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Some time ago, when the Shu'halo roamed the land, carrying tents and following herds, there was a tribe that came between two mountains, sustained by a river and the forest surrounding them. Like most of the Shu'halo, they honored the strong Earth who grew plentiful plants for gathering, and sustained game for the hunt. They also honored Fire who would carry them through the cold season. And so they were content to stay there as most of the game disappeared, and the leaves fell from the trees.

Water and Wind were forgotten. And Water began to watch the Shu'halo, and how they revered the Earth for providing for them, and Fire for protecting them. The spirits of the water became jealous. One day Water spoke to the Air, though the two mixed only rarely. "Have you seen how they revere Earth and Fire?"

And Air answered, "Yes, I have. Do they not know the life they have is only from the air they breathe?"

Water grew annoyed with Air, "And what of the plants that drink the water and grow to become food for them?"

The spirits of Air contemplated the situation a moment, "Yes, you do speak truth. But they have forgotten about us."

"We should teach them a lesson," Water said.

"But how to do that?" Air asked.

"We should wait for when Fire sleeps and you become cold, you can blow strong and knock their tents down, and I will fall from your sky and cover them with snow and ice," Water answered.

"That is a good plan," Air agreed.

And so when the winter turned, the air became more biting than it had ever been, and Air gusted ferociously. The tribe's tents were knocked down, and their warm fires were blown out. And Water fell from Air's embrace, and pelted them with shards of hail, biting both young and old. The river the tribe had been drinking from froze over, and not the strongest among them could break the ice. The tribe could not stay in the plains near the river, and retreated into the woods.

But the chief of this tribe was wise, and he saw at once that the spirits had been angered. He was called Sikya Tawnu, Golden Bear, after his golden colored mane and he was revered as wise by his people. Tawnu came out from the forest out into the wind and hail, back to their camp. He sat around the center firepit and called into the wind. "Spirits, we have no wish to anger you, if you tell us what to do to ease your wrath, we will do it! We revere all of the natures and the spirits of the animals. Just tell us what we have done!"

Wind tried to talk to Tawnu, but Water flew so violently to the Earth, Tawnu couldn't hear anything but howling. Water thought the tribe had not learned their lesson yet, with all but Tawnu hiding in the trees where the wind could not strike so hard, and where there were trees to stop the hail. And so Tawnu waited hoping his pleading to be heard and the spirits to cease their wrath.

Air was angry at Water for stopping Air's words from reaching Tawnu, but when challenged Water showed Air how they hid in safety. How the snow and hail was stopped by branches, and they - huddled together - could be warm And Air again became angered, and blew harder, until the trees began to whip back and forth, and fell. The tribe's cries were heard from the forest because as the trees fell they were killed. Tawnu's cries of pleading turned to cries of grief.

He fell to the ground and pleaded for his people, promising they would make up for whatever had drawn the anger of the spirits. But still Water did not listen. Tawnu's fingers became stiff from cold, and he carried a blanket of snow over his back, but though his people pleaded him to come with them to survive the anger of the spirits, he would not hide in the forest. Instead he went further into the storm, down to the frozen river, and knelt along side it, hoping if the spirits saw his dedication his people could be saved.

After a few days, Air became restless and tired of the assault; for that was the changeable nature of air, never staying in one place or mood too long. Though Water pleaded fervently, the spirits of Air gave up and went to the mountains to see what was happening the other side of them. Without Air there to drive the the hail, Water's wrath lost potency, settling down to a steady snowfall.

Tawnu remained, though his people brought him food from time to time, he would not eat and kept chanting that his voice may be heard. The snow began to build around him, layering him deep in its embrace. On the next day his mate joined him, vowing to add her prayers to his. Eventually all his tribe came from the trees, wrapped in the hides from their tents, they gathered with him at the edge of the frozen river, asking the spirits to give up their wrath.

And finally Water could not bear the stillness of the snowfall any longer.

"Why do you punish us so, spirits?" Tawnu pleaded as he had done for days. "How have we angered you?"

"You revere the Earth, and you revere the Fire, but you have forgotten us," said the spirits of water. "Do we not nourish the plants you eat, and do we not support the game you hunt? Why do you ignore us?"

Tawnu, close to collapsing from exhaustion, felt his strength return to him in the hope he might find peace. "Do we not give thanks each time we draw from a river?"

"But the Earth you praise always, and Fire each time you call on it," Water said.

"And this is reason to kill the young, the sick and our elders?" Tawnu asked.

Water saw them gathered together at the river's edge, and felt shame. They gathered humbly asking nothing more than to know how they had wronged the spirits, and what they might do to make amends. "We did not think you would listen," Water answered.

Tawnu could have argued with the spirits, shown the anger he felt at his kin being struck down without reason. But he knew this would only anger them more, and the spirits would turn against them, more of his tribe would die. He knew to have peace he must let go of anger. "What would you have us do?"

"None of the Shu'halo live near the sea, you stay away from the shore, you only come to water when you thirst, and then you return to the plains and forests. We give all to you, for all life can be traced to our blessings, and yet you only remember us rarely," water said.

"If we left the forest and the river, and followed to the shore, and we listened to your teachings and learned your ways, would your anger be cooled?" Tawnu asked.

"If you came to my shores, and learned of the sea, you would find endless bounty." Water said with pride. "I would bless you with all the food you needed, and you would have mild days and warm nights, and the surf would ease you to sleep each night."

"We will do this," Tawnu said, and stood, shaking the snow from his mane as the snow stopped falling.

As agreed they followed the river down to the shore, though it took days and they gathered little. At first they were frightened of the sea, for it was wild and strange to them. But Water grew gentle and taught them how to catch fish, and to dive for clams, and of all the life that lived in the sea. They built their tents upon the shore and there was peace.

But one day the spirits of Air happened upon the shore, and saw the tribe resting there. And Air remembered the pact made with Water and felt betrayed. For Water had told them nothing of the agreement. Air was outraged, and began an assault on the tribe, blowing their tents over and snuffing out their fires. The sea was wild and came further onto the shore than before.

Water was outraged, "Why did you harm the tribe? I have been teaching them my ways and they have listened well!"

"But you did not tell them of me," Air countered, furious. "And if you would betray me like that, then the tribe will die."

But Water would not stand for Air's attack, and whispered secrets to the tribe in how they could build their tents to be strong enough to withstand air's gusts. And how they could shield their fires from wind's meddling. The tribe listened to the spirits of Water and built strong tents, but then they could no longer move from place to place to gather food.

And Tawnu called upon Water, "We thank you for providing us with sturdy tents, and places to hide fire from Air's meddling, but if we cannot move to gather food, your bounty will not be enough to sustain us."

Water saw that this was so, for the tribe had grown in number and there were many of the young to feed. "I promise to pour upon the shores gentle abundant rain so that you might take the plants you need and place them close to your tents in the soil. They will grow strong and plentiful for you to eat," the spirits of Water said.

And the tribe flourished, learning of how to plant what they needed, and to hunt fish in the ocean. In time, the tribe learned how to make boats and nets to walk deeper into the sea than before, catching larger and stranger fish of many kinds.

But every so often Air remembers of the pact he made with Water, and you can see them fighting on the sea. Great swirling clouds churn in the sky, and the winds whip the water into a frenzy. And some days it is dangerous to take boats to where Water and Air are fighting. But the tribe has always stayed safe with Water's protection. The tribe built a shrine around a stream coming from the rocks, a holy place where Water is revered, and they became known as Mistrunner Tribe.

Tawnu is remembered as being a wise chief, who was willing to learn from water that sometimes we need to let go of pain from past wrongs in order that we might find peace and be renewed. He is one of my ancestors. His voice guides me still.

Tauren Folklore:
Path to the Sea

Nahima Bluestone

Posted: 08.27.08
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