As told by Chief Wades In The River.
Many years ago, there was The Great Famine. Nothing grew. The animals died. The river shrank until there was barely enough water to drink. Many good people died. This lasted for many years - five times the cold season came. Each time, many good people died.
And so one day I was sitting in my house, for there was no food to gather. I was thinking many sad thoughts, for we might not survive until the cold season. I did not know if any would survive to the end of it. Very sad thoughts.
But Running Hare bursts into my house, "Chief River! Chief River!" he says.
And I say to him "Yes, that is my name. What do you want Running Hare?"
And so Running Hare tells me "A stranger has come among us." Now this is not at all usual. I did not know how the stranger survived the trip, and for all my years I could not guess why he would want to make it. But Running Hare continues. "He wishes to stay with us."
Now, this is even more unusual, and I stopped for several moments to consider it. But Running Hare, he is very impatient, and he says "What shall we do? There is not enough food."
So I say to him, "Peace Running Hare! Take me to this stranger, so that I may see him for myself."
Now Running Hare looks much relieved that I am doing something. But he is very impatient, and old men like me do not walk fast enough for him. I think that he would run all the way there if he did not have to stop and wait for me at every corner.
But finally we came to where the stranger is. It looked as if the entire village had come to see him, except for those who were too weak to move. But I do not have to wait long. For Running Hare is very impatient, and he start shouting:
"Chief River is Here! Chief River is Here! Clear a path for Chief River!"
So I say to him, "Peace Running Hare! I will get there in due time."
But the people have already moved, for they respect me. They also know not to get in the way of Running Hare when he is in hurry, and for all my years I cannot remember a time when he was not.
And now, now I can see the stranger. He is an old man, like myself, but not at all weak. I could tell that this had not been his first long walk; many, many roads lay behind him. And almost as surely, I saw many, many roads ahead of him. He wore his clothes loosely, like something hung in a place and battered by the weather until it seemed almost natural for it to be there. I think that his garments had seen most of his roads, for they were frayed at the edges, bleached by the sun, and bathed in the dust. I could not tell what color they may have once aspired to.
His face had seen everything his clothes had seen, and so much more. I imagine the gamut of human experience, and I think of it as a road; one of the many roads this man has walked. His eyes, his eyes are weary but purposeful, and they are fixed upon me, for Running Hare has made no secret of my arrival.
So I walk forward to great the man, here he surprises me. His gaze is no longer fixed on me, and instead he kneels to the ground. I had taken him for a man with great pride. These men do not bow before another. But now I think that his pride is like the clothes he wears. It has been beaten by the wind and rain until it becomes a part of nature and not a scar upon it's face.
So I say to him, "I am Wades in the River, Chief of the village. Stand, and tell me what you seek here."
So the man stands back up, slowly, and ours eyes meet again. And he says to me "Greetings, Chief Wades in the River. I seek your hospitality, and leave to remain here a while."
Now, this question, it does not surprise me. For I have known the answer for a few years now. So I say to him, "You have my hospitality."
Now, I now this not an easy thing for the people to hear, with so little food. I can see that they are uneasy, but most of them trust me. Though I must give a glance to Running Hare to reassure him, for he is very impatient.
But my daughter, Singing Willow - Oh, my daughter is a very beautiful woman. She is also a very compassionate woman. She tries so hard to help out all the suffering people, but there is not much that she can do. I think that she cries every time one of our good people dies. And it grieves me all the more to see her crying, for she is such a beautiful woman.
Now, as I was saying, Singing Willow steps forward, almost with tears in her eyes. She is such a beautiful woman, I wish she would not cry so much. But she says to the stranger, "Please sir, please... Do not think that we would refuse you hospitality, but - there is no food here. Our people are starving. If you stay here, you will starve to. There is not food. Please sir, do not stay here."
But as I said, my mind was made up, so I say to her. "Peace, daughter!" Then I turn to the man, and I say to him, "Please, follow me. There will be food for you."
And so I take the stranger back to my house. I knew that many eyes followed us, and many eyes would watch my house that night.
But back at my house, I take the carefully wrapped bundle that is my dinner and I give it to the stranger, saying "Here, this is your dinner."
And the stranger says to me "You impress your guests well, Chief Wades in the River. They say there is no food here, yet you produce it as if I was expected."
So I say to him "That was my dinner. The people insist that I always eat, even when they starve. Many times I say to them 'no, give it to those who are hungry' but no one will take it. And when there is so little food, I cannot let any go to waste. Now, I, alone of all my people, can bear to miss a few meals. Here, this is your dinner."
He took it with two hands and a respectful bow, and nothing more needed to be said.
So I sat and smoked my pipe while the stranger prepared his dinner. I offered him the pipe, but he said it was not his custom. So I sat and smoked my pipe while the stranger prepared his dinner. I found myself fascinated by the speed and purpose with which he moved. And I think to myself, here is a man who knows how to prepare a meal. Not just as any man must to eat each day, but as one who has prepared more meals than he has eaten. And I think to myself, this is very strange, to have a man so skilled in the preparation of food come into a land where there is no food.
So the stranger eats his dinner, and I smoke my pipe. When he is done, I show him that there are many places to sleep, for once I had a large family here. The stranger goes quickly to sleep, for he had walked many miles that day. Soon, Singing Willow returns in order to sleep as well. I talk quietly with her for a while. I do not tell here where the stranger's food came from. She is such beautiful woman, I do not wish to burden her with it.
In the morning my daughter is already gone, already off to see if the weak ones have survived the night. The stranger is awake as well, sitting by the door. Peaceful, serene, as if contemplating the simple gift of the sunrise.
I find the single bundle of food that is always there, left as my breakfast. I do not think it will take Singing Willow very long to figure out where my food is going. She is a very bright woman. But I think perhaps the stranger will think better of staying here by then.
I hold the food out to the stranger. "Here, this is your breakfast."
But he turns and he smiles at me, the same way that I smiled at my daughter when she asked "Why?" oh so many times. And he holds out his palm and he says to me, "No, Chief Wades in the River, this is your breakfast. But please, do not think it a gift refused. I have no hunger in me, and no need of your food. Your dinner shall sustain me until the sun sets once again, and your people will be in need of a wise leader in the many years to come."
Now, this was most unusual, but I could no sooner force a man to eat as I could force the river to flow again.
But now I say to him, "You speak of a hopeful future. I do not want to say that we are already dead, but the famine may yet take us all before the year is out."
And now the stranger stands up, still with that knowing smile, and he says to me, "Time will tell, Chief River, time will tell. Yet I may not need you dinner again ere I return this evening." And with that, he begins walking off.
But I could not think where he would be going, so I shout after him, "Where are you going, so I may show it to you?"
And he turns around, still taking a few uneven steps, and he shouts back to me, "Trouble yourself not. I have my own way of finding things, and it shall be easier to wander alone."
Indeed, I did not see the stranger again for all of that day.
That evening as the sun courted the horizon, I sat outside my house and I smoked my pipe. Nothing grew that was good to smoke anymore. But there were so few comforts then, even that bitter grass was pleasant.
I knew that the stranger had returned when I heard cries go out in the village. But I sat and I smoked my pipe, for I knew that he would come here.
The stranger was carrying a sack over his shoulder. He must have pulled it out from the small bundle he carried with him, for it had the same battered look of all his clothing. His hands were coated in dirt, as was the sack and much of his garments. But he walked past my house with only a wave of his hand to greet me.
So I say to him "Where are you going, for you have just returned?"
And he tells me "To the river. But I will not be there long."
And the sun danced with the horizon. When the stranger returned, his clothes where dusted off, and damp in places. His hands were rinsed of their dirt. And his sack was washed and still dripping of the river.
He walked silently into the my house, but I look and I see all the people of my village gathered in the street. Some peek around corners, while others stand in the street and whisper among themselves. But I go insides, for I have a guest.
I pick up today's bundle of food, and I say "Here, this is your dinner."
The stranger stops and smiles. And he says to me, "Again you honor me, Chief Wades in the River. And twice now I must refuse you," as he pulled some kind of root out of his sack, "for I have found my own dinner, and as I have said, you shall need your strength."
I do not know how he found this root. It was a very ugly thing. I do not think I would want to eat it. But I was not starving. I do not think the starving ones would care what it looked or tasted like. But for all my wrinkles, my face did not hide my thoughts. With that knowing smile of his, sat down and quickly set to work.
Some of the bolder people had crept forward so that they could look in the door, but I did not mind. I only watched the stranger. The knife skillfully remove the thin and tangled roots from their core. The stranger had a most unusual manner of focus to his work. And as I watched the root become cleaner, I began to think it might be good to eat after all.
And just as I began to think this, the stranger looked up at me with his smile. But I did not look at him long. I had my own dinner. No one else would take it.
I started to eat. But the stranger had finished cleaning his root. He swiftly chopped off a piece and put it in his mouth. He chewed it thoughtfully for a few moments. He paused, and then set back to cleaning the roots. Even more speed and purpose were in his movements.
And then he says to me, "Chief River, I must apologize for interrupting your dinner. But you have eaten this morning, and many have not. The food you have rests upon a piece of hide that looks to have seen many meals. I think that there are many such pieces of hide in this village."
So I say to him, "Yes. Every house's plates are barren."
And he says to me "Bring me a dozen."
But he did not speak softly. I do not think that was an accident. I only needed to look up to see Running Hare dashing off. Running Hare is so impatient!
So I say to the stranger, "Soon."
But through the door I also see my daughter. Oh! My daughter is such a beautiful woman! But she is curious as well. And politeness would not keep her from her house any longer.
She greeted me. She greeted the stranger. But so intent was he on his work that he only gave her a quick nod. And so fascinated was she with his work that she stayed near the doorway.
And then I hear, "I have them Chief River! I have them!" and Running Hare comes in. And he sees Singing Willow only just in time to stop and not knock her over.
Now my daughter, Oh! My daughter is such a beautiful woman! She is very polite. She excuses herself and quickly steps out of the way.
But I am an old man. I am not always so polite. I say to him, "Running Hare! Watch where you are going! You can spare a few moments to not run over my daughter!"
So he turns to me, and he says, "I'm sorry Chief River! I'm sorry! I'm sorry!"
And he turns to my daughter, "I'm sorry Singing Willow! I'm sorry! I'm sorry!"
And then he turn to the stranger, "I'm sorry I took so long! I'm sorry! I'm sorry!"
So I say to him, "Running Hare! Thank you. Now get out of here, and be more careful!"
So he bows to me and darts out of the house. He does not look at all more careful. Running Hare is so impatient!"
But the stranger has been working all this time. He has cleaned up several of the roots. He has chopped them up as well. Now he reaches into his sack and pulls out a handful of grasses. Now these look even less like something to eat, except perhaps in desperation. And many people are desperate. But he cuts them up. And a sweet, pleasing scent begins to fill my house. He sprinkles some of the chopped up grasses onto his roots. Then he puts some of the chunks onto one of the skins that Running Hare brought.
And he says, "Take this to someone who is weak with hunger. It may be too late, but we must try."
So I say to him, "Singing Willow watches over the people. She will know."
And so she thanks the stranger, and wraps up the bundle of food.
Now, my daughter is a very beautiful woman. But practical as well. She runs out and gives the bundle to Running Hare. Then she speaks to him and points over to the edge of the village. After he runs off, she returns to watch the stranger. But my daughter, she is very smart. She does not stand in the doorway this time.
And so Running Hare returns. And the stranger is nearly done with another meal. And Singing Willow takes it, and thanks him even more profusely. And she gives it to Running Hare and sends him to another house.
Again this happens. And she thanks the stranger even more profusely, and apologizes for begging him to leave earlier.
The fourth is done, and she thanks him, and apologizes even more. This goes on until all twelve skins are gone. The stranger's sack is empty. He has gone with them to see those who have eaten. Oh! I heard so many apologies that night!
The next morning, the sun parts with the horizon. I awaken. The stranger is not here. I went to sleep before he returned. But his bed is disturbed. He has stirred before I have. Singing Willow has not. Oh! She is so beautiful when she sleeps. I can not bring myself to disturb her.
So I go out to see where the stranger has gone. It does not take long to find him. He has several of the villagers following him. Running Hare is with them. The stranger is going around to the others who are strong enough to walk. He will say to them, "Follow me, we are going out for the day."
Many of them will say that they are too weak. But he says to them, "Follow me, and you will eat."
Very few do not follow him.
But the sleep is clearing from my mind. I have something I must ask of him.
So I go up the stranger, and I say to him, "You did not eat last night."
And he says to me, "Indeed, Chief Wades in the River, you are not mistaken. But even now I am barely growing hungry, and many more were starving." And then a large smile lights up his entire face. "But tonight, ha-ha! Tonight, no one will go hungry!"
With that he set off. The people followed him with fresh enthusiasm.
So I watched them walk off. And then I went back to my house to eat.
And to think.
Now, in my many years, I have learned many bitter lessons. This stranger had done many good things for us. But he was still a stranger. I feared for my people. But these last five years I have learned many bitter lessons. Soon they would die anyway. This is the only hope.
That evening, the sun courted the horizon. I sat in front of my house and smoked my pipe. I knew the people had returned when I heard their cries. They were joyous cries.
The stranger had his sack. All of the people who followed him had an armful of roots. They were covered in dirt. Some had dirty mouths. They had been too hungry to wait. I did not ask where they were going.
So they went to the river. And the sun danced with the horizon. From the river he led them to the center of the village. My house has a very good view of the center of the village. So I sat and I smoked my pipe.
The stranger showed them how to clean and cut the roots. He showed them how to cut the grass and how much to use. Then many of them ate. The stranger did not. He made many meals for those who did not go with him. Running Hare got eating skins, and my daughter, Oh! My beautiful daughter, helped the stranger. When they had filled a skin, she pointed Running Hare to it's destination.
The first one went to me. No strong people had been left to find my dinner today.
So I sat and I chewed my root. The sweet grass did much to make up for it's flavor. But that was not as bad I had thought. There was a very wholesome taste to it. This was good food. Even though I had food every day, it was not always good food.
Some of the people took food to their families as soon as they were sure it was good food. Others could not wait to calm their own painful stomachs. Many of those who had no families any more simply thanked the stranger and left. But a few stayed to help prepare food. A few stayed to help carry food. There were many people who had also lost their families, and were not strong enough to go out.
Finally, my daughter, Oh! My beautiful daughter, handed a meal to Running Hare. But this time she pointed to his own stomach. So, he thanked her and sat down right there to eat. Running Hare is so impatient!
But they were done. The whole village had been fed. Singing Willow and the stranger sat down to make meals for themselves. The rest of the villagers thanked them and left. There were still many roots left. There would be food tomorrow.
At last the three of them were done eating. (Though of course Running Hare had finished first.) So, they went around to check on the weak ones again. This time it did not take so long, for none were as weak as the night before. I was not asleep when Singing Willow and the stranger returned to my house this time.
So I say to them, "How are the people?"
Now, my daughter, Oh! My beautiful daughter, her mood is mixed. She is both happy and sad. And she says to me, "One has died, father, but the rest have lived. And... I think no more will die...as long as they eat."
She looks hopefully at the stranger now. He smiles slightly, and he says, "They shall. Tomorrow, we should have at least as many people to gather food."
So we each prepare for bed. But after a few minutes, the stranger says to me, "You know Chief River, three nights now I will have stayed here, and yet no one has asked me my name."
So I say to him, "You are the stranger. If I say to any person, 'Where is the stranger?" he will know who I speak of. You need no other name. You are the stranger."
And he pauses to think for a moment. Then he shrugs and lays down in his bed.
The next day I am not the last to wake. But neither am I the first. Singing Willow is gone. But the stranger still sleeps. So, I step outside. My bundle of food is already prepared. Many other people are coming out of their houses. They are going and taking roots from the pile. And the pile is getting very small.
But the stranger has awoken. He steps out and stands by me as he takes in the day.
So I say to him, "Not everyone will eat this morning. There is not enough food."
But he wrinkles his face for a bit, and then he says to me, "No, there is enough. Go around to each house, and see who has taken more than he has eaten."
And so it was. Many people had taken all that they could carry back to their families. But there was no trouble collecting what was left. They are all good people. But there has been no food for so very, very long.
After everyone had eaten, the stranger gathered up all of the strong ones. He sent most of them to the place they had seen yesterday. But he chose a few to stay with him. And then they went off in a new direction.
And the sun courted the horizon. And all the people returned. They were carrying many of the stranger's roots. His sweet grass as well. Much of the day's harvest went into a pile. The rest went to each person's home.
The stranger had his sack of these things I had seen before. But he also had a handful of plants. They had yellow flowers. As he came over to me, he set down his sack, and he says, "I have found these," And he hands me a leaf, and continues, "They are chewy and slightly sour. These plants are too sparse to be of great concern, but they offer an occasional change of flavors."
And so I chewed my leaf. The stranger left to wash his roots. I thought on the many things that were changing around me. Too much these things concerned me.
The next day was much like the last. As were those that followed it. Soon, people were heading off in many directions. Sometimes a patch of roots would become empty. But the stranger kept finding new ones. A few other small plants as well, like the sourleaf. But few things grew in abundance then.
Each day, more people were strong enough to go out. And each day, each person was less hungry. It was not long before the pile was not gone in the morning. So, I had the people repair the storehouse. For five summers it had remained barren.
The storehouse was filling quickly. But still, the stranger would gather all the people he could. He would send them out each day to gather more. So one day I say to him, "Why must all the people gather each day? Already the storehouse is filling. There are many moons before the cold season comes."
And he says to me, "Not for the cold season alone do I gather, Chief Wades in the River. And I think that we shall need many strong sacks, larger still than the ones the people take for a single day's gathering."
So I say to him, "But why? There is much space in the storehouse. Even if you fill it quickly. There is much space in the storehouse."
But he says to me, "Not just for storage, Chief River. I foresee a long trip, and if we are to travel quickly, we can not spend all our days gathering food."
So I say to him, "Where would you go so far away?"
And he pauses for a moment, and he says simply, "I do not know."
So I saw to it that many large and sturdy sacks were made. And after several weeks, the storehouse was looking much more like it should. But then the stranger would gather some of the people in the evening. And he would have them begin filling the sacks. After a while, he would tell them to stop. Then they would begin filling new sacks.
So, finally I go up to the stranger as he is filling sacks, and I say to him, "What are you taking?"
And he looks down at his sack. He shuffles it around. He thinks. And he says to me, "I would say about three weeks. But surely we will find some food on the way."
So I say to him, "And why do you plan such a trip. The storehouse is filling. Is that not enough?"
And he tells me, "Already several fields are bare. I have not ended your hunger, Chief River, only postponed it. I think there is more to be found, but it is very far away."
So I say to him, "And where do you go, that is two weeks away?"
But he says to me, "I told you that already, Chief River, I do not know."
So I say to him, "But shall you follow the rising sun, or the setting?"
But he says to me., "As I said, I do not know."
So I say to him, "But how can you go somewhere, and not know where it is?"
And he tells me, "I did not know where your village was, and I found it. I did not know where the roots lay hidden below the ground, and I found them. So, too, no man knows where his life will go, and yet he lives it. All that is needed is to start walking. I have always found something worth seeking when I do."
There was little I could have said to dispute him. Less, I'm sure, to dissuade him from his journey.
And so one morning he prepared to set out. He gathered together the strong young men. Those who would be good hunters. But there was nothing left to hunt. Each of them took a sack that was as heavy as he could carry. And then they all looked to the stranger.
The stranger stood in the center of the village. He had a sack at his feet. He looked out on the new day. The breeze blew through his weary garments. As it blows through the leaves of the old tree, which stands on the edge of the village. And finally he looked up the river. And he pointed. And he says, "That way."
So I bid the stranger good bye. And I bid my people good bye. And their families bid them good by. And the travelers bid everyone good bye. And they promise to return. They are good people. They will keep their promises.
But many people did not leave the village that day. Singing Willow and Running Hare stayed to watch over the village. Now, you might think Running Hare would be very impatient to learn where the stranger was going. But my daughter, Oh! My beautiful daughter! She begged him to stay. For he is the fastest of all the people. Here he would be very helpful. On the journey, he would always be waiting for the others to catch up.
So, I watched the travelers leave. Many people did. And then they went about their duties. But the village was in good order. And my beautiful daughter was keeping it that way.
So, I went to the place where we bury our dead. And I made an offering to Wise Counsel, the First Chief of our people. I begged him for his wisdom. More, I begged him for his mercy. Then I made an offering to his son, the First Hunter. I begged him for a good journey. There were many good people on the journey.
Then I went to the graves of my family. And I begged them for forgiveness. And I cried for a while. I have always wondered how so many flowers grow in that spot, in spite of all the salt I have put there.
Two weeks passed. I wondered what the people had found. And I prayed for their swift return.
Three weeks passed. There was no sign of the people yet. What they had taken with them would be nearly gone. I prayed for their safety.
Four weeks passed. A few people had gone out to the hills to search the horizon. They had not seen anyone returning. And I prayed for the mercy of the spirits.
Five weeks passed. There was no sign of the travelers. The storehouse was growing empty. Those who were left had many things to do besides gather food. But soon it seemed, they must. I did not know how we would survive without our strong young men.
And so I went to the place where we bury our dead. And I made an offering to the First Mother. And I asked how she could let such things befall her children. And I made an offering to the First Hunter. And I asked him who would carry on his craft if the stranger lead the people astray. And I made an offering to the First Chief. And I asked him when it would end. And I begged him for his mercy. I knew it was yet within him. For I loved my people. How could the First Chief not love his people?
Next I went to the grave of my father, Oh! My wise father. A chief before I. A wiser chief than I. And I begged him forgive his errant son. Then I went to the graves of my family. And I begged their forgiveness. And I watered their graves yet again.
After I was done, I went down the river to think. By the river was my favorite place to think. Though I did not go there very often now. It was barely a stream. Seeing the river so small made me sad. But it did not matter now. I must think of the future of my people. Very sad thoughts.
The river was muddy today. It also seemed wider than the last time I saw it. I thought perhaps all my tears had run down into it. And all the tears of my people. But I did not think on it much. It was a time of very sad thoughts. I thought I was the one who had changed.
But the next day, I went down the river. It was still very muddy. It was not very good water to drink. But it was wider still. All of the people had noticed the river. They stood around pointing and talking. I went back to my house to think. I had many things to think about.
And every day, I would go out to the river. And it would be wider. It would be deeper. After several days it was nearly restored. It had been many years since I had seen the river in such health. Though it was still muddy. But the people ran out into it. They played and swam. Running Hare and Singing Willow splashed water at each other. The people had not been able to do this for a very long time. I waded out in the river. I had not been able to do this for a very long time. It felt very good.
But I had many things to make me happy. I knew this was not chance. The stranger had found his destination. And my people were still alive.
Over time, the river became less muddy, though it would be many moons until it was I remembered it. But I get very far ahead of myself. It was several days after the river had returned. That morning I found a fish for my breakfast. That was something I had not seen in a long time. Now, many of the people were very good fishers. Even among those who had stayed in the village, there were very good fishers. And I had not eaten fish in a very long time. It was always something I enjoyed to eat. But I had many things to make me worried.
So I went to the place where we bury our dead. And I placed the fish on the grave of Wise Council, the First Chief. And I prayed. "Oh wise chief. Founder of our people. Master of the land. Please show us that mercy which I know is in your heart. And withhold that wrath which I know is in you clenched fist. Please know that many things are not done in spite, but in ignorance. For there is a stranger among us. He does not know your will."
I went next to the grave of my wife. Oh! My beautiful wife! And I pray to her, "Oh, Golden Dawn, my beautiful Golden Dawn. Too compassionate for this world. You would not take food while others went hungry. Even this did not save all our children. Our beautiful children. But are you watching us still? Have you sent the stranger to us? Oh, I hope you know what you are doing. I hope you know what you are doing."
But all we could do now was wait. And fish. I had fish every day. Very good fish. And often I sat by the river to think. It was a pleasant place now. Oh how I missed the river.
And so one day I sat by the river. And I heard cries go out from up the river. They were joyous cries. The travelers had returned. Soon I saw them, floating down the river on rafts. The rafts were simple, made of lashed together logs. But they had brought my people home. Nearly two moons they had been gone. It would have been much longer if they had walked home.
The stranger stood at the front. But not proud and tall like a returning hero. He leaned on a stick like a tired old man. For that he was. But relieved, for his task was done. I wondered, and I hoped. Was his work finished as well?
There were many joyous reunions when the rafts landed. Many people praised the stranger as a hero, even if he did not act like one. But soon he left the group. And he came towards me, carrying his beaten old sack.
So I say to him, "You return."
And he says to me, "You act surprised, Chief Wades in the River. Can it be that you still do not trust me, after all that I have done?"
So I tell him, "We do not get strangers very often. Many things could happen. But I have little doubt of your purpose here. From what I have seen, over there, I think I shall be the last person to thank you for the river."
But he says to me, "Ay, though it is not for thanks that I labor. About five weeks out, we came upon a lake. The river had been blocked off where it left the lake. Perhaps a small avalanche a few years back. It was not the only river to leave the lake, so there was never enough water to flow over the dam. But we cleared the rocks, and removed what lose debris we could from the bank."
So I ask him, "Five weeks? You had told me perhaps two."
So he says to me, "I told you I had food for three weeks. I expected to find some the way, but the food increased near the lake and we lived off the land for the last week. There is a rather tasty fruit up that way." He pulled a red fruit out of his sack as he said this. "The way back was much faster, and we ate mostly fish."
So I say to him, "Well, perhaps we should move up by the lake then."
But he says to me, "Nay, do not bother. The river will restore much of the land, and I have plans for the interim." And with that, he tossed me the fruit, and left with a hop and a smile.
We did not talk much that night. The next morning I found that he had beaten me out of bed again. I am not so quick to wake in my old age.
I looked out of my house. I did not see many people. So I went down to the river. There I saw few people fishing. The rest must have been out gathering roots. That is what the stranger would have them do. So I take a drink. And I sit down to watch the river for a little while.
But then I see my daughter, Oh! My beautiful daughter. She is running along the river, with a small sack. So I say to her, "Daughter! Where you going in such a hurry?"
And she tells me, "The stranger had sent me gather seeds from the root. Many had fallen in the storehouse. Oh, father, he says we can grow the roots nearby the village. And the fruits he has found, they will grow as well. And quickly, for they have grown once already this season."
And so I furrow my brow and I think for a moment. And then I understand. And I say to her, "Daughter, take me to the stranger."
Just outside of the village, I see him. He has gathered many of the people around him. They have cleared out a small square of land. They have dug in the soil and made it loose. And the stranger goes along one edge, putting seeds into the ground. And when he reaches the end, he turnes around to start again. And he has several of the people come out, and do as he did. And they start across again.
So I go up to him and I say, "Stop! You must stop! The roots were enough. The river was too much. This is not right! You must stop."
The people who were mimicking him stopped. All of the people stared at me. The stranger did not stop. But he says to me, "Why is that, Chief River? Why do you fear the end of your people's long suffering?"
So I tell him, "I think you will anger the spirits. I do not wish to see the sprits angry. No one wishes to see the spirits angry. You must stop."
But he does not stop. Still he plants his seeds. And he says to me, "And why do you think that Chief River? Is this land plagued by demons that will not rest while your people are fed?"
So I tell him, "No. But I will tell you what I think. Several years ago a stranger comes to us, and he begs us for our hospitality. But I turned him away. I told him, 'The land is bountiful, why must we get your food for you?' Again he asked, and I said to him, 'The land is bountiful, get it for yourself.' Three more times he came to us, and three more times we turned him away. He did not return. But the then there was The Great Famine. Nothing grew. The animals died. The river shrank until there was barely enough water to drink. Many good people died."
"I think that this man was the spirit of our First Chief. We did not show him good respect. He became angry. You are undoing what he has done. For a small slight, he has killed many people. I do not wish to see what will happen if you anger him more."
But the stranger does not stop. And he says to me, "Then I thank, you Chief River, for at last I know why I am here. This is what I think. I think five times you turned your First Chief away, and five years you have suffered. Now your penance is paid and I am your salvation. The Great Famine is ended."
And I do not reply to him right away. He gives me much to think about. But I think this man knows what he says. There are great truths in his words. And for several moons now we have eaten without reprisal.
But at last I have done enough thinking for the moment. So I say to him. "But you... why do you do this! Why! Why!"
And he continues his work. He does not speak for a moment. And then he says to me, "The famine was your penance, Chief River. This is mine."
"And that is my name, Penance, though you never asked for it. Perhaps some day you will receive another stranger with hospitality. This way, you may distinguish us."
But I did not ask this man what he had done. For I heard the way with which he said these things. I have had many years. And I have learned that sometimes, the burden of knowing something outweighs the burden of not knowing it.
And that was the end of the famine. The stranger showed us how to plant the crops, and how to care for them. In time, the rest of the land returned to it's bounty as well. And during all of these great events, many things had happened. After the first harvest, Running Hare and my beautiful daughter were married. The stranger stayed for the wedding. And I knew that I would have very beautiful grandchildren. But Oh! I could hardly stop thinking that I would have such impatient grandchildren!
But your mother has done a good a job of teaching you patience, my dear grandchildren. I am proud of you all. But now the story is over. It is time for you to go to bed. Hurry up now, before your father notices. Running Hare is so impatient!