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
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
"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
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
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
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.
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