Alaska: The Discontented Grass Plant

This story is part of the Alaskan Legends unit. Story source: Myths and Legends of Alaska, edited by Katharine Berry Judson (1911).

The Discontented Grass Plant
Eskimo (Bering Straits)


NEAR the village of Pastolik, at the mouth of the Yukon, grows a tall, slender grass which the women weave into baskets and mats. A grass-stalk which had almost been pulled up by the women became much frightened. He wished he were something else. 

Close to him was a bunch of herbs, living peacefully and quietly. Grass said, "I wish I were an Herb." At once it became an Herb, and lived peacefully.

One day the women came back with sharp-pointed picks, made from the antlers of the reindeer. They began to dig up the herbs and to eat some of the roots. Again Grass was frightened. He saw a small creeping plant nearby, very small and obscure. Grass said, "I wish I were a Creeping Plant." At once he became a small Creeping Plant.

The women came back again and tore up much of the small creeping plant. Grass became much worried. He said, "I wish I were that small Tuber-plant there." At once he became a plant having a tuberous root.

Soon a small tundra mouse came creeping through the grass, and began nibbling at one of the tubers nearby. Grass thought, "I will not be safe until I become a Mouse." At once Grass became Mouse.

He felt quite free as Mouse, and ran around over the tundra, nibbling at roots. Sometimes he would sit up on his hind legs and look about him. While travelling along, Mouse saw a great white Thing coming toward him. Sometimes it dropped to the ground, and after eating something would fly on. As it came near, Mouse saw it was a great white owl. Owl saw Mouse and darted down upon it, but Mouse slipped into a hole nearby and Owl flew away. Mouse was very badly frightened by this. When he came out of his hole, he said, "I will be Owl. Then I will be safe." At once he became a beautiful white Owl.

With slow, noiseless wing he flew toward the north, stopping now and then to catch and eat a mouse. After a long flight, he came in sight of Sledge Island. Owl thought he would go there. When far out at sea, he became very tired. He could hardly reach the shore. As he rested on a piece of driftwood on the sand, two men passed along the shore. Owl thought for a while. Then he said, "I will be a Man." At once he became a fine-looking young man, but he had no clothing.

Night came on and the air became cool. Man sat down with his back against the piece of driftwood and slept there until morning. When the sun arose he awakened. He felt lame and stiff from the cold night air. Looking about him, Man found some grass which he wove into a loose robe, which helped to keep out the cold.

Suddenly he saw reindeer near him. He crept on hands and knees close to one, seized it by the horns and broke its neck with a single effort. He carried the reindeer on his back to his sleeping place. He felt all over the reindeer's body but its skin was too thick for his fingers to break an opening.

For a long time he thought. Then he saw near him a sharp-edged stone. He picked it up and found he could cut the skin with it. So Man skinned the deer. But he had no fire with which to cook it. Looking around, he saw two round white stones upon the beach. Striking them together, he saw they gave out sparks. He then found some dry wood and scraped off bits. With the wood and the stones he made a fire, and roasted some of the meat.

Man tried to swallow a large piece of meat, as he had done when he was Owl, but he could not do it. He had to cut it with the sharp-edged stone into smaller pieces. The next day he killed another reindeer and skinned it. And the next day another. Then the nights became so cold he wrapped the skins upon him. When they dried, they became as part of his body. But the nights became still colder, and the days were colder.

Then Chunuhluk, the man, found some driftwood and made a rough hut. After finishing his hut, Chunuhluk was walking over the hills one day when he met a strange black beast among the blueberry bushes. Chunuhluk did not know what to do, but at last he caught it by the hind legs. The black thing turned around with a growl and showed its white teeth. Chunuhluk quickly caught the bear by the heavy hair and threw it to the ground so it lay quiet. Then he killed it. Then he threw it across his shoulders and went home. Then he skinned it.

When Chunuhluk skinned the bear, he found it had much fat. He thought it might burn. His hut was very dark. So he went along the beach until he found a flat stone with a small hollow in it. He put the oil from the fat in this; then he put in a bit of dry moss and set the end of the moss on fire. Then his hut was lighted very well. Chunuhluk also hung the bearskin in the opening of the door to keep out the cold.

So he lived many days. But at last Chunuhluk became lonely. Then he remembered the two men who had passed him when he was Owl. He went in search of people. At last he found two new kayaks at the foot of a hill, with spears, lines, floats, and other hunting implements. Then he saw a path nearby. On the top was a house. On the ground around were several dead white whales. Chunuhluk crept cautiously into the entrance way and up to the door. He lifted the corner of a skin and saw a young man working on some arrows. He stepped in very quietly.

The young man raised a bow and arrow to shoot, but Chunuhluk said, "I have come, brother."

The young man said gladly, "Are you my brother? Come and sit beside me." At first the young man was very glad. He taught Chunuhluk all things.

Then at last he became jealous of him. Then Chunuhluk became scornful. He said one day, "You cannot kill anything without a bow and arrow. I can kill with my hands alone." Then the brother became still more angry.

One day both were out on the water in their kayaks. The young man said, "Now let us see who can gain the shore first." They both reached the beach at the same time.

Then the young man said, "You are no more my brother. You go in that direction and I will go in this." So they parted angrily. As they went, Chunuhluk turned into Wolverine and his brother became Gray Wolf. To this day they wander in the same country, but never together.

(1200 words)

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