Published on January 8, 2013 by Casey
Taken from the book Keepers of the Earth, by Michael Caduto and Joseph Bruchac, pages 117 – 120.
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Fisher was a great hunter. He was not big, but he was known for his determination and was regarded as one with great power. Fisher’s son wanted to be a great hunter also. One day the son went out to try to catch something. It was not easy, for the snow was very deep and it was very cold everywhere. In those days it was always winter on the Earth and there was no such thing as warm weather. The son hunted a long time with no luck. Finally, though, he saw a squirrel. As quietly as he could he sneaked up and then pounced, catching the squirrel between his paws. Before he could kill it, though, the squirrel spoke to him. “Grandson,” said the squirrel, “don’t kill me. I can give you some good advice.”
“Speak then,” said the young fisher.
“I see that you are shivering from the cold. If you do what I tell you, we may all enjoy warm weather. Then it will be easy for all of us to find food and not starve as we are doing now.”
“Tell me what to do, Grandfather,” the young fisher said, letting the squirrel go.
The squirrel climbed quickly up onto a high branch and then spoke again. “Go home and say nothing. Just sit down in your lodge and begin to weep. Your mother will ask you what is wrong, but you must not answer her. If she tries to comfort you or give you food, you must refuse it. When your father comes home, he will ask you why you are weeping. Then you can speak. Tell him the winds are too cold and the snow is too deep. Tell him that he must bring warm weather to the Earth.”
So the young fisher went home. He sat in the corner of the lodge and cried. His mother asked what was wrong, but he did not answer. She offered him food, but he pushed it away. When his father returned and saw his only son weeping, he went to his side.
” What is wrong, son?” Fisher said.
Then the young fisher said what the squirrel had told him to say. ” I am weeping because the wind is too cold and the snow is too deep. We are all starving because of the winter. I want you to use your powers to bring the warm weather.”
“The thing you are asking of me is hard to do,” said Fisher, “but you are right. I will do all I can to grant your wish. “Then Fisher had a great feast. He invited all of his friends and told them what he planned to do. “I am going to the place where the skyland is closest to the Earth,” he said. “There in the skyland the people have all the warm weather. I intend to go there to bring some of that warm weather back. Then snow will go away and we will have plenty to eat.”
All of Fisher’s friends were pleased and offered to go with him. So when Fisher set out, he took the strongest of his friends along. Those friends were Otter, Lynx and Wolverine. The four of them traveled for a long time through the snow. They went toward the mountains, higher and higher each day. Fisher had with him a pack filled with dried venison and they slept at night buried under the snow. At last, after many, many days, they came to the highest mountain and climbed to its top. Then Fisher took a pipe and tobacco out of his pouch.
“We must offer our smoke to the Four Directions,” Fisher said. The four of them smoked and sent their prayers to Gitchee Manitou, asking for success.
The sky was very close above them, but they had to find some way to break through into the land above. “We must jump up,” Said Fisher. “Who will go first?”
“I will try,” said Otter. He leaped up and struck the sky but did not break through. Instead he fell back and slid on his belly all the way to the bottom of the mountain. To this day all otters slide like that in the snow.
“Now it is my turn,” said Lynx. He jumped too, striking hard against the sky and falling back unconscious. Fisher tried then, but even he did not have enough power.
“Now it is your turn,” said Fisher to Wolverine. “You are the strongest of us all.”
Wolverine leaped. He struck hard against the sky and fell back, but he did not give up. He leaped again and again until he had made a crack in the sky. Once more he leaped and finally broke through. Fisher jumped through the hole in the sky after him.
The skyland was a beautiful place. It was warm and sunny, and there were plants and flowers of all kinds growing. They could hear the singing of birds all around them, but they could see no people. They went farther and found many long lodges. When they looked inside, they found that there were cages in the lodges. Each cage held a different bird.
“These will make for fine hunting,” Fisher said. “Let us set them free.”
Quickly Wolverine and Fisher chewed through the rawhide that bound the cages together and freed the birds. The birds all flew down through the hole in the sky. so there are many kinds of birds in the world today.
Wolverine and Fisher now began to make the hole in the skyland bigger. The warmth of the skyland began to fall through the hole and the land below began to grow warmer. The snow began to melt and the grass and plants beneath the snow began to turn green.
But the sky people came out when they saw what was happening. They ran toward Wolverine and Fisher, shouting loudly. “Thieves,” they shouted. “Stop taking our warm weather!”
Wolverine jumped back through the hole to escape, but Fisher kept making the hole bigger. He knew that if he didn’t make it big enough, the sky people would quickly close the hole again and it would be winter again in the land below. He chewed the hole larger and larger. Finally, just when the sky people were very close, he stopped. The hole was big enough for enough warm weather for half of the year to escape through, but it was not big enough for enough warm weather to last all the time. That is why the winter still comes back every year. Fisher knew that the sky people might try to close the hole in the sky. He had to take their attention away from it and so he taunted them.
“I am Fisher, the great hunter,” he said. “You cannot catch me.” Then he ran to the tallest tree in the skyland. All the sky people ran after him. Just as they were about to grab him, he leaped up into the tree and climbed to the highest branches, where no one could follow. At first the sky people did not know what to do. Then they began to shoot arrows at him. But Fisher wasn’t hurt, for he had a special power. There was only one place on his tail where an arrow could kill him. Finally, though, the sky people guessed where his magic was and shot at that place. An arrow struck the fatal spot. Fisher turned over on his back and began to fall.
But Fisher never struck the Earth. Gitchee Manitou took pity on him because he had kept his promise and done something to help all the people. Gitchee Manitou placed Fisher high up in the sky among the stars.
If you look up into the sky, you can still see him, even though some people call that pattern of stars The Big Dipper. Every year he crosses the sky. When the arrow strikes him, he rolls over onto his back in the winter sky. But when the winter is almost ended, he faithfully turns to his feet and starts out once more on his long journey to bring the warm weather back to the Earth.