so enchanted him. But the sisters, with the quickness of birds, the moment they glimpsed the form of a man, leaped back into the basket, and were drawn up into the sky.

The Celestial Sisters (9)

Lamenting his ill-luck, Waupee gazed longingly upon the fairy basket as it ascended and bore the lovely sisters from his view. “They are gone,” he said, “and I shall see them no more.”

He returned to his solitary lodge, but he found no relief to his mind. He walked abroad, but to look at the sky, which had withdrawn from his sight the only being he had ever loved, was painful to him now.

The Celestial Sisters (10)

The next day, selecting the same hour, the White Hawk went back to the prairie, and took his station near the ring; in order to deceive the sisters, he assumed the form of a chipmunk (opussum), and sat among the grass as if he were there engaged in chewing the cud.

The Celestial Sisters (11)

He had not waited long when he saw the cloudy basket descend, and heard the same sweet music falling as before.

He crept slowly toward the ring; but the instant the sisters caught sight of him they were startled, and sprang into the basket. It rose a short distance when one of the elder sisters spoke:

“Perhaps,” she said, “it is come to show us how the game is played by mortals.”

“Oh no,” the youngest replied; “quick, let us ascend.”

And all joining in a chant, they rose out of sight.

The Celestial Sisters (12)

Waupee, casting off his disguise, walked sorrowfully back to his lodge—but ah, the night seemed very long to lonely White Hawk! His whole soul was filled with the thought of the beautiful sister.

Subsequent day, he returned to the haunted spot, hoping and fearing, and sighing as though his very soul would leave his body in its anguish. He reflected upon the plan he should follow to secure success. He had already failed twice; to fail a third time would be fatal. Nearby he found an old stump, much covered with moss, and just then in use as the residence of a number of mice, who had stopped there on a pilgrimage to some relatives on the other side of the prairie.

The Celestial Sisters (13)

The White Hawk was so pleased with their tidy little forms that he thought he, too, would be a mouse, especially as they were by no means formidable to look at, and would not be at all likely to create alarm.

He accordingly, having first brought the stump and set it near the ring, without further notice became a mouse, and peeped and sported about, and kept his sharp little eyes busy with the others; but he did not forget to keep one eye up toward the sky, and one ear wide open in the same direction.

It was not long before the sisters, at their customary hour, came down and resumed their dance.

Art of Dance (7)


“But see,” cried the younger sister, “that stump was not there before.”

She ran off, frightened, toward the basket. Her sisters only smiled, and gathering round the old tree-stump, they struck it, in jest, when out ran the mice, and among them Waupee. They killed them all but one, which was pursued by the younger sister. Just as she had raised a silver stick which she held in her hand to put an end to it, too, the form of the White Hawk arose, and he clasped his prize in his arms.

The Celestial Sisters (15)

The other eleven sprang to their basket, and were drawn up to the skies. Waupee exerted all his skill to please his bride and win her affections. He wiped the tears from her eyes; he related his adventures in the chase; he dwelt upon the charms of life on the earth. He was constant in his attentions, keeping fondly by her side, and picking out the way for her to walk as he led her gently toward his lodge. He felt his heart glow with joy as he entered it, and from that moment he was one of the happiest of men.

The Celestial Sisters (16)

Winter and summer passed rapidly away.

The Celestial Sisters (17)

 As the spring drew near with its balmy gales and its many-colored flowers, their happiness was increased by the presence of a beautiful boy in their lodge. What more of earthly blessing was there for them to enjoy?

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Waupee’s wife was a daughter of one of the stars; and as the scenes of earth began to pall upon her sight, she sighed to revisit her father. But she was obliged to hide these feelings from her husband. She remembered the charm that would carry her up, and while White Hawk was engaged in the chase, she took occasion to construct a wicker basket, which she kept concealed.

The Celestial Sisters (19)

In the mean time, she collected such rarities from the earth, as she thought would please her father, as well as the daintiest kinds of food.

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One day when Waupee was absent, and all was in readiness, she went out to the charmed ring, taking with her, her little son. As they entered the basket she commenced her magical song, and the basket rose. The song was sad, and of a lowly and mournful cadence, and as it was wafted far away by the wind, it caught her husband’s ear.  It was a voice which he well knew, and he instantly ran to the prairie. Though he made breathless speed, he could not reach the ring before his wife and child had ascended beyond his reach. He lifted up his voice in loud appeals, but they were unavailing. The basket still went up. He watched it till it became a small speck, and finally it vanished in the sky.

The Celestial Sisters (21)

He then bent his head down to the ground, and was miserable. Through a long winter and a long summer Waupee bewailed his loss, but he found no relief. The beautiful spirit had come and gone, and he should see it no more!

He mourned his wife’s loss sorely, but his son’s still more; for the boy had both the mother’s beauty and the father’s strength.

The Celestial Sisters (22)

In the mean time his wife had reached her home in the stars, and in the blissful employments of her father’s house she had almost forgotten that she had left a husband upon the earth. But her son, as he grew up, resembled more and more his father, and every day he was restless and anxious to visit the scene of his birth. His grandfather said to his daughter, one day:

“Go, my child, and take your son down to his father, and ask him to come up and live with us. But tell him to bring along a specimen of each kind of bird and animal he kills in the chase.”

She accordingly took the boy and descended. The White Hawk, who was ever near the enchanted spot, heard her voice as she came down the sky. His heart beat with impatience as he saw her form and that of his son, and they were soon clasped in his arms.

The Celestial Sisters (23)

He heard the message of the Star, and he began to hunt with the greatest activity, that he might collect the present with all dispatch. He spent whole nights, as well as days, in searching for every curious and beautiful animal and bird. He only preserved a foot, a wing, or a tail of each.

When all was ready, Waupee visited once more each favorite spot—the hill-top whence he had been used to see the rising sun; the stream where he had sported as a boy; the old lodge, now looking sad and solemn, which he was to sit in no more.

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And last of all, coming to the magic circle, he gazed widely around him with tearful eyes, and, taking his wife and child by the hand, they entered the basket and were drawn up—into a land far beyond the flight of birds, or the power of mortal eye to pierce.

The Celestial Sisters (26)

Great joy was manifested upon their arrival at the starry plains. The Star Chief invited all his people to a feast; and when they had assembled, he proclaimed aloud that each one might continue, as he was, an inhabitant of his own dominions, or select of the earthly gifts such as he liked best.

The Celestial Sisters (27)

A very strange confusion immediately arose; not one but sprang forward. Some chose a foot, some a wing, some a tail, and some a claw. Those who selected tails or claws were changed into animals, and ran off; the others assumed the form of birds, and flew away. Waupee chose a white hawk’s feather. His wife and son followed his example, and each one became a white hawk. He spread his wings, and, followed by his wife and son, descended with the other birds to the earth, where he is still to be found, with the brightness of the starry plains in his eye, and the freedom of the heavenly breezes in his wings.

The Celestial Sisters (28)


The End.






After a long drawn out winter, spring is finally making a comeback here. Tender new shoots are poking their heads hither and thither through the brown debris as if just awakening. Rain showers abound, worms are crawling their way through the depths of the soil providing nourishment to robins.


 Robins are birds with brown backs and a reddish-orange breast which varies in colour from a rich red maroon to peachy orange. You often see those tugging earthworms out of the ground, which is a sure sign of spring.


The robin’s head varies from jet black to gray, with white eye arcs. The throat is white with black streaks and the belly and under tail coverts are white as well. The bill is mainly yellow with a variable dark tip, the dusky area becoming more extensive in winter, and the legs and feet are brown.


We all notice them because of their distinct appearance and cheery songs. The male robin, as with many thrushes, has a complex and almost continuous song. Its song is commonly described as a cheerily carol, made up of discrete units, often repeated, and spliced together into a string with brief pauses in between. The song varies regionally, and its style varies by time of day. The robin is often among the first songbirds singing as dawn breaks and the last as the evening sun sets. It usually sings from a high perch in a tree. In addition to its song, the robin has a number of calls used for communicating specific information such as when a ground predator approaches, and when a nest or the robin is being directly threatened.


The American robin is a migratory songbird of the thrush family. It is named after the European robin because of its reddish-orange breast, though the two species are not closely related, with the European robin belonging to the flycatcher family. According to some sources, the American robin ranks behind only the red-winged blackbird (and just ahead of the introduced European starling) as the most abundant land bird in North America.   Robins breeds throughout most of North America from Alaska and Canada southward to northern Florida and Mexico.  While robins occasionally overwinter in the northern part of the United States and southern Canada, most migrate to Florida and the Gulf Coast or to central Mexico, as well as the Pacific Coast.

The lone robin is active all through the day and assembles in large flocks at night. Its diet consists of invertebrates such as beetle grubs, earthworms, and caterpillars, fruits and berries. It is one of the earliest bird species to lay eggs, beginning to breed shortly after returning to its summer range.


 A new nest is built for each brood, and in northern areas the first clutch is usually placed in an evergreen tree or shrub while later broods are placed in deciduous trees. The nest is most commonly located above the ground in a dense bush or in a fork between two tree branches and is built by the female alone. The outer foundation consists of long coarse grass, twigs, paper, and feathers. This is lined with smeared mud and cushioned with fine grass or other soft materials. In urban areas the robin sometimes constructs nests under eaves or awnings on human homes when such locations provide adequate shelter. Robins are not cavity nesters, and so will generally not use a bird house, but will take advantage of artificial nesting platforms that have been provided. Robin’s egg blue is a color named after the bird’s eggs.

A clutch consists of three to five light blue eggs, and is incubated by the female alone. The eggs hatch after 14 days, and the chicks leave the nest a further two weeks later. The newly hatched chicks are naked and have their eyes closed for the first few days.  While they are still young, the mother broods them continuously and are fed are fed worms, insects, and berries. When they are older, the mother will brood them only at night or during bad weather. Waste accumulation does not occur in the nest because adults collect and take it away. All chicks in the brood leave the nest within two days of each other. Even after leaving the nest, the juveniles will follow their parents around and beg food from them. Juveniles become capable of sustained flight two weeks after fledgling.


The robin usually uses auditory, visual and olfactory means to seek prey, but vision is the predominant mode of prey detection. It also has the ability to hunt by hearing. It typically will take several short hops and then cock its head left, right or forward as a means to detect movement of its prey.

The Robins can be preyed upon by hawks, cats and large snakes.


The American robin is a known carrier for West Nile virus. While crows and jays are often the first noticed deaths in an area with West Nile virus, the American robin is suspected to be a key host, and holds a larger responsibility for the transmission of the virus to humans. This is because, while crows and jays die quickly from the virus, the American robin survives the virus longer, hence spreading it to more mosquitoes which then transmit the virus to humans and other species.    


The robin has a prominent place in Native American mythology. The story of how the robin got its red breast by fanning the dying flames of a campfire to save a Native American man and a boy is similar to those that surround the European robin.


 The Tlingit people of Northwestern North America held it to be a culture-hero created by Raven to please the people with its song. One of the Houses of the Raven Tribe from the Nisga’a Nation holds the robin as a House Crest.


Here’s one of the North American legends:

The Origin of the Robin

From: The Indian Fairy Book , The Original Legends

Author: Cornelius Mathews


 An old man had an only son, named Iadilla, who had come to that age which is thought to be most proper to make the long and final fast which is to secure through life a guardian genius or spirit. The father was ambitious that his son should surpass all others in whatever was deemed wisest and greatest among his people. To accomplish his wish, he thought it necessary that the young Iadilla should fast a much longer time than any of those renowned for their power or wisdom, whose fame he coveted.

He therefore directed his son to prepare with great ceremony for the important event. After he had been several times in the sweating-lodge and bath, which were to prepare and purify him for communion with his good spirit, he ordered him to lie down upon a clean mat in a little lodge expressly provided for him. He enjoined upon him at the same time to endure his fast like a man, and promised that at the expiration of twelve days he should receive food and the blessing of his father.

The lad carefully observed the command, and lay with his face covered, calmly awaiting the approach of the spirit which was to decide his good or evil fortune for all the days of his life.

Every morning his father came to the door of the little lodge and encouraged him to persevere, dwelling at length on the vast honor and renown that must ever attend him, should he accomplish the full term of trial allotted to him.

To these glowing words of promise and glory the boy never replied, but he lay without the least sign of discontent or murmuring until the ninth day, when he addressed his father as follows:

“My father, my dreams forbode evil.  May I break my fast now, and at a more favorable time make a new fast?”


The father answered:

“My son, you know not what you ask. If you get up now, all your glory will depart. Wait patiently a little longer. You have but three days more, and your term will be completed. You know it is for your own good, and I encourage you to persevere. Shall not your aged father live to see you a star among the chieftains and the beloved of battle?”

The son assented; and covering himself more closely, that he might shut out the light which prompted him to complain, he lay till the eleventh day, when he repeated his request.


The father addressed Iadilla as he had the day before, and promised that he would himself prepare his first meal, and bring it to him by the dawn of the morning.

The son moaned, and the father added:

“Will you bring shame upon your father when his sun is falling in the west?”

“I will not shame you, my father,” replied Iadilla; and he lay so still and motionless that you could only know that he was living by the gentle heaving of his breast.

At the spring of day, the next morning, the father, delighted at having gained his end, prepared a repast for his son, and hastened to set it before him. On coming to the door of the little lodge, he was surprised to hear his son talking to himself.  He stooped his ear to listen, and, looking through a small opening, he was yet more astonished when he beheld his son painted with vermilion over all his breast, and in the act of finishing his work by laying on the paint as far back on his shoulders as he could reach with his hands, saying at the same time, to himself:


“My father has destroyed my fortune as a man. He would not listen to my requests. He has urged me beyond my tender strength. He will be the loser. I shall be forever happy in my new state, for I have been obedient to my parent. He alone will be the sufferer, for my guardian spirit is a just one. Though not propitious to me in the manner I desired, he has shown me pity in another way—he has given me another shape; and now I must go.”


At this moment the old man broke in, exclaiming:

“My son! my son! I pray you leave me not!”

But the young man, with the quickness of a bird, had flown to the top of the lodge and perched himself on the highest pole, having been changed into a beautiful robin red-breast. He looked down upon his father with pity beaming in his eyes, and addressed him as follows:

“Regret not, my father, the change you behold. I shall be happier in my present state than I could have been as a man. I shall always be the friend of men, and keep near their dwellings. I shall ever be happy and contented; and although I could not gratify your wishes as a warrior, it will be my daily aim to make you amends for it as a harbinger of peace and joy. I will cheer you by my songs, and strive to inspire in others the joy and lightsomeness of heart I feel in my present state. This will be some compensation to you for the loss of glory you expected. I am now free from the cares and pains of human life. My food is spontaneously furnished by the mountains and fields, and my pathway of life is in the bright air.”


Then stretching himself on his toes, as if delighted with the gift of wings, Iadilla caroled one of his sweetest songs, and flew away into a neighboring wood.


The End.


The Winter Spirit and His Visitor


From: The Indian Fairy Book , The Original Legends

Author: Cornelius Mathews


An old man was sitting alone in his lodge by the side of a frozen stream. It was the close of winter, and his fire was almost out. He appeared very old and very desolate. His locks were white with age, and he trembled in every joint. Day after day passed in solitude, and he heard nothing but the sounds of the tempest, sweeping before it the new-fallen snow.


One day as his fire was just dying; a handsome young man approached and entered his dwelling. His cheeks were red with the blood of youth; his eyes sparkled with life, and a smile played upon his lips.


He walked with a light and quick step. His forehead was bound with a wreath of sweet grass, in place of the warrior’s frontlet, and he carried a bunch of flowers in his hand.


“Ah! my son,” said the old man, “I am happy to see you. Come in. Come; tell me of your adventures, and what strange lands you have been to see. Let us pass the night together. I will tell you of my prowess and exploits, and what I can perform. You shall do the same, and we will amuse ourselves.”


He then drew from his sack a curiously-wrought antique pipe, and having filled it with tobacco, rendered mild by an admixture of certain dried leaves, he handed it to his guest. When this ceremony was attended to, they began to speak.

“I blow my breath,” said the old man, “and the streams stand still. The water becomes stiff and hard as clear stone.”


“I breathe,” said the young man, “and flowers spring up all over the plains.”


“I shake my locks,” retorted the old man, “and snow covers the land. The leaves fall from the trees at my command, and my breath blows them away. The birds rise from the water and fly to a distant land. The animals hide themselves from the glance of my eye, and the very ground where I walk becomes as hard as flint.”


“I shake my ringlets,” rejoined the young man, “and warm showers of soft rain fall upon the earth.


The plants lift up their heads out of the ground like the eyes of children glistening with delight. My voice recalls the birds. The warmth of my breath unlocks the streams.


 Music fills the groves wherever I walk, and all nature welcomes my approach.”


At length the sun began to rise. Gentle warmth came over the place. The tongue of the old man became silent. The robin and the blue-bird began to sing on the top of the lodge.


The stream began to murmur by the door and the fragrance of growing herbs and flowers came softly on the vernal breeze.


Daylight fully revealed to the young man the character of his entertainer. When he looked upon him he had the visage of Peboan, the icy cold Winter-Spirit. Streams began to flow from his eyes.


As the sun increased he grew less and less in stature, and presently he had melted completely away.


Nothing remained on the place of his lodge-fire but the mis-kodeed, a small white flower with a pink border,


which the young visitor, Seegwun, the Spirit of Spring, placed in the wreath upon his brow, as his first trophy in the North.


The End


The Sacred Tree

The Sacred Tree

“The useful declines to be used,

whereas the useless asks to be used.”   Tao.

 Once upon a time a well known carpenter named Shih, accompanied by his young and impressionable apprentice, was travelling through the untamed countryside, often taking shortcuts in order to reach the state of Ch’i on time.


Their travels at one point led them to the Shady Circle, where they observed a sacred Li tree in the temple dedicated to the God of Earth.  The tree was immensely huge, so large in fact that it provided shelter to a herd of several thousand cattle and still left room for more. It was a hundred spans in girth, towering up eighty or ninety feet over the hilltop, before it branched out. Countless admiring crowds with their faces turned up, stood there gazing in awe at this miracle on earth.


The apprentice too had halted briefly and fixed his eyes also on this magnificence, thinking how a dozen boats could be cut out of it. He hastened his steps to catch up to his master, who’d continued on his way quite unconcerned. Bit puzzled, he addressed his master tentatively, “Master, in all this time that I’ve been fortunate enough to have handled an adz in your service, I have never seen such superb example of timber. How was it that you, Master, cared not pause a step, to even perfunctorily observe it?”

“Forget about it, it’s hardly worth the mention,” the master shrugged smugly. Observing the puzzled look on the stubborn apprentice’s face however, he relented. “The tree is good for nothing. Made into a boat, it would sink; into a coffin, it would rot; into furniture, it would break easily; into a door, it would sweat; into a pillar, it would be worm-eaten. Despite its size the wood is of no quality, and therefore of no use. That’s why it has survived to attain its present age.”

By dusk of the fifth day, the carpenter and his apprentice had finally reached home. After unburdening themselves of their baggage and washing up, they partook of a satisfying repast. That evening, as he snuggled cosily under the quilts, the carpenter had an unsettling dream.

He dreamt that the displeased spirit of the tree appeared to him and spoke to him harshly, as follows:

“Your arrogance is unconscionable. What is it tell me you intend to compare me with? Is it with fine-grained wood? Consider the pear, the orange, the pomelo, cherry-apple and all other fruit bearers: as soon as their fruit ripens they are stripped and treated with such indignity. The great boughs are snapped off, the small ones scattered abroad.

Thus do these trees by their own value cause injury to their own lives. Sadly they cannot fulfill their allotted span of years, but expire prematurely; all because they are destroyed for bringing forth the admiration of the world.

“Thus it is with all things. In view of this, I’ve strove long and hard to appear useless. Even so, many a time I had a close brush with the peril of being cut down. My wits and my ways however in the end succeeded in deterring them from their aim, and so I endured and grew to these heights; being only useful to myself.

“My kindness now propels me to impart on you few facts:

“In your pitifully brief human history Tsech’i of Nan-po was once travelling on the hill of Shang when he chanced upon a huge tree that greatly astonished him. In his mind he accounted that a thousand chariot teams of four horses could seek shelter under its shade. Reining on his horse under it and pointing he therefore shouted: “What sort of tree is this? Surely it must bear an unusual fine timber.” Then as he looked more closely, he saw that its branches were too crooked for rafters; and looking down he noted that the trunk’s twisting loose grain made it valueless for coffins. Reaching he plucked a leaf and tasted it; at once his face crinkled for it took the skin off his lips. The odor meanwhile was too strong that it would make a man insensate for several days. “Ah!” said Tsech’i, “this tree is really good for nothing, and that is how it has attained this size. A spiritual man might well follow its example of useless.”

“You may also recall that in the State of Sung there is a land belonging to the Ching, where thrive the catalpa, the cedar, and the mulberry. Such as are of one span or so in girth are cut down for monkey cages. Those of two or three spans are harvested for the beams of fine houses. Those of seven or eight spans are cut down for the jointless sides of rich men’s coffins. Alas, they do not fulfill their allotted span of years, but perish under the ax, all too young. Such is the misfortunes that overtake the worthy.

“In contrast; for sacrifices to the River God neither pigs with high snouts, nor bulls with white foreheads, nor men suffering from piles, can be used. For every soothsayer regards these as inauspicious. To the wise, however, these are regarded extremely auspicious, if only to themselves.


“I’m reminded of an account of a certain hunchback named Su. His jaws touched his navel. His shoulders were higher than his head. His neck bone stuck out towards the ultimate sky. His viscera were turned upside down. His buttocks were where his ribs should have been. Yet he lived rather comfortably. By sifting rice, or tailing, or washing, he earned his keep and achieved enough to support a family of ten.

“When the orders for conscription came, whether for the army or for public works, the hunchback walked about unconcerned among his peers, for his deformity excluded him from all such. Meanwhile, when the donations of grain for the disadvantaged and the disabled were handed out, the hunchback received as much as three measures, and when firewood was allotted, ten faggots. If physical deformity was thus sufficient to preserve his body until the end of his days, how much more should a moral and mental deformity avail!

“Alas, it’s a sad fact that mountain trees invite their own cutting down, lamp oil invites its own burning up. Lacquer can be used, there the tree is scraped; cinnamon bark can be eaten; therefore the tree is cut down. All men know the utility of useful things; but they do not know the utility of futility.

“As you and I are both created things, I ponder on the soundness of this good-for-nothing fellow: you, who’s in imminent danger of death, passing so demeaning a remark on the supposed good-for-nothing tree.”

The subsequent morning the carpenter Shih awakened with a start, covered with perspiration, and sat up on his bed for a while collecting his thoughts. His mind fastened just then on the well known fact:

That when Confucius was in the Ch’u State, the eccentric Chieh Yu passed his door, saying, “O phoenix! O phoenix! How has thy virtue fallen! Wait not for the coming years, nor hanker back to the past. When the right principles prevail on earth, prophets will fulfill their mission. When the right principles prevail not, they will but preserve themselves. At the present day, they are but trying to keep out of jail! The good fortunes of this world are light as feathers, yet none estimates them at their true value. The misfortunes of this life are weighty as the earth, yet none knows how to keep out of their reach. No more, no more, show off your virtue. Beware, beware, and move cautiously on! O brambles, O brambles, wound not my steps! I pick my way about, hurt not my feet!”

Later on that day when the carpenter Shih, heard his apprentice exclaim, “If the tree aimed at uselessness, how was it that it became a sacred tree?”

“Hush!” he responded gravely. “Keep quiet. I was wrong. It merely took refuge in the temple to escape from the abuse of those who do not appreciate it. Had it not become sacred, how many would have wanted to cut it down! Moreover, the means it adopts for safety are different from that of others, and to criticize it by ordinary standards would be far wide of the mark.”

A lesson was well learned!

Structures – 8

Structures – 8

Zen Story: The Tunnel

Once upon a time Zenkai, the son of a samurai, journeyed to Edo and there became the retainer of a high official. Unfortunately being rather handsome, young and foolhardy, he fell in love with the official’s wife. For many days he swooned over her from afar until a time when the official was away and a chance meeting cast the pair into secret love affair. One day in the throngs of passion they were discovered by the very husband who’d unexpectedly returned home. In self defense Zenkai was forced to slay the official and was constrained to run away with her.

While in hiding their difficult circumstance forced them to become thieves, but the woman was so gluttonous that nothing Zenkai did was satisfactory. Zenkai by then increasing disgusted, eventually left her and journeyed far away to the province of Buzen, where he became a wondering beggar. A day did not go by where he did not repent for his past mistakes. One day, as he reflected on the dangerous road over a cliff that had caused the death and injury of so many travellers, he passively observed the hard working ants going in and out of their burrow, suddenly he jumped up, having had an epiphany. That moment he was resolved to remedy his sins by accomplishing some good deed in his lifetime to atone for his past sins.

From that day forth, he begged food in daytime and worked diligently at night digging with whatever means he had to construct a tunnel. When thirty years had gone by, the tunnel was 2,280 feet long, 20 feet high and 30 feet wide.

Two years before the task was to be completed however, Zenkai encountered the son of the official he had slain. The son was a skillful swordsman bent on avenging his father.

“As you have every right, I will surrender my life to you most willingly” implored Zenkai. “I only ask that you please first let me finish this task I’ve started. On the day of its completion, I will gladly bow my neck to your blade.”

After long consideration the son nodded and several months passed as he observed at first Zenkai digging and working with all his might to complete this very worthy project.

Eventually he got tired of just standing by and watching, and begun aiding Zenkai with the dig. Working alongside Zenkai time after time, seeing the sincerity of latter’s remorse, recognizing the now a better man striving so hard to atone for his youthful folly, the official’s son bit by bit forgave Zenkai’s crime. After he had helped for more than a year, in his heart the seething rage became replaced with rare admiration for Zenkai’s tenacity, strong will and character.

On the day the tunnel was completed, Zenkai washed himself and his clothes in the nearby river, then boldly walked up to the official’s son, and kneeling before him spoke the works of atonement then urged the other to dispense with his due punishment.

“Now cut off my head. My work is done.” He was ready and willing harbouring no in will to the righteous son. Perfectly composed still kneeling, he bowed his head and waited.

The son unsheathing his sword, raised the blade high in the sky… then waited.

“What are you waiting for?” Zenkai shouted at him, looking up. “I’m deserving of death, get on with it.”

“How can I cut off my own teacher’s head?” asked the younger man with tears in his eyes.

The End