A Grandfather's Legend: Coyote's Making of the Stars

    Victor, my grandfather, poured the dark coffee into a cracked enamel cup and the wisps of steam arose. I felt the warmth of the heated cup between my hands and slowly drank.
    My grandfather had begun to chop wood and I gathered kindling. It seemed so long ago, we were building a fire for the sweathouse.
    "Tillah, shall I get water?" I asked.
    Victor nodded his head affirmatively.
    The early morning air penetrated my clothes and I began to shiver. I left with the gallon jug and proceeded to the house. I felt the particles of bone-colored soil between my toes. My feet disturbed the imprints of the tractor wheels in the dust. I entered the house and started to fill the glass container.
    My grandmother dozed and sate near the pot-bellied stove; she unconsciously fingered the breviary. My sister placed the condiments on the metal and synthetic table. The kerosene in the rounded bottom of the lamp and the kitchen were bathed in a uterine glow. I headed back.
    Victor emerged from the womb of the globular earthen-covered framework entrenched in the soil: the sweathouse was hemispheric, supported by rounded willows stuck in the ground; the structure encased in moist dirt that later hardened. Victor retrieved the perforated stones and placed them on the tiers of chopped wood.
    I approached and mosquitoes buzzed in the pale blue light. Victor sat on the embankment near the stream and listened to the crackling of the fire. The flames created frenetic dark patterns on the bunch grass.
    "Tillah, how were the stars made?" I asked.
    "Do you believe in magic? That is no matter, " he answered, and continued:
    "In the beginning, when animal people roamed and governed the world, Coyote was the one that created the people from stones on the Columbia River.
    "The animal people gathered splinters of lights from the sun; they put the stars in a basket and held a meeting about where to place them in the sky. Coyote left the covert and stood in the weeded darkness.
    "The raccoon suggested that he stars be fashioned into designs of fish, and the bear heartily agreed.
    "The straight-faced owl proposed the starts should be placed in lines against the sky. The angular owl moved from the center of the assemblage.
    "Another of the animals spoke and the animal people began to disagree and argued. Coyote entered and laughed; he quickly grabbed the basket of stars and threw them into the sky.
    "That was how the stars were created." He had a smile around his eyes.


Earle Thompson

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