Archive for November 2010

Story of the Butterfly

November 9, 2010

Long and long ago, when the world was still new, the Creator watched children playing.  He watched their sheer joy, and enjoyed their laughter.   In the four directions he looked, he saw beauty—before him, behind, him, above him, and below him.  He smelled the sweetness of flowers, heard the song of birds, saw the bright blue of the sky, and tasted the first touch of the coming cold on his tongue.  This reminded him that time was passing…that winter would come again…that these children would all grow old and pass away as he had watched human children do over and over again.  The leaves would turn brown and fall from the trees, and the flowers would fade to replenish the Earth. 

 He decided to create something to memorize this moment, something that would be a part of all this beauty.  And so he gathered the blackness from the hair of the children’s parents.  He took the orange and reds of the falling leaves.  He grabbed bits of sunlight, and the colors of the flowers.  He took the evergreen needles of the pines.  He took the soft whiteness of the clouds, and added all these things into a bag of buckskin. He smiled and after a moment, added the songs of the birds to his bag.

 When he finished, he held the bag close to his heart, and called the children to him. He handed them his bag and told them to see what was inside.  When they opened the bag, a cloud of butterflies emerged.  They were like winged jewels.  They were all the colors of the rainbow.  It was as if flowers were flying. The spirits of the children and the adults soared like hawks, for they had never seen anything like this before.  The butterflies, light as a lizard’s lick, touched on the heads and shoulders of their grateful audience.  The butterflies swirled around and began to sing.

 But then a bird flew to the Creator’s shoulder and began to complain.  “Why have you given our precious songs to these small and pretty beings?  You have already made them wings more beautiful than ours—why give them our songs as well?  You promised us that each bird would have his or her own song.  It is not right to do what you have done.”

 The Creator looked at the small bird and nodded.  “You are right.  I promised one song for each bird, and it is not right to give them away to others.”  So the Creator made the butterflies silent, and thus they remain today.  But their beauty touches all people and opens up the songs in our own hearts.

 Further south, it is said the world is a reflection of itself…the world of dreams and the world of work.  It is taught these two worlds are like the wings of the butterfly.  The dream world is one wing, and the working world is the other.  The wings must connect at the heart for the butterfly to fly and live.  Real life – true life—happens because of the movement of the wings.  And this is what marriage is like.  It mirrors the butterfly’s heart, kept alive by the love of the husband and wife, moving together like twin wings.

A traditional Tohono O’odham story (with a Mayan coda)      

 retold by CoyoteCooks

I was asked by a friend for help in finding an appropriate story for her to tell at a friend’s upcoming wedding.  I requested more details about  those involved,  and was told this was a couple in their 50’s, and it was neither’s first wedding.  I suggested the butterfly story, for a number of reasons.  First, I wanted a story that wasn’t overly long, since the focus should be on the ceremony and celebration rather than on a performance.  I wanted a story that acknowledged a couple who are able to appreciate their experience of marrying again in a way a couple in their early 20s who have never been married can’t fully imagine.  That’s why I emphasized in the story how the Creator both celebrated the moment of joy, but also had sadness that this was the Autumn of life, rather than the Spring.

Here’s part of the e-mail I sent to her: .

I thought this might be appropriate for your needs.  I decided to do a retelling of a traditional Tohono O’odham legend.  These are the people who are Native to the general Phoenix area, so it will let you bring a gift from where you have been.  I then finished with a teaching from Native people further south—the Mayan.

 In similar situations, after I would tell a story of this nature, I would then end by giving a small butterfly image as a gift to the new couple.  I would probably then add the suggestion:  “And in the weeks to come, you will see an image of a butterfly.  Perhaps you will be at work, or perhaps you will be with the one you love.  You will see a butterfly and you will smile, remembering this precious day.”

 She responded that she felt the story was “perfect for this couple,” and that she would let me know how the event went.

 I answered,

One of the advantages of being from the southwest is the abundance of Zuni “fetish” carvings of various animals one can find at various shops.  I notice that for butterfly “fetishes” the artists often use mother of pearl or abalone shells as their media, which I suspect, is to capture the iridescence of their models 🙂  Since these small carvings usually range from $10.00-35.00, I’ve given away quite a few during presentations.  My favorite happened when I was asked to keynote the International Academy of Sex Research when its conference was held in Seattle.  The President elect was the clinical director where I was working.  She said, “I’ve never heard you talk about sex, but you say so many interesting things in the staff meetings, I’m sure you talk about sex as well.”

 I went home to the reservation and asked my mom, “What should I tell a lot of white people from around the world about sex?”

 She said–“Go talk to your Uncle Rooster.”

 So I did–and he said, “Tell them about Coyote’s Growing Medicine.”

 And so I did, and at the end of the story, I presented a small Coyote Zuni fetish to the new president.  She later told me it’s become a tradition that when the new president takes office, he or she is presented with the coyote fetish 🙂

I wanted to pair a recipe that would go well with the Butterfly legend, and thought something light and sweet might do it.  This is Brett’s Blueberry Special:     Take a cup of fresh blueberries (or thawed) and add to a cup of diced fresh  heirloom tomatoes.  Tear fresh basil into small bits to release their fragrance and add to the tomatoes and berries.  I’ve been carefully tending my “plantation” of basil plants  that I’ve mentioned before on my patio.  Now drizzle a couple of teaspoons of honey and squeeze the juice of one fresh lime onto the ingredients.    Toss and enjoy.

OH–UPDATE:  I was happy to find this in my e-mail this morning–

Many, many thanks for sharing your version of the story of butterfly.  I told this (with appropriate recognitions) at M’s wedding last Friday.  It was the perfect story for that perfect day.  M and T and their family and friends loved it – it was especially significant to M (which was my intent).  I followed your advice and gave them a butterfly fetish (Zuni) at the end of the story – the perfect touch!
Thank you for being such a wonderful storytelling friend. 


Why You Shouldn’t Whistle At Night…

November 2, 2010

She is tall…bigger than Sasquatch, and her body is covered with long, black, greasy hair. Her eyes are large like an owl’s, and her fingers are tipped with sharp claws. Her lips are formed in the eternal pucker of an eerie whistle, and children are told if they don’t listen to their elders, she will come to them at night and suck their brains out of their ears. She is called At’at’lia, Dash-Kayah, Tsonoquah, and names whispered when the time is right, and not for publication.  Children are warned not to take food that she offers.  If she catches you, she’ll throw  you inside the basket she carries on her back.  Her basket is so large she can fit 10 children in it…and that’s her favorite meal—10 children.  She is a cannibal…she eats human flesh.


Long Time Ago…there was a young boy, named after the Silver Salmon.  He woke up early in the morning and the warmth of the rising sun felt good on his face.  He sang a song to thank the sun.  The boy went out to go fishing but he went so far he realized he wouldn’t be able to return home before the sun went down, so he decided to camp where he was.

It was late at night and the moon was full.  Now White people tell us there’s a man in the moon, but our old people tell us it’s really a frog.  And so it was , the frog in the moon was looking down at him when clouds covered the moon and everything was dark.

Suddenly he heard a strange whistling, and the clouds blew away from the moon and he could see a monster standing in the darkness.

“Don’t be afraid,” she called out to him—“People make up terrible stories about me, but I’m really a very nice person.  In fact,” she said, holding out her hand, “I’m a very nice person.  I have some berries for you…I know you must be hungry.  Children are always hungry.”  And in her claw like hand he saw a pile of berries.

When he reached to take some of the berries, she took her other hand from behind her back.  It was smeared with sticky sap from the trees.  She slapped him with her hand and his eyes were glued shut!  He was blind!  She grabbed him up and stuffed him into her basket and ran through the woods whistling.

She came to a clearing and dumped him on to the ground.  She had built a large fire and all around the fire were other children she had stolen.  She was going to barbeque them.

She was so proud of herself, that she was going to have such a fine meal of young children, she started to sing and dance around the fire.

The boy was afraid, because he knew he would be eaten.  He wished he could start his day over again.  He thought of how his day had begun, with the warmth of the sun on his face.  The warmth of the fire reminded him of the warmth of the sun.  Just so, he leaned closer to the fire.  The heat of the fire began to melt the sticky stuff on his eyes, and he could see again.  As the Cannibal Woman continued to dance, he got an idea and whispered this idea to the girl next to him, who whispered it to the boy next to her…and so it went around the circle of the children.

When she finished, the monster was so tired she could hardly stand up…and that’s when the boy shouted, “NOW!”  And all the children jumped up and pushed her into the fire.  She began to burn…but she didn’t burn like ordinary things burn. 

 She burned like fireworks!  Her body burst into a cloud of sparks…and that’s where mosquitoes come from.  They still live off the blood of young children, even today. 

That was the end of At’at’lia …but she had three sisters…and those sisters are still around.  And that’s why we teach our children “you must never whistle at night…because you don’t want to call those spirit beings to you!”

A traditional Sahaptin story

Retold by CoyoteCooks

I thought I’d share the At’at’lia legend as a celebration of Halloween.  A number of years ago, I first met the Medical Director of the clinic where I would work at a Halloween Party for Medical Residents.  He was wearing a tuxedo and a gorilla mask.  My mentor, Carolyn Attneave was a scarecrow, and I had on an articulated skull mask and a button blanket I had made.  I had been cast earlier in the play Raven, based on NW Coastal legends, and was playing “Shadowman” which explained my costume decision.

The Medical Director was from Belgium, and I asked him about Halloween customs in his own country.  He said he was shocked the first year in the United States, when children suddenly knocked on his door demanding candy.  To my own surprise, he shared Jackolanterns in Belgium were made from turnips instead of pumpkins.  In retrospect, I suppose this makes sense, given the reality pumpkins are Native America in origin—they’re a type of squash.  Pumpkin seeds dating back to at least 8,000 years ago have been found in Mexico.   In fact, the word “pumpkin” in Europe refers to what would be called “winter squash” in the United States.   In a quick search, carved turnips and other root vegetables used as a jackolantern were well known in Ireland and the British Isles, but there’s not a lot written about Halloween customs in Belgium.

(Traditional Irish Jackolantern)

 While it was certainly traditional to use fire to celebrate the harvest time, apparently jackolanterns are a relatively late addition.  Nathaniel Hawthorne is reportedly the first to mention them in 1837 in his Twice-Told Tales, making reference to making a jackolantern, and a magazine article from 1885 is the first to mention Americans introduced the idea of carving pumpkins into jackolanterns—much easier than carving a turnip.

By the way–here’s what the Trick or Treat crowd found when they rang my doorbell–

For dinner, I took a small sugar pie pumpkin, and did the standard scoop and clean, saving the seeds for planting and roasting.  I washed out the inside and rubbed in butter, with a sprinkling of garlic, ground black pepper, and salt.  I put the “lid” top back on and microwaved it for four minutes to cut off time in the oven.  Let’s face it, when you live in Arizona and it’s still hovering in the 90’s, you really don’t want your regular oven on any longer than necessary.  This is also something I often do with other squash. I  then took four slices of bacon and cut them into smaller pieces.  Plopping them into a skillet, they provided the grease to sauté chopped onion, carrots, and celery.  I also took out one of the sweet Italian sausages I’ve been enjoying, and sliced it up to add with the rest.   I seasoned the mixture with Italian herbs, and a few sprinkles of Worcestershire sauce.   When the veggies had softened and the meats were done, I added breadcrumbs, a handful of parmesan cheese,  and enough water to have a soft consistency dressing.  (btw–in re-reading, I should mention I’m not giving specific measurements, because I was “eye-balling” what would fit into the pumpkin, and that would vary based on the size of pumpkin you might use.  Since I’m always thinking a meal or two ahead, the leftover stuffing I had went into a freezer bag to be used to stuff portabella mushrooms in the next couple of weeks.)  I stuffed the little pumpkin with the dressing, placed the top back back on and wrapped it tightly with aluminum foil and placed it on a cookie sheet in a 350degree oven.  This results in a pumpkin softened to the point you can eat everything (Hey—in my family, we were raised to eat the skin of the salmon and the “outside” of a lot of vegetables) and the dressing is extremely moist.    I had also prepared chicken kabobs, and after spending about an hour in the oven, I removed the pumpkin and then used the oven to grill the kabobs.  A knife piercing the pumpkin let me know it was done, but it was easy to just look at it and know it was ready.

Incidentally, there’s an interesting recent study in China on the use of pumpkin extract which shows it may regenerate pancreatic cells.  This could have a potential beneficial impact on pre-diabetics, although American researchers stress it’s too early to know if the animal study can be directly applied to humans.  Apparently, however, pumpkin is traditionally used in Asia in alternative medicine for the treatment of diabetes.

Update:  I had some leftover stuffed pumpkin, and on a whim, I prepared some angelhair pasta, and microwaved the pumpkin (cut into cubes) with the bacon/sausage dressing, and a few tablespoons of leftover fresh salsa, since I didn’t have any tomato sauce.  When tossed with the angel hair, this was so good I think next time that’s how I’ll serve it–as the entree,  rather than using it as a side dish.