December 22, 1995
Air Date: December 22, 1995
Modern Nativity/ Katie Davis
In the season celebrating the birth of one important figure, Katie Davis reports on birth trends in the United States among citizens concerned with the future well-being of the planet. (11:50)
Living on Earth hosts a "virtual reality" holiday party where "guests" discuss why they are hopeful about environmental improvements in the year ahead. (06:15)
The Shortest Day
Steve Curwood reads a poem by Susan Cooper about the winter solstice. (02:00)
The Living on Earth Almanac
Santa Claus is the subject of this week's almanac. (01:00)
The Second Annual Living on Earth Winter Storytelling Feast December 15, 1995
FIRST STORYTELLER: MEDICINE STORY —Wampanoag Indian story teller Medicine Story tells a story about people gaining gratitude for the sun in winter. (7:20) SECOND STORYTELLER : GAYLE ROSS — Gayle is Cherokee and tells a story from a Canadian northern Plains tribe tradition about how the bear came to hibernate in winter. (9:40) THIRD STORYTELLER : LEE ELLEN MARVIN — Lee Ellen tells the true story of Tessie and the Wolf, about how a wolf came to the aid of a little girl one cold day. (9:13) (26:03)
Copyright c 1995 by World Media Foundation. No portion of this transcript may be copied, sold, or transmitted without the written authority of World Media Foundation.
HOST: Steve Curwood
NEWSCASTER: Jan Nunley
REPORTERS: Julie Edelson Halpert, Katie Davis
STORYTELLERS: Medicine Story, Gayle Ross, Lee Ellen Marvin
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CURWOOD: From National Public Radio, this is Living on Earth.
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CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood. It's the season of the solstice, and for Christians, Nativity. As many of us celebrate the birth of Jesus, we pause to think about what it means to bring a child into the world today.
BEALS: If you feel you're a responsible, caring person, and that you can have some, even some small impact on the environment now, having children and trying to instill those values in them makes the future look brighter for them and for yourself.
CURWOOD: And regardless of religion, the New Year makes it a good time to hear about hope.
MAN: The worst apocalyptic fears that I have had looking at global environmental problems, those dark endings will not come to pass.
CURWOOD: And some reflections on the season this week on Living on Earth, right after this news.
NUNLEY: From Living on Earth, I'm Jan Nunley. one of this year's Nobel Prize winners in chemistry says hypersonic aircraft may pose a threat to the Earth's atmosphere. Dutch professor Paul Crutzen says development of the aircraft should not take place at the expense of the ozone layer. Hypersonics can travel at speeds well above Mach IV, making them considerably faster than the high-speed Concorde. Crutzen told a panel in Stockholm that although the aircraft industry is anxious to get scientific backing for the new airplanes, too little is known about their effect on the stratosphere. Crutzen, Sherwood Roland and Mario Molino were awarded the Nobel this year for discovering how synthetic chemicals damage the ozone layer.
Four major corporations with a combined $2 billion yearly budget for paper have pledged to consider the environmental performance of their suppliers when they purchase paper. Johnson & Johnson, McDonald's Prudential Insurance, and Time Warner say they'll use market pressures to get paper companies to improve their environmental record. The group has issued a 246-page report with recommendations for corporate purchasing managers. A spokesman for the American Forest and Paper Association says the industry is well on its way to the goal of using 50% recycled fiber by the year 2000.
The governor of Massachusetts has asked the governor of California not to change that state's electric vehicle requirements. Current California law says that by 1998, 2% of all new cars sold must be electric. But the state is reportedly on the verge of postponing that mandate until 2003, when 10% of all cars would have to be battery powered. Massachusetts Governor William Weld wants California to keep the 2% deadline, because under Federal law states that want to see electric cars must follow the Golden State's lead.
Chrysler and Ford plan to use a new electric vehicle battery charging system that lets drivers plug in their cars much like conventional appliances. The automakers hope to make their conductive charging system the industry standard for Detroit's new generation of electric vehicles. Julie Edelson Halpert reports.
HALPERT: Both Chrysler and Ford claim that their conductive battery charger, which hooks up to ordinary power sources, will be able to cut recharging time in half. Chrysler's Bob Feldmeier says the new system will be introduced in Chrysler's first electric offering, the Epic, which is being targeted for the mass market. However, this move has created a split between auto makers as they try and develop uniform industry standards. GM and Toyota favor a more sophisticated inductive charging system, which GM developed. This system is already being used in the electric fleets of many government vehicles, but critics argue that it's too expensive, and that the Chrysler and Ford systems will provide a much cheaper power supply. For consumers, this industry infighting is reminiscent of the battle between Beta and VHS videotapes in the 1980s. Most experts agree that for electric vehicles to be widely marketed, one standard charging system must be adopted. For Living on Earth, I'm Julie Edelson Halpert.
NUNLEY: Nearly 4 of every 10 lakes, rivers, and estuaries in the US remain too polluted to allow fishing, swimming, or other uses at any time of year. An Environmental Protection Agency report says sewage, disease-causing bacteria, fertilizer, toxic metals, oil, and grease are among the most frequent waterway pollutants. The findings are similar to results outlined in the Agency's last study 3 years ago. EPA Administrator Carol Browner says Americans are holding our own in controlling water pollution but need to make progress.
One of the world's rarest mammals is making a comeback. Nepal's one-horned rhinoceros sport giant horns that sell for up to $25,000 on the black market. But despite poaching pressures, the heavily-armed rhinos in Nepal's Chitwan National Park have multiplied from a population of about 40 two decades ago to 450 today. And a new population of about 50 is thriving in another Nepal nature reserve. World Wildlife Fund officials credit the rhino's comeback to Nepal's government, which dedicates 14% of its land to wildlife preservation. Fewer than 12,000 rhinos remain in the wilds of Africa and Asia. More than 90% have disappeared since 1970, largely due to poaching.
If the threat of rising sea levels, more severe storms and a wider range for insect-borne diseases isn't enough, there's a new reason to fear global warming. It could mean less snow for skiers. The inter-governmental panel on climate change now says global warming may be reducing the world's snowfall, jeopardizing the skiing industry in many countries. Scientists add that wildlife favoring snowy habitats risk extinction because they'll be forced to move to higher altitudes to find new homes. The build-up of carbon dioxide and certain pollutants in the atmosphere contributes to global warming.
That's this week's Living on Earth news. I'm Jan Nunley.
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CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. At this time of year of course, the Christian tradition is busy celebrating the birth of Jesus. And one could say that this celebration is also a celebration of hope, in that children represent the future for us. But just how many children? Mary and Joseph had a small family for their times, and that makes them like many couples in the US today. Birth rates here have dropped by 60% since 1950, as more people weigh their desire to pass on the gift of life against their concern for the environment and those already born. Reporter Katie Davis talked with some couples who share those concerns, and has our report.
DAVIS: Jessica Beals was 5 years old when she started tagging along with her mother to pick up litter in the streets of New York City, and she quickly became a champion recycler.
BEALS: And we had this wonderful time squashing things, as the older kids really got into that. But I remember my parents really talking to us about why we were doing that.
DAVIS: And Jessica Beals has never stopped giving new life to old objects. The Washington, DC, apartment she shares with her husband is filled with used furniture. "I'm not interested in new things," she says, jiggling her 5-month-old daughter Anika on her knees.
BEALS: Yes, she's a new thing. We couldn't get a used one, at least not yet.
DAVIS: Jessica, who's 32, met her husband, Chuck Berg, an environmental policy analyst, 7 years ago. They felt a certain synchronicity when they discovered they both came from 2-child families, and that their fathers had vasectomies to keep it that way. Chuck, who's also 32, says he'll have the same operation after they have one more child. "We only want to replace ourselves," he explains.
BERG: I know that a lot of the reasoning that went into my decision, and my feelings about this, is that every extra child born in a Western country has far greater impact on the global environment than a child born in, say, India or China. Food, we eat far more food per capita than a child in China or India does. Especially protein. Animal protein, and the amount of grain that goes to fatten our cattle in this country is enough to feed a Third World nation easily. You have to take those things into consideration.
BEALS: I know that by raising her in our house, we're teaching her kind of by osmosis some of our values. We're feeding her organic baby food when we can, you know, we're using unbleached paper, recycling stuff. And I think, we're hoping that she will grow up thinking that that's a normal thing to do, and just incorporate that in to her own life and her own way of thinking.
DAVIS: Jessica and Chuck fit an emerging pattern in the country, a pattern of smaller families. The number of children per woman decreased from 3.6 in 1960 to 2.0 today. And nearly 1 potential mother in 10 now says that she never expects to bear a child. Compare that to the 1880s when the normal American family had 7 children. And while these numbers are not hard to read, it is more difficult to explain why this is happening. Almost no research has been conducted on why couples are choosing to have fewer children, although some analysts mention the fact that more women have joined the workforce and that it costs more to raise children these days. Certainly the global perspective that Chuck and Jessica brought to their decision is rare. But if you came of age in the 1960s, it made a lot of sense. At least that's how Sharon Pickett remembers it.
PICKETT: I decided to only have one child, and it's been a good decision for me. I think it's been a good decision for my child. I'm certainly very proud of her. She's a wonderful, wonderful girl. She's 21 years old and she's becoming an elementary school teacher, and she majored in Spanish. And she seems to be the kind of person I would want to go out into the world and make a difference.
DAVIS: Sharon Pickett is 46 now, and works as a communication director of Zero Population Growth in Washington, DC. She says she began to worry about all of this when she was in high school and read a book called Limits to Growth. And then there was college, and it was 1967 and Sharon Pickett says she couldn't get a slogan out of her head -- if you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem -- so she decided she would only have one child.
PICKETT: Well, there are so many people in the world who are having more than 2, that unless some people have less than 2 we're not going to achieve population stabilization, which is something that's very important. And it was really my decision not to have any more. My husband would have wanted to have more. But he was fine with the fact that we didn't.
DAVIS: As Sharon Pickett raised her only child, she worked as a teacher, and then in the anti-nuclear movement, for Physicians for Social Responsibility. Back in the 1970s, she says, her overriding fear wasn't so much the amount of people on the planet but the number of bombs.
PICKETT: I guess I reached a point where I was feeling very hopeless about the future, and overwhelmed with the problems and so pessimistic that things were just getting worse and worse. And I think some people react to that, particularly young people these days, with a sense of despair. And the, you know, the Prince song "Let's party like it's 1999," because there are so many problems we just have to -- let's escape. And have our pleasure in the moment, because there is no future. And I was -- I think I fell into that for a while. And realized that that's a pretty sad state to be in for very long.
DAVIS: To combat her despair, Sharon Pickett made small choices: not eating meat, for instance. "Maybe one less hamburger will save a sliver of the rain forest," she smiles. Mostly, though, she focused on raising her daughter to believe in making sacrifices for the common good.
PICKETT: I came from a family of 4, and my mother came from a family of 8. (Laughs) So I think we're moving in the right direction in my family, anyway.
DAVIS: Does your daughter talk about this yet? Has she asked you about it, and what your thoughts are about it? She's still quite young, but she might have already had some thoughts about motherhood.
PICKETT: Oh, she definitely has; in fact, she's getting married next summer. And she and her husband want to have 2 children. But she is strongly considering the fact that the second one might be adopted. She wants to have one of her own, but she said she wants to adopt a little girl from India. For some reason that's in her mind.
DAVIS: At the end of our talk I asked to see a picture of Sharon Pickett's daughter, and her professional demeanor melts as she leaps from the sofa to rummage in her purse.
PICKETT: This --
DAVIS: Like any good mother you're bringing your wallet over.
PICKETT: Here's my daughter.
DAVIS: She's gorgeous. She looks European.
PICKETT: And she's a dear. (Laughs) I'm very lucky.
DAVIS: So where does that leave us now? First, there were 2 children, then there was one, and then there was none. Let's meet Jim Lazar of Olympia, Washington.
LAZAR: I decided not to have children when I was still an undergraduate. I was studying environmental economics, energy economics, resource economics. I looked around the world, and I said this is not going to be a very nice place to live.
DAVIS: Jim Lazar rides his bike to work every day, as any serious transportation consultant should. He lives with his partner Karen of 7 years, and neither of them want children.
LAZAR: So it was, I guess it was my birthday present in 1976, my then-girlfriend gave me a vasectomy for a birthday present. And it was a challenge finding a doctor who would perform a vasectomy on a 22-year-old with no kids. Most doctors kind of felt like I was a little too young to make that decision. But there was a doctor in Seattle who ran a clinic called Population Dynamics, and near as I could tell he was committed to the peaceful eradication of the human race. And he was perfectly happy to take the worry out of being close.
DAVIS: Jim Lazar shared the same fears of nuclear annihilation that Sharon Pickett had. And while 1995 is not the nightmare he imagined, he says, it's still not a good place for children.
LAZAR: My world is not as bad as I expected my world to be. I'm reasonably well off financially. I have a successful business. I live in a small town in America that has a relatively good environment, relatively low crime rate. My life is much better than I thought it would be. But I look around the world at India, at China, at Africa, at what's going on in Bosnia. I'm not sure that the world is not declining at about the rate that I thought it would. The big difference is I thought that we were going to disappear in a flash of light. I now think that we're going to go down slowly and painfully from poverty and famine and pestilence. I just don't see any way that we're going to continue to feed 6 billion people on this planet.
DAVIS: But hope is an elastic word. For Jim Lazar, foregoing children creates hope for the world. While Jessica Beals feels her 5-month-old daughter's potential outweighs any fears she might have about the future.
BEALS: I have some friends who have decided not to have children because they're so afraid of what the future may hold. I can understand how they feel to a certain extent, but on the other hand I really feel sad about that, because I think if you feel you're a responsible, caring person and that you could have some, even some small impact on the environment now, having children and trying to instill those values in them makes the future look brighter for them and for yourself, if you want to be a little more selfish about it. I mean for the entire human race. You can't just stop having kids because you're afraid of things. You've got to try to influence the future in what little way you can. And you know, this could be the person who figures out the way to help the ozone layer, I don't know. There are any number of things. If she's interested enough in these issues, she could, you know, professionally or just for personal reasons figure out some way to help the world. And there's no reason to be afraid of that.
DAVIS: Jessica Beals and Jim Lazar would agree on many environmental issues. But they have both looked at this one and made different choices. And isn't that just like people: seeing the same problem and choosing absolutely contrary solutions. For Living on Earth, this is Katie Davis.
CURWOOD: Tidings of comfort and joy, just ahead on Living on Earth. Stick around.
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(People laughing and eating; music plays)
CURWOOD: Well you caught me. I'm having a little sip and a bite now because hey, it's Living on Earth's virtual holiday party!
ROCKEFELLER: Hi. I'm Ina Jaffie Rockefeller.
FRENCH: Hi, my name's Hillary French. I work with World Watch Institute in Washington.
ANDERSON: I'm Nancy Anderson. I'm 73 years old.
CURWOOD: Hey Nancy! Hey Hillary! Abby!
(Music plays: "Come Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen")
CURWOOD: Things are a little bit thin this year, okay? You know, with austerity? So we weren't able to throw a real party. But radio is magic, right? And we've brought some of the people we've talked to through the year into one room.
CURWOOD: Now, there's plenty of champagne and eggnog and hors d'oeuvres, if you use your imagination. And believe it or not we've got some good cheer. I know, that's kind of surprising for a bunch of activists and policy makers and writers. They spend most of their time grousing about toxic sludge, pesticides, holes in the ozone layer and burning rainforests. Between you and me, they could be a pretty dull bunch. But actually I see lots of smiles.
WOMAN 1: Well what gives me hope is that I spend my time, really all my time, with people all over the world who are working for the world for nature, for the ability of people to have a good life in balance with nature. And they're doing everything. And they're farming, doing new energy systems, designing cities, new transport.
CURWOOD: Hm, is it the punch or is it that we asked them to talk about hope? Okay, maybe so. But these folks do genuinely seem upbeat.
WOMAN 2: And the good news is, there's zillions of ideas out there. There's immense creativity. In every country I've ever looked there are people who are working on this. That's what gives me hope.
MAN 1: There is a whole new class of people emerging that feel a sense of global citizenship. Feel a sense of global connection.
ABBY: I'm known as the person who brought the clivus multrum composting toilet to the United States from Sweden in 1973. When I first did it I would say people laughed or giggled at the very mention of this idea. People do not laugh now.
CURWOOD: Don't look at me -- I'm not laughing, Abby. Let's squeeze past this bowl of melon balls and go over to that corner. Hey, isn't that Lauren Dillie Platt of Citizens Against Pesticide Spraying? Uh oh, she's not eating the cucumbers. You look pretty energetic tonight; what keeps you going?
PLATT: When I find out what other people have done, and the changes that they have brought about because they had a conviction about something, it inspires me to do the same thing.
MAN 2: I think we're moving to an era in which we are creating a whole new kind of global human intelligence.
WOMAN 3: Well there certainly is a growth in grassroots environmental movements around the world, which again is very encouraging because it points to the fact that a demand for strength in environmental policy is something that's really coming from within societies.
WOMAN 4: I think it was Margaret Mead that said something to the effect of, you know, if you don't as a single individual try to effect change, then it simply won't happen at all. And part of what it takes is one person to start it. And I think that you just have to continue; you never win, and so someone says you never win. However, if you continue to fight, you will hold the line, which is the important thing. And what happens is, as you're trying to institute change and you're trying to get a point across, you make all these friends. And everything kind of starts to come together, and it kind of gets woven together. And you end up with this just very rich kind of tapestry of people and organizations that are working towards one common goal.
(More music and mingling)
CURWOOD: Hm. If this were real champagne I'd think it gone to their heads, but it's not even a real party! (Laughs) Maybe it's the imaginary munchies, who knows? Anyway, over there by the crudites, there's that writer, Sy Montgomery, stuffing her face. Sy, swallow those potato chips and tell us what makes you hopeful.
MONTGOMERY: What makes me hopeful? Oh -- kids have raised all this money to buy land in South America, to preserve land that regular adults don't seem to be capable of taking care of.
MAN 3: I feel hope whenever I see my sons Erin and Benjamin feeling hopeful themselves. I know that in some way, the worst apocalyptic fears that I have had looking at global environmental problems, those dark endings will not come to pass.
MAN 4: I wanted so much to figure out how to protect the recovery that was going on in our woods, because I felt very strongly that surge of hope. Hope that the future could be as rich in some ways as the past. Hope that my daughter might grow up where I live and hear a wolf howling there some day.
MAN 5: Much of the richness of our evolutionary heritage is damaged, and much is going. But at the same time, much of life will continue with us or without us, and it's there for us to see and enjoy.
CURWOOD: Yeah. And L'chaim. Salud. Sehat. Nasdrovia. Cheers. (Glasses clink) Here's to a hopeful and sustaining New Year.
(Mingling voices; medieval music up and under)
CURWOOD: It seems that holiday and tradition go together. And here in Cambridge, Massachusetts, for the past 25 years, folks from all walks of life have gathered to present the Revels: a celebration of the winter solstice in dance and song. Its northern European flavor is a reminder that those in the world who live closest to the poles are most acutely aware of the shortest day, and perhaps the most eager to celebrate the return of the sun. As an environmental journalist, the solstice is a powerful reminder to me of how much we are a part of nature and not apart from it. That the rhythm of our bodies resonates with the movement of the heavens. Our hearts have the circadian rhythm that matches the day, and of course a woman's reproductive system reflects the cycle of the moon. So somehow, when the revelers gather, they're tapping human nature. And with thanks to writer Susan Cooper, here's one of their poems. It's called "The Shortest Day."
So the shortest day came, and the year died. And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world came people singing. Dancing. To drive the dark away. They lighted candles in the winter trees. They hung their homes with evergreens. They burned beseeching fires all night long to keep the year alive. When the new day's sunshine blazed awake They shouted, reveling. Through all across the ages you can hear them echoing behind us. Listen. All the long echoes sing the same delight, the shortest day, As promise wakens in the sleeping land. They carol, feast, give thanks. And dearly love their friends. And hope for peace. So do we, here, now. This year and every year. Welcome Yule.
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CURWOOD: And from all of us here at Living on Earth, a joyous holiday and a peaceful New Year.
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CURWOOD: Living on Earth is produced by the World Media Foundation in cooperation with WBUR, Boston, and Harvard University. I'm Steve Curwood, executive producer.
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ANNOUNCER: Living on Earth is made possible with major support from the Ford Foundation for reporting on environmental and development issues; the W. Alton Jones Foundation; Jennifer and Ted Stanley; and the National Science Foundation for coverage of science in the environment.
NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.
CURWOOD: Our annual storytelling feast is coming up in the second half of Living on Earth, stick around.
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CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Winter is the time for storytelling. And today we take time out from the usual buzz of environmental news and information to feast our ears on some wonderful stories well told. Do you know why the bear stole the world's warmth and made winter? Hear her story in this half hour on NPR's Living on Earth. First, this week's almanac.
(Music up and under: "Santa Claus is Coming to Town")
CURWOOD: According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Santa Claus is not an endangered species. In fact, St. Nick sightings are approaching an all-time high. EPA experts say they aren't sure if this is because Claus hasn't kept up with stealth technology developments, or that children are going to bed later. But Mr. Claus does have some environmental concerns. First on his list is the increasing number of good children. Yes, as Santa himself points out, his nice index is at an all-time high, which has led to a skyrocketing use of wood and petrochemicals. St. Nick has asked his elves to wrap presents in paper made of knaff and rice stalks. He's also making more toys out of recycled plastic. On the plus side, the declining naughty index means a similar decrease in coal distribution. Although the famed Kringle vein is the purest, lowest sulfur coal ever mined -- some people even say it tastes suspiciously like licorice -- both environmental activists and Claus & Company are relieved that less of it will be making its way into the world.
(Music up and under: "Santa Claus is Coming to Town")
CURWOOD: Our gift to you this holiday season is an old-fashioned one: it's some stories. Not the latest news and environmental information we usually tell, but the kind that people have told the world over, well, forever, with the wisdom of the elders. They are about earth-keeping, how things came to be, and human relationships with other living things.
(Flute music up and under)
CURWOOD: That's the music of Medicine Story, a Wampanoag storyteller based in New Hampshire. He's the author of 2 books: Return to Creation, and Children of the Morning Light. Welcome, and would you tell us that story of yours about the darkness of winter and welcoming the sun?
STORY: Just about now we're having the longest nights of the year. And as of the solstice, which was the 21st, then the nights will start to get shorter again all the way until June. So we have a story to explain about that, and it explains a lot of other things, too. It's about a time when the sun didn't turn around and start to come back, but the days just kept getting shorter and shorter and shorter. And eventually they were so short that well, people would be jumping up as soon as they saw the sun come into the village. They'd jump into their clothes and run out, and the sun would already be going down and that was the end of their day. And they were very worried, because they said how are we going to grow our three sisters, the corn, beans, and squash? How are we going to go hunting and do our fishing, get our livelihood here if it's dark all the time?
Well when they spoke to their helper, first teacher Moshap, he said well I'd better go talk to Grandfather Sun and see what's wrong. And of course where we live here now, on the East Coast in order to talk to the sun in the morning you've got to go out to sea, because it comes out from the ocean out there. So he waited way far out, close to the sun coming up place. And soon as the sun popped up, he began to address and say Grandfather, you know, people are very worried you're not here very much. It's certainly good to see you today. And they began to tell their story, but unfortunately he didn't get a chance to really get into it, because the sun dropped out of sight again and it was dark. He tried that three days.
So at the end of that third try, he went down to the bottom of the ocean, began to pull out long strands of seaweed that grows way down there. And he tied them in knots and made a fish net, just as he had taught the people to make a fish net. And he made this net really big. It was a net big enough to catch the sun. And he stood out there the next time the sun was ready, and as soon as the light appeared he started swinging this net around. And he threw it just as the sun rose up, and right into the net the sun went. Moshap reached out, grabbed a-hold of the net and pulled it tight, and just held the sun right up in there.
Now the sun is struggling away, saying, "Who's doing this to me? Get this thing off of me! What's going on here?" And Moshap is holding on real tight out there, saying, "Well, I'm sorry, Grandfather, to have to do this to you. But 3 days I've been trying to talk to you and you wouldn't stop and listen. Now I'm going to hold on till you promise to listen to me." And the sun said "Oh well, all right. What is it?" And when he heard about what the people had said, he says, "You know, I think that's kind of funny, sort of peculiar, because I didn't think those people there even cared about me at all. You know, when I get there in the morning they're all asleep, and they don't even bother to come out and talk to me and thank me for that sunlight or anything. They never come to say goodbye when I go. So I just got to going shorter and shorter, because I like to spend my time on the other side of the world where there's people that really appreciate me."
Well, when the people heard that, they were pretty ashamed of themselves because they hadn't even considered the sun's feelings before. So the next time he came, people built a fire in the center of their village. And they were throwing tobacco in the fire, which is our way of giving thanks. Said "Thank you, Grandfather, for coming back, for giving us another day, another chance to live and learn." And all day long the people would look up and smile at him and tell him stories and gossip with him. And at the end of the day, they would gather up on the hill and all wave: "Bye, Grandfather, that was a great day you brought us! You hurry back and we'll be waiting for you!"
So the sun kind of liked that and he started to come back and the days got longer, and we got a chance to plant the corn, beans, and squash and go hunting and fishing and all that. But somewhere towards the end of June he was thinking, "Well, I kind of miss those other folks." And then he would begin to go back and spend more time over there, and our days would get shorter just as they do now. But he never, never went back to the way it was before, because we always tell this story. So it's a kind of a way of life that we have. We say all of our prayers, our prayers at Thanksgiving, because we've been given so much.
CURWOOD: Medicine Story is a wonderful name, especially for a storyteller. How did you get that name?
STORY: Well, it happened many years ago, after I had found my way into the wisdom of the elders of this continent. Traveled all around the country and learned the old ways from the old people. And I got a vision that these old ways were not just for the Indian people, that this was human being ways that had been lost by other cultures. And that it was the responsibility that was given to us to be able to let people know about these ways. And when that happened I realized that this was a big change in my life and I was going to have to be doing different things. And usually, traditionally, when you have a change like that in your direction, well you may take on a new name. And I was at a ceremony, and I had told a lot of stories, and I had talked about this change and this new path. And so that's when they gave me this name, which in my language is Manintonquat. And it means "he's telling stories of the spirit." And so in English, Medicine Story is kind of a shorthand way of saying that.
CURWOOD: Well, Medicine Story, I want to thank you for taking all this time with us. Medicine Story has 2 books. One's called Return to Creation; the other's called The Children of the Morning Light. Thanks for joining us.
STORY: As we say in our language, tabotny. Thank you.
(Flute music up and under)
CURWOOD: Have you ever wondered why winter can linger and linger? Gayle Ross is a Cherokee storyteller based in Fredericksburg, Texas, and joins us now from member station KUT in Austin. Gayle, you have a tale for us of an unbearably long winter. Could you tell it now?
ROSS: I'd be glad to. This story is called Keeping Warmth in a Bag. It comes from the Slavi people of Canada. The Slavi people are related culturally and linguistically to our Plains people; in fact, they're one of the northernmost tribes of the Plains culture.
It seemed that long, long ago, before there were people, winter came onto the land, and then never left. The sky was hidden with these big black clouds; it snowed all the time. This went on for about 3 years, and the animal people were freezing and starving, and so they all came together in a great council.
Now after talking about it for a long time, they all agreed that spring could not come because there was no warmth in the world. Someone had taken all the warmth. And finally someone spoke up in council and they said you know, this must be hardest on our sister the bear. She has always hated the cold. Someone ask Bear if she will come and talk to us and tell us how she is doing. So all through the council people kept calling for Bear, and when she did not answer, that was when they realized she was not at the council. And they realized that no one had even seen the bear since the snow and ice had started. And one wise one said well, maybe Bear has something to do with our trouble. We should go find her and find out.
And so they organized a search party to go in search of Bear. Now, Fox was chosen for his cunning, and Wolverine and Bobcat and Wolf for their fierceness and their strength. And those 4 were getting ready to walk out of the council when they heard a little voice speaking up. And they looked and it was the little Mouse. Well, the bigger, stronger animals didn't see how Mouse could be any help, but they decided she should go.
Now they searched all through this lower world. But nowhere could they find Bear. And finally they came to a great tree that lived on the Earth at that time. Its uppermost branches rested all the way against the sky and at the top branch there was an opening to the upper world. Now, none of these animals had ever been to the upper world, and they were very frightened. But Bear was nowhere in the lower world, so they thought that that must be where she had gone. So they climbed that great tree, and they squeezed through that opening in the top. And they set out to search in the upper world.
Now the first thing they noticed was that it was not snowing in the upper world, and the air was much warmer. And so they thought they might be on the right track. They wandered through the upper world until they came to a lake. And on the shores of that lake, there was a little hut there, and there were 2 little baby bear cubs playing in front of that hut.
So the animals walked up to the baby bear cubs, and they greeted them. They said, "Where is your mother?" And the bear cubs said, "She is out hunting." And they pointed across the lake. And sure enough on the other side of the lake there was a canoe beached there. Well. "We'll come in and visit with you," said Fox. "We're old friends of your mother's and we have traveled a long way to be here with you." So the little cubs led them inside the hut. And the first thing they noticed was these 4 big leather bags hanging from the poles that made the roof of the hut.
Fox pointed to those bags and said, "Now -- what are in those bags?"
"Oh -- mother keeps her treasures in there," said the cubs.
"What is in that first one?" said Fox.
"Oh, that is the one she keeps the spring rains in," said the cubs.
"Well what is in the second bag?" said the Wolverine.
"Oh, that is where the summer winds live," said the bear cubs.
Wolverine said, "And what is in that other bag? That third bag there?"
"Oh," said the bear cubs, "that's where she keeps the fogs and the mists of fall."
Then Fox pointed to the biggest bag of all and he said, "And what does she keep in that bag?"
"Oh, we can't tell you that," said the bear cubs. "Oh, that bag is the most important of all. Mother says without that bag, she couldn't keep any of the others. We cannot tell you what's in that bag."
"Oh, but we are such good friends," said Fox. "And we have journeyed so far to be with you here. You can tell us. We are your friends."
"Oh," said the bear cubs, "Mother would beat us if we told you what's in that bag."
"Oh, but she won't know," said Fox. "We won't tell on you."
"Well, in that case," said the baby bear cubs, "that is where Mother keeps the warmth. All the warmth of the world is in that bag."
"Thank you little bears," said the Mouse. "You have told us all we needed to know."
Now they went outside and they held a council. They decided they would hide until that mother bear returned. But first, the little mouse ran all the way around the lake, jumped in that canoe and nibbled on the handle of the paddle, until she had nibbled it almost through. She came back and she hid with the others, and when they saw that mother bear coming, the Bobcat, using his magic, changed himself into a caribou calf and appeared in front of that mother bear. The mother bear called to her babies, "You stay right there, I'm bringing you caribou for dinner!" The baby bears came out of the hut and said to the others, "What did she say?"
"Oh," said Fox, "she says she needs for you to come and help her hunt that caribou for dinner. It's a good thing you have good friends here who will guard those bags while you go help your mother."
So the baby bear cubs ran off after their mother, and that bobcat caribou led them deep into the forest. The other animals hurried inside. Mouse skittered up the poles, ran out and began nibbling on the leather laces that held that bag, and that great big heavy bag holding all the warmth dropped. The other animals caught it. They dragged it outside. They looked up, they saw that bobcat caribou swimming toward them across the lake. They saw the mother bear and the babies hop in that canoe and begin paddling across that lake. But when they were in the deepest part of the lake, the paddle that Mouse had nibbled snapped, and mother bear was so surprised. She turned over that canoe and she and her babies began swimming to shore.
Now Bobcat changed back into himself, and he and all the other animals, they began pulling that heavy bag back toward that opening from the upper world to the lower world. But oh, it was heavy! One would carry it for a while and then he would have to hand it off to another. And all the time, they could hear mother bear running and yelling at them to stop. They had just reached that opening in the sky and mother bear was almost on top of them, when Mouse nibbled a hole in the bottom of that bag; they pushed it through the opening. When Bear reached out to grab that bag, she squeezed it and all the warmth squeezed out into the air of the lower world.
Well, the ice and the snow melted. The sun shone again. The trees covered themselves with leaves and the new grass grew. And finally it was spring. Now the other animals, they talked very hard to mother bear. But it was agreed that since she hated the cold so much, they would let her sleep through the winter, and so she does. She enjoys the warmth of the summer, but when the leaves change and the cold comes, mother bear, she goes to sleep and she doesn't wake up again until the spring.
CURWOOD: Well that's one naughty little bear. I suppose the story's really about greediness.
ROSS: Yeah, it's about throwing things out of balance. You know, you find examples of this kind of thinking in stories from people all across the continent. Joe Brushak tells a wonderful story about Gloo Scabby when he was young and foolish wanting to go duck hunting. And the wind was blowing so strong he couldn't paddle into the lake. And his response was to go and capture the wind eagle, the eagle whose wings bring the winds, and tie him up. And then he discovered what a terrible place the world was with no winds blowing. But you find those kinds of stories all over, where for one selfish reason or another, one person tries to control one aspect of the natural forces and it always succeeds in throwing the entire world out of balance. I don't think we always stop to think about the balance on the earth and just how delicate it is.
CURWOOD: What a great story. And what a great storyteller. Thank you so much, Gayle Ross, for taking this time.
ROSS: Thank you.
(Music up and under: a Native American dance)
CURWOOD: The stories we've heard so far reflect the deep history of traditional cultures. But most stories begin with personal experience and wend their way into legend. In a moment we'll hear a modern story from Lee Ellen Marvin, a teacher and a graduate student of folklore at the University of Pennsylvania. Lee Ellen's tale is one of human experience, about a child's encounter with a wolf. She joins us from member station WHYY in Philadelphia. Lee Ellen, I've noticed many cultures have stories about special relationships between children and wolves.
MARVIN: Yes, there are several. One of the most famous is the Roman legend of the creation of the city of Rome by Romulus and Remus, noble children who had been tossed into a river by their evil uncle. And they were rescued by a female wolf who suckled them. Also a bird came and put food in their mouth. Then later they were found by a shepherd and taken in, and they went on to become the famous founders of the city of Rome. There's also the legend of wolf girl, from the ranching days of Texas, about the 1850s. A rancher had gone off to get help while his wife was in labor and she died, giving birth to a girl. And when people came back to the ranch, they discovered that the girl was missing. Years later, they saw a wild girl running with a pack of wolves, and so they had to assume that this was that little child who had been lost to her parents.
CURWOOD: I'm wondering if you could tell us a bit about the story we'll hear today.
MARVIN: This story is a true story about a woman's experience when she was a little girl in the woods of Pennsylvania in 1923. Her name was Tessie Lutz.
CURWOOD: All right. Now let's hear that true story from 70 years ago. Tessie and the Wolf.
MARVIN: It goes like this. In 1923, when Tessie Lutz was just 7 years old, she went out with her father to chop wood. The Pennsylvania forest was covered with snow, and her father's ax sung a steady rhythm: a-cha, cha, cha. Which lulled Tessie. She sat on the wagon bench and played with her doll and thought about Christmas just a few days away.
Then the chopping stopped, and the woods were eerily quiet. Tessie looked up to see her father resting his ax and looking across the clearing. He was watching a beautiful dog, an unusual dog taller and broader in the shoulders.
"What's that beautiful dog, Daddy?"
"Well that's a wolf, honey. They've been gone for almost 50 years, but there it stands."
Tessie's father quietly reached under the bench of the wagon and he pulled out a rifle. As he took aim, Tessie went over and tugged on his jacket. "Daddy -- why are you going to shoot the beautiful dog?"
"It's not a dog, honey. It's a wolf."
"But it isn't hurting us."
The father looked at Tessie, and then at the wolf, and finally at his gun. "Well, I guess you're right. Nothing's been harmed."
He went to put the gun back in the wagon, and finally the wolf took fright, after watching them boldly for quite a while, and he scampered off into the bushes, quickly lost on the darkness of the forest. Then soon it was Christmas Eve. Relatives came pouring into the house, all hustle and bustle, but Tessie was impatient to open her presents. To make the time go faster, she slipped outside to play.
The forest was gloomy in the very last of the evening light. Big clouds hung overhead, and the wind blew hard. But she went into the woods to find her favorite little clearing. And when she got there, the storm let loose. The snow and the wind stole away the twilight. Tessie turned for home but it was dark as night. The wind stung her eyes. And as she struggled against the storm, she couldn't find her way back. Nothing looked familiar. She screamed for her parents, but the wind tossed her words back into her mouth. And she was lost.
Finally she fell in a worn-out heap under a pine tree. She was too cold to move, and too tired to care. But something warm and soft and rather heavy fell against her. Tessie opened her eyes long enough to see that beautiful dog, the one her father called wolf, curling around her like a living blanket. Tessie stopped shivering. She wasn't afraid any more, not with the company of the wolf to keep her through the night. Still tired, she snuggled down into its gray fur. And then she leaned her head against the wolf's side. All through the night she was kept warm. And she was rocked. Rocked by the heartbeat of the wolf.
When morning broke, cold and blue, Tessie heard voices calling. "Tessie! Tessie!" The wolf leapt up, shaking snow off its back.
"Here I am! Father! Mother!"
The wolf scampered off, soon invisible in the bushes. Her mother and father rushed into the clearing. "Tessie?"
"Here I am."
"Oh, child, you're still alive! What a miracle!"
"It was the beautiful dog, the one you called a wolf, daddy!"
The parents looked at each other, bewildered, and they looked back at Tessie.
"The wolf was with me. The wolf kept me warm."
"Oh, she must have had strange dreams in the night."
"It wasn't a dream. The wolf ran away when you shouted but look there!" Tessie pointed to a track. A wolf trail, leading in the snow away from the tree where she had spent the night. Her father and mother stared.
"That was the wolf I nearly shot last week, and Tessie saved its life. Well I guess it came back to save your life, Tessie."
Now Tessie lived to be an old woman. And she told her story to her children and grandchildren, for she never forgot that Christmas Eve when she was kept warm, against that bitter storm, and rocked to sleep by the heartbeat of a wolf.
CURWOOD: Our guest is Lee Ellen Marvin, a student and teacher of folklore. Stories are wonderful things to hear in the wintertime; I have to confess it's a long time since I walked into a family gathering where people were sitting around listening to a story. It seems like perhaps many of us have forgotten how to do this. What do you suppose we can do to bring storytelling back into our lives, back into our homes, especially at this season?
MARVIN: Well, there's a wonderful book on storytelling how-to, called Creative Storytelling With and For Children, by Jack McGuire. But even more basic, the thing to do might be to go to the librarian in the children's section of your local public library and ask about collections of Christmas stories, or collections of folk tales. And the basic steps to telling a story is, find a story you really love, not just sort of think it's all right, but you've got to love the story in order to work with it. Write an outline of the parts of the story, as few words as possible on one piece of paper. Put the book aside. And spend some time thinking about the events in the story to build up the images. The sights, the sounds, the smells, the textures, the tastes even. And the personal feelings of the characters in the story. Until the story feels as if you had once dreamed it or maybe experienced it years and years ago. And from there, you put it into your own words. And very quickly you'll find that you don't have to struggle to memorize a story. Memory is never a problem once you've got those images in place. And each time you tell the story the words will come out different. And that's appropriate. And that's the basic tool of storytelling.
CURWOOD: All right. I think I'll try it.
CURWOOD: Our guest has been Lee Ellen Marvin. She's a storyteller based in Philadelphia and a PhD candidate, by the way, in the Department of Folklore at the University of Pennsylvania. Thank you so much for joining us.
MARVIN: Thank you for having me.
(Music up and under: "Peter and the Wolf")
CURWOOD: And for this week that's Living on Earth. For a cassette of this program, send $12 to Living on Earth, Box 639, Harvard Square Station, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02238. Our storytellers were produced by Kim Motylewski and Liz Lempert. Our senior producer is Chris Bauman, and our editor is Peter Thomson. Our director is Deborah Stavro. Our production team includes George Homsy, Jan Nunley, and Constantine Von Hoffman. Also, Julia Madeson, Marny Kimmel, Christopher Knorr, Susan Shepherd, and Eric Losick. Our engineers in the WBUR Studio are Karen Given and Laurie Forest. Our Harvard University engineers are Larry Bouthelliere and Jeff Martini. Michael Aharon composed our theme. I'm Steve Curwood, executive producer.
(Music up and under: "Peter and the Wolf")
ANNOUNCER: Major funding for Living on Earth comes from the W. Alton Jones Foundation for reporting on environmental economics; the Joyce Foundation; the National Science Foundation for coverage of science in the environment; and the Ford Foundation.
NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.
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