Calling Bird

Written and Illustrated by Adrienne Potter

Dedicated to vocalist and music teacher Gogi Van Duren

Long ago in a land where there had almost always been peace there lived a beautiful Indian maiden named Calling Bird. She loved to sing and she had a lovely voice, and so the name suited her exactly. She sang to the moon, the stars, the sun, and the birds. She sang with the owl and the wolf. She couldn't stop herself from singing whenever she saw the sunset or the sunrise, or even the moon rise. Whenever she listened to the rain falling or the thunder rolling she answered back in song. Her family and the tribe loved to listen to her sing for it always lifted their hearts no matter what hardship they faced.

One day she climbed up a steep hill to watch the sun go down. It spread it's golden-pink rays over the valley and the mountains and lined the trees with light. Calling Bird watched as the twilight slowly spread over the horizon, then she sang to the wind as an evening breeze blew in. She stayed a little too late and shadows began to creep over the steep slopes. She hurried to get down the hill before it was too dark to see, but in her haste she stumbled and fell. She grasped at a small branch but it broke and down a ravine she fell, hitting the bottom with a terrible thud that knocked all the breath out of her. She was in pain and sleep seemed to smother her so she didn't fight it.

In the morning she awoke, cold, hungry, thirsty, and groggy, but alive. She found that nothing seemed to be seriously wrong with her so she got up and walked through the forest towards her home. On the way she met her father, Sitting Sun, her brother, and cousins, who had been searching for her since the early morning when they realized she hadn't come home. She ran to them and they hugged her in joy and relief. Then they asked her what happened.

She tried to answer their questions but no sound came out, and it was in that moment that she realized her voice was gone! The beautiful singing voice that had delighted man and nature for so long had disappeared! The relief on her father's face suddenly turned to concern. "Where is your voice?!" he cried. She opened her mouth and still nothing came out but air. She pointed to her throat. She pointed to the hill and motioned that she had fallen. Suddenly overcome, she fell to the ground in a faint.

Sitting Sun carried her home and told her mother, Misty Moon, what had happened. Gently she was laid on soft furs and covered with blankets. Hours later when she awoke and looked into the faces of her parents she tried to speak again. Nothing came out. It was as if her vocal chords had been plucked out and taken away. Her hands were at her throat. Tears welled up in her eyes and rolled down her cheeks. Her mother held her in her arms and together they cried as Sitting Sun sat rocking with his arms folded, deep in thought.

The next day Sitting Sun brought the medicine man to look at Calling Bird. He did a dance, chanted some words, and sprinkled some powder on Calling Bird's head. Then he prayed to the God of the Earth, "Oh Great One in the Heavens, send the great powers on high down to Calling Bird to help her find her voice!" He danced and chanted a while longer but then suddenly stooped and looked out the door of the teepee. Clouds had moved in front of the sun. Rain could be seen on the horizon and strong winds were moving in. He stood and faced Sitting Sun. "This is not good," he said. The spirits of nature have been told by the Great Spirit Who Rules Over All to tell us that Calling Bird's voice is no longer with us. It has been taken away to a place where no one knows. Only Calling Bird can find it."

Her father looked stunned. Her mother dropped her head and wept. They had always been grateful for Calling Bird's gift of song. They had always enjoyed it, encouraged it, and been proud of it. How could the Great Spirit take away a gift that they had always loved? The whole tribe had appreciated it. As Calling Bird recovered from her accident everyone mourned with Sitting Sun and Misty Moon. Calling Bird began to walk in the forest again, but the joy had gone out of her, and she knew she must soon leave on a private journey to find her voice.

When the day came Misty Moon packed some corn and flour cakes and dried meat for her. Sitting Sun gave her his leather pouch filled with water, his bow and arrow, and a warm fur coat he had made for her from the skins of the animals he hunted. Her brother gave her a knife that he had made. Last of all, the medicine man came and gave her a shiny, clear stone with a hole drilled through it, hanging from a string. "Use it to find the light," he told her. "When it is dark and it seems that all is lost, hold the stone up towards the heavens and let it catch the light. The light will show you the way."

Calling Bird set out on her journey, determined to find her voice even if she had to search the rest of her life. She walked and walked, over hills and mountains, through plains and valleys, through forests and deserts, stopping only to eat and sleep. She longed to cry out to the wind that gently blew her face but the wind only blew down her throat when she opened her mouth. She slept sometimes on soft branches, other times on the hard ground. She ate fish that she caught, berries that she picked, or animals that she hunted. She traveled for days, weeks, and months, until almost two years had passed.

One day she sat down by a stream to rest and thought of her terrible loss and of her family, and how much she missed them. She thought of the plentiful food and the warmth of the hogan. Her tears fell into the stream and flowed into the river that empties into the sea. The creatures of the sea saw the human tears and wondered what was the cause of this terrible sadness. They chose a messenger to go and find out, so a tuna swam up the river and up the stream, searching for the source of the tears.

Calling Bird was sitting near the bank one cold and cloudy morning. She was sad and discouraged, for she had found no trace of her voice and no one was able to help her. She remembered the crystal and took it out, holding it up towards the clouds. Suddenly a ray of light pierced the clouds and seemed to point straight at her crystal, giving it a flash of light that even the tuna saw under the water. He surfaced near Calling Bird.

"Why are you crying? What makes you so sad?" he asked. "The creatures of the sea have seen your tears and sent me to find out why someone could be so sad." Calling Bird was touched by this concern but she could not answer, so she pointed to her throat and tried to make a sound. "I see," said the tuna. "You cannot speak. Is that why you are full of grief?" She shook her head sideways. She pointed to a bird chirping in a nearby tree and moved her head and mouth as if she were singing. "Now I understand," the tuna told her. "You want to sing but you have no voice!" Calling Bird sighed and her shoulders slumped. "Wait here, and I will come back in two days with a message from the sea creatures," said the tuna, and he hurried downstream.

Calling Bird waited and the tuna came back just as he said he would. "There is a seed on a cliff by the seashore, four days journey from here. The seagulls have seen it and told the dolphins who frolic in the surf. It cannot grow because there is no soil there. It longs for an earthen home. You must find the seed, take it home, plant it, and wait for the magic of nature to complete it's cycle. Then you will once again feel joy. "

Calling Bird smiled and thanked the tuna by giving it a young tadpole and clasping her hands to her chest. She set out for the seashore. Five days later, sure enough, she found a rocky cliff and at the top was a lone seed lying on a barren rock. No one knows how long it had been there waiting, with only occasional rains to quench its thirst. Calling Bird carefully placed it in a pocket of the water pouch with a little dirt around it, where it nestled and slept. She began the long journey home.

The tribe and her family were overjoyed to see her again, thin and brown but alive and well. They no longer cared that she couldn't sing, they just wanted to have her near them again. She showed them the seed and told them it was special by pointing to the heavens, making a circle with her arms, and then crossing her arms across her chest as she embraced her shoulders. She planted it in the center of the village. In one week a tiny seedling had pushed up through the soil. Calling Bird watered it, nourished it, and protected it from the winds and heavy rains. Soon it had grown a foot and within a year it was a sapling.

One day a bird alighted in its branches and began to sing. Everyone stopped to listen. No one had ever heard such beautiful singing. By the following year the tree was large enough to hold many birds and they came as if by magic, singing more beautifully than birds had ever sung. When Calling Bird came near the tree it glowed with music, and so tribes came from miles around to see the tree and listen. On the tree were beautiful blossoms on which dewdrops sparkled in the morning sun, and these flowers never stopped blooming. The most they did was to close up during a storm to protect themselves and then open again as soon as the tempest had ended.

Calling Bird had learned that when she was sad the birds were silent, but when she was happy they resumed their beautiful music. She had learned to put away her sadness of the past and always think happy thoughts. She had learned that life had not ended with the passing of her voice, that the sun still came up in the morning, that the sunsets were still beautiful, and the breeze still sang in the trees with the birds.

With the visiting tribes came a handsome, young, Indian named Brave Wolf who had proved his skill in hunting, his wits by fishing, and his strength in wrestling matches with other braves. He was dumbfounded by the music of the tree and the lovely young maiden who had no voice, yet said so much with her eyes and the motions of her hands and body. She seemed somber and serious yet there was joy in her eyes that shone out from her soul. He camped in the woods and came every day to listen and watch the young maiden, who told stories with her hands--stories of nature, of animals, of terrible storms followed by sunshine and growth, and of the Great Spirit.

He soon knew he was in love with her and asked her father for her hand in marriage. Her father looked at Calling Bird who happily shook her head in agreement. She had liked Brave Wolf from the first time she saw the longing admiration in his face as he looked at her and listened to the magic tree. He was strong, intelligent, and brave, yet he was gentle and very observant. He noticed every motion Calling Bird made as he tried to understand her thoughts. But Calling Bird loved him most because he spoke with his eyes more than with his voice. She had learned that the voice speaks for the body, but only the eyes can speak for the heart. There were people with shadows in their eyes who were either unaware or unable to show their feelings, but she knew that the truly honest in heart can never hide their feelings unless they are threatened by an enemy. Brave Wolf was one of these.

They married and in time Calling Bird gave birth to a lovely little daughter and a while later to a son. Some Indians showed preference to their sons and neglected their daughters but Brave Wolf was not one of these. Because he felt good about himself he felt good about his wife and daughter. Some Indians were too proud to help the women or teach their daughters but not Brave Wolf. Because he knew he was a better hunter, fisher, and stronger than the other men he thought nothing of their notions of manhood and he often helped his wife with her heavy chores and taught his daughter in the way of the woods. He was expert with the bow and arrow, could throw his knife straight and true, and sensed where the fish were hiding in the water. As his son and daughter grew he taught them these things. Calling Bird taught her children to sing by pointing to the birds in the tree and then pointing to their throats. She rewarded them when they did well with her glowing smile and the light in her twinkling eyes. They were also rewarded because the birds in the tree sang better when they were singing, just as they sang their most beautifully when Calling Bird was near. The children didn't talk much because the family talked little. They had all learned to listen, watch, and learn.

There was an Indian in the village who, over time, had grown more and more envious of Brave Wolf and his family. His name was Little Eagle. Calling Bird had always avoided him because he had shadows in his eyes, and even in the days before she lost her voice and sang to the wind from her heart, he had not cared to listen. He didn't love music or singing but he envied the esteem Calling Bird and Brave Wolf and their children enjoyed in the village and from the tribes around them. He envied how everyone revered the Magic Tree of Music, and he was jealous that Brave Wolf's family was the caretaker of it. Little Eagle was the keeper of nothing. He was lazy and only hunted when he had to in order to let his family eat. He preferred to feed them from the leftovers of other hunters. When his children were barely old enough he made them do the hunting and fishing.

Once a year all the tribes gathered at Calling Bird's village to celebrate the Magic Tree. They brought food for feasting, they sang, chanted, and they danced in the Indian way. The children of Calling Bird and Brave Wolf sang together at these festivals and everyone was enchanted as the birds in the tree seemed to sing in chorus with the children. Afterwards the children were given necklaces of bear's teeth and cougar claws by neighboring chieftains and the family was given the best seats. The chieftains named the girl Song Catcher and the boy Wind Weaver.

This was too much for Little Eagle. His selfishness and laziness had begun to swallow him up and he resolved to do something. But what?! He saw his chance one day when he happened upon Wind Weaver and Song Catcher wandering in the woods in search of berries for their mother's kitchen. "Come with me," he told them, "and I'll show you where the juiciest berries hide." Being innocent and trusting, of course they followed him. He led them deep into the forest until it became dark. Then he said, "I'm sorry children, I didn't realize how late it has gotten. We'll have to sleep here tonight." After the children were asleep he sneaked away into the night and returned to the village by sunrise. He crawled into his hogan, went to bed, and when everyone awoke, pretended he had been there all night.

When his children didn't return home Brave Wolf and Calling Bird and their cousins went into to the forest to search for them. While they were gone Little Eagle pretended to accidentally set fire to a bush near the Magic Tree. Soon it spread to the tree. The birds cried and squawked as they rose into the air and away from the flames. Blossoms began to shrivel and fall to the ground in ashes. Villagers ran to help put out the flame, throwing bowls of water and emptying their leather pouches on it but the flames seemed to devour the tree. Never had fire moved so quickly. The tree stood like a torch in the center of the village, sparks blowing out from it and embers exploding. One ember landed on the chief's hogan and soon it was also burning. To make matters worse a strong wind began to blow, as often did in certain seasons. The flames spread to other hogans and though the villagers tried bravely and desperately to put them out it was to no avail.

Brave Wolf saw the flames and smoke from a tree he had climbed to get a view of his surroundings and hurried down to tell the others. They raced back to the village to help but it was too late. The Magic Tree was a black, smoldering tangle of branches and the birds were gone. The fire had burned most of the hogans to the ground and then spread to the woods where it soon had the wild creatures fleeing in fright. Brave Wolf and his party found the villagers at a nearby lake where they had fled for refuge. Worst of all, they had still not found Song Catcher and Wind Weaver. Fearful that they would be caught in the flames the party returned to the woods to search for them, joined by others who were able. Everyone spread out and called to the children over and over again until they were hoarse. Calling Bird zig-zagged through the brush, beating the trees with a large stick to make her presence known. Her arms grew tired and so Brave Wolf gave her a whistle he had been carving for Wind Weaver and showed her how to blow it. She blew and blew until her cheeks were sore, but didn't stop then either. She must find her children. She had once lost her most valuable possession. Now the children were the most precious thing in her life. She would not let it happen again.

By evening the Great Spirit sent some rain clouds to help and soon there was no more smoke on the horizon. The fire was dead. The search for the little singing Indians continued. The party helped as long as they could but as the days passed they returned to their own families one by one. Calling Bird and Brave Wolf understood. The village had to be rebuilt before winter.

Little Eagle fled the village when he realized the damage he had done. A few days later he returned, but the chief knew who was responsible and Little Eagle was banished forever. If he returned he would be killed. Even his wife and children were angry at him. In his shame and rage he stupidly blamed the singing children for his troubles and so he returned to the place where he left them, intent on killing them. They were not there. He tracked them, like a slinking coyote tracking a rabbit.

Calling Bird and Brave Wolf had almost given up hope of finding the children, knowing the dangers they faced in the woods. In desperation Calling Bird once again took out the crystal necklace that the medicine man had given her long ago and held it up to the light. It glowed as a ray caught it. "Think where the children would go," it seemed to whisper to her. She thought, and suddenly it came to her--perhaps a high place so they could sing and be heard, as she once did. She looked at Brave Wolf and pointed towards the mountains. They felt an urgency they couldn't explain and began to run.

On his third day of tracking Little Eagle heard a sound in the breeze. It was the children singing. He headed towards the sound and began climbing as he realized they were high above him. Behind him, Calling Bird and Brave Wolf soon heard the same sound. They looked at each other and began to run full speed.

Brave Wolf arrived first, saw Little Eagle 100 yards ahead of him, one knee on the ground, bow stretched wide with an arrow ready to shoot, aimed right at Wind Weaver' little back, but he didn't see what it was that made Little Eagle hesitate. He had been kneeling there for a full minute, ready to shoot, his target lined up with his arrow and marked by his shadowy eyes, but couldn't shoot. He seemed frozen in time.

Calling Bird arrived, breathless, saw Brave Wolf quickly take an arrow from his quiver and place it in his bow, saw Little Eagle kneeling, aiming, and then saw something she knew she would never forget and never be able to describe.

Birds, hundreds of them, squawking and shrieking loudly, had risen in the air above where they had been gathered around the children and now hovered in the air like a giant, dark cloud--a cloud that seemed to be moving straight towards Little Eagle like a giant hand, with a noise like thunder! Brave Wolf took aim and fired deadly straight, shooting the bow out of Little Eagle's hand with a jolt that shocked him. He screamed and jumped to his feet as the birds followed, running wildly towards he-didn't-care-what--straight off a cliff. His legs scrambled in the air like egg beaters as he fell a thousand feet down to darkness and death.

The birds stopped their ominous noise as suddenly as they had begun and some began flying in gentle circles while others landed near the children who now faced their parents. Brave Wolf and Calling Bird ran to the children but this time Calling Bird got there first as the birds sang happily around them. "My babies, my babies," she crooned. The children looked at each other in wonder. "Mommy, you talked," they said practically in unison. Brave Wolf was suddenly there beside them. He looked at his wife in amazement. "I did, didn't I," she responded, simultaneously confused and overjoyed. "Sing!" urged Brave Wolf, with great hope in his voice. The children started singing and the birds joined in. Hesitantly at first, Calling Bird began to sing. Then her voice rolled forth, more mature, but soft and golden as it had been before. The three of them stood together and sang from the mountaintop, calling to the wind, serenading the sky, as Brave Wolf watched over them, his eyes gleaming with pride. Then he knelt down and gave thanks to the Great Spirit for the return of his children, and for the return of his wife's voice. Their home was gone, the special tree was gone, the village was gone, but they had what meant the most to them.

They started for home, singing, holding hands, laughing, and skipping. The village was partially rebuilt and they saw that someone had even put a new roof on their burned-out hogan. Later they learned it was their cousins. They stood around the blackened tree and sang as the villagers watched in wonder. One by one they stopped their work and gathered around Calling Bird. She sang and sang, with the children joining in as the happy birds circled high above them. Later, after their story was told, the tree was gently chopped down and reverently buried where it had stood.

When Spring came fresh new shoots of grass pushed up through the charred ground, bushes that had looked dead began showing tiny buds, and where the tree had been buried many tiny seedlings pushed up through the ground. Soon they were saplings, and then it was an orchard of singing trees--trees that glowed with music when Brave Wolf and his family came near to care for them. And now Calling Bird sang along with the lovely birds and her growing family, her heart never more full of joy.

The End

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