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Tuesday, March 9, 2010

An Old Woodland Cree Story


meet Flower and Snoopdog, my granddaughter's best friends. Flower looks like a cat, but he isn't really. my daughter found him years ago, a very young kitten, nearly frozen to death (he only has 1/2 his tail as a result) in a parking lot in -35 degree weather. So Snoop, being a gentle little guy, took him under his wing, so to speak, and mothered him. As a result, Flower thinks he's a dog, and they're inseparable.

Seraphine just posted a picture of a much loved, and recently deceased pet, and her usual gentle tongue in cheek commentary on the state of things, which brought to mind a story a friend told me years ago. she was working on a degree of some kind, and studying Cree traditions. most of the first nations people in this part of Canada are Cree. Woodland Cree, specifically, in northern Alberta. So in her research, she came across this story, which she told to me.

it seems that in the days before memory, dogs and cats were very good friends. they enjoyed each other's company and lived peaceably in villages alongside each other. their lodges often stood side by side. on this particular day, the dogs were having one of their clan meetings in their lodge, and the cats went about their business as usual. now, at that time, dogs were very fastidious creatures. not only did they wipe their feet before entering the lodge, keep all of the firewood well away from the fire pit for safety, and NEVER leave their bones laying about the place, but they also removed their bung holes before entering the lodge, and they hung them on a special many-branched pole that was erected just for that purpose outside the door of the lodge.

cats had a mischievous side then, just as they have now. in fact they were well known in the villages as tricksters. on this particular day, one particular cat didn't have enough to do. he'd caught a fish and eaten it, groomed his fur, and sharpened his claws, had a nap in the sun, and there was still a whole lot of day left to fill. he strolled past the lodge where the dogs were meeting, and he heard them all discussing matters of import inside. for a while he watched the patterns the smoke coming through the smoke hole in the centre of the lodge roof made against the clear, calm sky. and as he rubbed against the pole in the lodge entry, he looked up and saw the bung holes. just as he had many times before. just where they always were when the dogs were meeting. but on this particular day, those bung holes gave the cat an idea.

with a delighted flick of his tail, the cat ran to the door of the lodge. he poked his head behind the skin covering the doorway, and shrieked, "Fire, fire, the lodge is on fire!" then he darted out of the way to hear and see the fun. from inside the lodge, the dogs took up the cry of "Fire, fire!" and crashed into each other, and into the support poles of the lodge in their panic to get out of the single doorway. there were yelps and growls, yips and howls such as had never been heard in the village before. by the time the first dog's snout was thrust out the doorway, a crowd had gathered outside. as he raced to safety with others snapping at his heels, the first dog out snatched the first bung hole that came within his reach and put it on. the second dog out did likewise, until everyone was safe and accounted for.

when they realized they had been tricked, they were relieved that their lodge was not harmed, but they were not pleased. and there was a loud hue and cry to find the culprit who had so disrespectfully interrupted their important meeting. of course it was a cat, but WHICH cat? they never found out, because just when they were getting all worked up about a possible conspiracy, they realized that they'd all put on the wrong bung hole.

and they've been checking each other out ever since, in an effort to get their own back.

12 comments:

Cicero Sings said...

Loved the story ... what a hoot!

susan said...

That's a great story that answers one of the oldest questions on the face of the earth :-)

gfid said...

cicero and su - i was a the cultural component of the Arctic Winter Games last night. throat singing and wonderful drumming and dancing.... and a Cree storyteller, who told this VERY story!

susan said...

Heh, I've had a cold so bad that I've finally been able to incorporate throat singing into my bath time repertoire.

I hope you have warm memories of that evening to keep you warm til spring.

clairesgarden said...

I was told a similar story many many years ago by a polish man who walked his dog at the same time of day I would be out walking mine. it was slightly different, I think he set his in Russia. I've told it to a lot of folks, its a great story!

gfid said...

su - had a %&*!#!!! dump of 4 inches of snow last night, and temps are taking a nose dive. cuss! the memories are the only thing that's warm at the moment. sitting at my desk in the ReStore trying to write a grant application, and freezing my feet.

claire - i think there's a lot of shared mythology among northern first nations people.... Canada, Russia, Finland, Greenland..... all round the pole. it really is a great story.

lindsaylobe said...

I’m pleased to meet your granddaughter's best friends in your delightful story about how Flower the cat psychologically became a dog. I am reminded of my pet cat as a child who exhibited similiar bonding with my pet dog.

A wonderful indigenously based story that doubtless in its simplicity and appeal has been told over and over so many times before.

Best wishes

Gary said...

Nice! :)

Seraphine said...

march 9th. i'm embarrassed- it's already april. i didn't realize i have been away for so long!
that poor cat, losing half his tail in the snow. i can't imagine being that cold. i read that freezing to death is one of the so-called better ways to die (I've also heard that about drowning). supposedly, you fall "asleep" peacefully and you don't suffer.
they also say that shots don't hurt. heh, right. i have a bridge to sell you.
everything about the cree story rings true except the part about dogs wiping their feet.
i think i'd rather freeze to death than be named flower, especially if i was a tomcat.

Seraphine said...

by the way, yelling flower in a crowded dog lodge is not cool. what if somebody mistakes it for yelling fire?

gfid said...

Lindsay - the lady i heard the story from was responsible for helping develop Cree language books for northern canada schools. she describes the humour as 'earthy'.

Gary - storytelling is a skill we need to preserve.

Sera - i've been away too.... life gets crazy sometimes. Don' t worry about Flower - he is now generally known as 'Del' from the 'Delbert' cartoons. he's gone thru several name morphs.

Su - i hope you're feeling better. spring is a rotten time to be sick.

swallowtail said...

heheheheheee. that is not nice, saying that about dogs.

thanks! ;-)