Charles B. Pettis, The Hummingbird and the Hawk
The Hummingbird and the Hawk
Publisher: Booklogix Kindle, 2015
Trade Paper: 195 pp.
“Tell me the story again, my grandfather. Please tell it once again.”
“But it was only yesterday I told it to you. And it has been twice you have asked to hear it since the great yellow moon last made her way across the sky.”
“If you tell the story now I won’t ask for a very long time. I promise.” Smiling Fawn flashed her best smile at the old man.
Brave Wolf was intent on making a long leather strap, but he was never too busy for his favorite grandchild. She was the daughter of his youngest son, Strong Wolf, and only in the seventh year of her life. Strong Wolf and his wife, White Sparrow, had brought Smiling Fawn into the world when they were both in their fortieth year, an unexpected event, to be sure. And it was the joyous laughter of the little child that led to her name.
“So,” said Brave Wolf as he laid his work to one side and brushed small pieces of leather from his shirt, “you want to hear about the hummingbird once again?”
“Yes. Oh, and the hawk, too. They go together, don’t they, Grandfather?”
“Well, in the story they do. You must remember that.” He thought about saying more, but her expectant face and his good sense ended his speech there. “Let us see, how does that story begin...?” he teased.
“Many years ago, in the time before...” Smiling Fawn began for him, all the while tugging at his sleeve.
“Oh, yes, that is how it starts.” The little girl rolled her eyes up in her head. He knew he had been caught. And so he pulled her a little closer to him and began again.
Many years ago, in the time before our people came to this land, and before other tribes came to this land, there lived in this valley a great hawk. Among the animals she was known by the name Shinaka, and she was a magnificent creature. She was almost as tall as you and had the most beautiful feathers of gray, brown, black and white that shimmered in the sun. Shinaka’s head was covered with feathers of bright orange, and her eyes were yellow, no, golden. Yes, her eyes were golden.
Shinaka was queen of the skies in the valley, keeping watch so that the other animals and birds were safe. When she hunted for food, she flew to places far distant from her valley, because all the creatures in her valley lived in peace and harmony. If one of the animals or birds in her valley could not find food, Shinaka would search and then tell them where to look. Oh, yes, life was peaceful and good in the valley.
The rains came to the valley and brought life-giving water for all. And for three months each year the snow fell in the far mountains to feed the streams and rivers that coursed down their steep, rocky sides and flowed into this valley and all the other valleys. In the summer Brother Sun kept the air warm, and when he had flown to his nightly rest, giving way to Sister Moon, gentle breezes stirred the air just enough so the animals and birds could sleep without care.
Spring and autumn days were just a little cool, and all the creatures sought protected places to sleep--places away from the wind that often rose in the night. In winter, many of the birds flew away from the valley in search of warmer days and nights. I have heard it told that some birds fly greater distances than the buffalo herds travel. The larger animals, just as they do today, found refuge in caves in the lower slopes of the mountains to sleep until being awakened by the warmth of spring.
And over all this, Shinaka kept her watch, silently noting the whereabouts of all her creatures, for that was her place in life, her role as prescribed by the Great One.
Smiling Fawn could contain herself no longer. “And where is the Great One, Grandfather? You speak of him but you never tell me where he is.”
“And have I ever said the Great One is a man?”
The little girl realized the truth of what he had said and shook her head. “No, but I just thought that it was a ‘he’ and not a ‘she.’”
“Because we say ‘great’ you think it is a man? But we have Sister Moon to guide us when Brother Sun sleeps. And we have Mother Earth to thank for the bounty of our fields. You see, the Great One could be either man or woman. But we are getting away from our story. Let me see...”
Smiling Fawn wrapped her arms around his right arm and smiled at the wrinkled face she loved so very much.
One fine spring day Shinaka was soaring high near the face of the mountain we now call Umaqua, The Sacred House. As she rose and turned away from the mountain, she spied a small speck in the sky. Whatever it was, it was flying, but Shinaka had never seen such a small creature flying so fast, and never near her valley. She soared high in the sunlit sky to look at this tiny wonder from above.
And what a sight it was. This little being, this tiny being, flapping its wings so hard and fast they were just a blur. Shinaka was blessed with keen sight and hearing, and what she heard was new, amazing, almost from another world. She heard a buzzing sound coming from whatever was flying over her valley. Her eyes told her it was a bird--a bird that buzzes like Sister Bee!
The buzzing thing saw Shinaka’s shadow, stopped right where it was in the middle of the air and darted into the top of a lodgepole pine tree. The hawk had never seen any creature do such a thing. The hawk flew silently to another pine tree nearby and watched. In due time, the little flying thing took to the air and flew right in front of Shinaka, and not a wing’s length away. The hawk was so startled she almost lost the grip she had on the branch. She did get a closer look, and it--whatever it is--had a long sharp nose, and was green, with a small dot of red somewhere on its tiny body.
Shinaka watched as the little flying thing sought out a bush with bright orange flowers. It stuck its nose deep into the flowers, beating its wings to hold itself in place. After a very short time, the little creature darted to another flower, then another, until it had poked its nose into almost all the flowers on that bush. Then it flew to the next bush and repeated the darting and nose-sticking. The hawk continued watching for some time. Then she flew down to a low branch near the bushes and decided to find out what sort of “thing” had come to her valley.
“Excuse me,” said Shinaka respectfully. You see, she was a hawk who guarded the valley, but she was always polite, especially to elders and to strangers. She had decided it was some sort of bird because it had wings and flew like a bird. There was no answer. Perhaps the little creature had not heard. So she tried again, this time a little louder. “Excuse me, little green bird, may I speak to you?”
“Oh,” was all the tiny green bird could manage. It alit near a flower and settled its tiny wings along its body. “You...you took me by surprise...I was feeding on these nice flowers...I didn’t hear you light on that branch...” The little bird was shaking, afraid. Surely the size of the hawk was intimidating, for Shinaka was many times bigger than he.
“There is no need to shake in my presence, little friend. I am Shinaka, the hawk who watches over this valley. You are new to our home, and I have a few questions.”
“A few questions?” The little bird imagined he might be a meal if he weren’t careful.
“Yes, just a few. Let’s start with an easy one. I have told you who I am, so what is your name, if you have one? And just what are you?”
“I am called Nuluk. I am the bird that hums...I mean a hummingbird. And you?”
“I am a hawk. May I go on with my questions?” she asked.
“Yes,” said Nuluk. “I will try to answer them if I can,
“Will you be in our valley a long time, or are you just passing through?” asked the hawk.
“Well,” said Nuluk, rubbing his beak back and forth over a nearby branch, “I am looking for a new home, and so far I have found all that I need right here. Are there more of these flowers in the valley?”
“Yes, all over our valley.” A bit of emphasis to give the little male bird another idea of who was more important. “You will be staying a long time, then.”
“Only until the cold wind comes down and turns the tops of the mountains white. Then I’ll fly back to where I came from, where it is warm all year.” Shinaka changed her approach. “Why do you stick your nose into the flowers? Are you smelling them?”
“No, no, Shinaka...Is it permissible to call you Shinaka...?” She nodded to him. “You see I am looking for nectar in the flowers. I push my beak all the way to the bottom of each blossom and find the sweet nectar there. That is what I eat mostly--oh that and a few small bugs from time to time. So I am not smelling the flowers, I am drinking their nectar. And I must say these orange flowers are very tasty, very tasty indeed.”
And with that he did a most disrespectful thing. Little Nuluk turned his back on Shinaka, the great hawk, and sipped nectar from two or three other blossoms. The hawk frowned and flapped her wings, rising up on her feet, trying to show the little hummingbird just how much bigger she was.
Nuluk sat on a branch and watched the larger bird. He wondered, was it wrong to turn my back on the hawk. Then he said, “Yes, yes, go on. You have other questions?”
“Not for now. Perhaps another time. Tomorrow, maybe.” And with that Shinaka rose quickly in the air and made straight for one of her favorite hunting grounds in a canyon just beyond Umaqua.
“But you have added some things this time,” said Smiling Fawn as she broke away from Brave Wolf. “I do not remember so many questions the last time you told the story. You should tell it the same every time.”
Her grandfather replied with a twinkle in his eye and laughter in his voice, “What good is a story retold if it is without some changes to make it better, more complete?”
“But I want to get to my favorite part of the story... the ending.”
And you are afraid that the Great One will be distressed if Smiling Fawn must wait a little longer to hear the end of a story she has heard many times before?”
“No, he...I mean she...I mean the Great One will not be distressed, grandfather. I just...”
“The end and the middle of the story will be told in time, little one. Now come close to me, for the air shows some chill, and I wouldn’t want to find you with a runny nose and a cough.” With that, Smiling Fawn grabbed his right arm once again and waited for his soothing voice to continue the story.
Seven days would pass before Shinaka and Nuluk would meet once again. During that time, Nuluk had flown the length and width of the valley and just as the hawk had told him the bushes with the sweet, orange flowers were in great abundance.
This valley was green and lush with trees to sit on and grasses where small bugs could be found. To Nuluk it was paradise, and so much different than another valley he had visited just seven moons ago. That other valley was far away, nearer to where Brother Sun floats out of the endless sea each day. He described it to Shinaka on their second meeting.
“The skies were hazy with dust that the wind lifted from the land,” said Nuluk. “The water in the rivers and streams had a peculiar taste.”
“Water with a peculiar taste?” asked the hawk. “What do you mean, little friend?”
“The creatures drank the water, but it had something in it that left a strange taste long after it had been sipped, like one had licked a stone or the bark of a tree.” He saw the question in Shinaka’s eyes. “I know what you are thinking. No creatures had died from drinking that water. They had all come to accept it as quite normal.”
“And what sort of animals did you find in this other valley?” asked Shinaka.
“Just like the animals in this valley, but smaller, and much darker in color,” he replied. “You see the water with the funny taste fed the trees, bushes and grasses. And like the animals, the grass was more gray than green. Even the orange flower – for they grew there, also – were more the color of goat’s milk.”
“And the nectar?”
“It was good, but not nearly as sweet as the orange flowers in this valley,” said Nuluk. “ All the time I spent in that other valley I thought it very peculiar, puzzling.”
“And how is that?” Shinaka asked.
“None of the creatures seemed the least bit concerned that the water tasted funny, or that the sky was always hazy or that it all seemed so drab. To me it wasn’t living--it was merely existing.”
“Oh yes!” exclaimed Smiling Fawn. “Now we are coming to the good part, the part about how it all ends!”
“Yes, Smiling Fawn, the end of the story, ‘the good part’ is almost upon us. Before I tell it would you bring me a gourd filled with cool water? With all the telling my voice is tired. And it needs to be strong to finish the story properly.”
The little girl scrambled to her feet and ran to the spring at the edge of the village, smiling all the way. Her grandfather watched her. Such a happy child, he thought. He hoped it would always be so. Too many times a child who greets the world with joy somehow becomes quite another person after experiencing more of life.
Smiling Fawn held the green and yellow gourd under the water that flowed gently from the spring, making sure it filled all the way to the top. As she turned to carry the water to the old man, she took two running steps, tripped on a small stone and went sprawling on the hard ground. The gourd sailed out of her tiny hands, spilling the water, some on the ground and some on her cloak. Without a sound she got to her feet, brushed the dirt and water from her clothes, picked up the gourd and went back to the spring. When she had refilled the gourd, Smiling Fawn walked proudly to her grandfather, smiling all the way.
“Are you all right, little one?” His tone was measured. Too many times the way a question is asked tells what kind of answer is expected. He wanted the girl to decide how to answer.
“Yes, Grandfather,” she said with an extra glow on her face, “I am all right. The water is cool, and the gourd is clean.” And then she giggled as only Smiling Fawn could.
“Good. Now sit close once more and I will finish the tale,” said her grandfather. “And I will be careful to tell it just as I did the last time.”
She threw her arms around his neck and hugged her beloved grandfather. She knew she shouldn’t make such a public display of affection, but surely the Great One would forgive her. Smiling Fawn took her place on her grandfather’s right side, held tight to his arm and waited expectantly.
The story of the other valley disturbed Shinaka greatly. “How could such a thing happen?” she wondered. She wanted to understand, and so she asked a question.
“Was there a hawk like me, or perhaps an eagle, to keep watch over that valley?”
“Yes, an eagle, said Nuluk. “He spent all his time making sure he had enough to eat and a suitable place to rest when Sister Moon lighted the sky. I was new to that valley and thought it peculiar, but said nothing to him or any of the other creatures.”
“And where is this valley?”
“It is far, far away where Brother Sun makes his journey low in the sky when the cold winds come,” said Nuluk. Then he quickly added, “Surely you are not thinking of going there.”
“No,” answered Shinaka. “Tell me, are there many creatures in the valley you tell about?”
“Not as many as in this valley,” said Nuluk. “And the creatures I spoke to, the few who were willing to speak, told me there are fewer and fewer creatures as time goes on. Many do not survive when there is snow on the mountains. Others just seem to give up.”
After a moment to take in what she had just heard, Shinaka asked, “Did you travel to that valley alone, Nuluk?’
“Ah, finally the question most important to you. You want to know if others like me will come to your valley. I traveled with many others just like me. I was sent to find a home for the flock. We knew we could not survive in that other, horrible place.”
“And when will the other hummingbirds come to our valley?” asked Shinaka.
“As soon as I return to them and tell them what I have found.”
“And I intend to begin my flight tomorrow, when Brother Sun is high in the sky,” said Nuluk. “If all goes well, the flock should be feasting on the bright orange flowers of this valley before we see all of Sister Moon once more.”
And so it happened as Nuluk said. The hummingbirds came in numbers too many to count. And they lived out their lives in peace with Shinaka and the other creatures of the valley.
“I like that part, Grandfather,” said Smiling Fawn. “It is good to know that there are other hummingbirds and that they will come to the good valley where Shinaka keeps watch.”
“Yes, little one, it is important to keep watch over Mother Earth so she needn’t work so hard. And it is important to watch over one another to make sure all are safe. So it was in Shinaka’s valley. Why are you frowning, my granddaughter? Is something bothering you?”
“Where is that valley?” asked the little girl. “I think I would like to visit it one day, maybe even live there.”
“But you are already there, my child. Look,” said Brave Wolf.
And with that, a great flock of bright green hummingbirds rose from a dozen bushes covered with bright orange flowers. Every so often a flash of red could be seen in the flock as it rose in the air and darted this way and that. Then as quickly as it had risen, the flock returned to the same bushes and continued their search for nectar.
Smiling Fawn stared at a nearby pine tree. There in the highest branch she could see a large hawk of gray, brown, black and white. And its head was covered with orange feathers that shimmered in the bright autumn light.
Copyright © 2016 by Charles B. Pettis