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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Holiday Show, Part I

Air Date: Week of

Living On Earth celebrates the winter solstice with stories of hibernation. Author Rick Bass, storyteller Dovie Thomason and Fiona Ritchie, host of the Celtic music program The Thistle and Shamrock, join host Steve Curwood to tell tales of winter’s wind and ice. In this segment, Dovie Thomason spins a yarn about the clash between the North and South winds.


CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Today we celebrate the solstice with stories of the underworld in winter. Joining us are author Rick Bass, storyteller Dovie Thomason, and Fiona Ritchie, host of NPR's The Thistle and Shamrock. We're sharing tales of hibernation, or what lives beneath the surface when the earth freezes over in the winter. Dovie, let's start with you.

THOMASON: The story I wanted to tell for everybody is a story from the Lakota side of my family, northern plains. Cold country, at least part of the year. And it's a small piece of a story that takes more days to tell than we have, but it's perhaps my favorite part.

(Music up and under)

THOMASON: The North Wind, the West Wind, the East Wind, and the South Wind were brothers living together. In that long-ago time they lived far in the north, in the ghost country. And with them lived their younger brother, bare more than a babe, the Whirlwind.

Now, the North Wind was cold and hard and often cruel. His brother, the West Wind, well, he was strong and noisy and loud. The East Wind -- ah, lazy. Lazy and good for nothing. But the South Wind -- oh, he was kind. And he was generous and always pleasant.

The Whirlwind -- the Whirlwind, he loved to play. He frolicked. He spun. He delighted his brothers. And that was his place on earth. His brother the North Wind -- oh, he delighted in killing. Though all the brothers hunted, only that one delighted in killing.

The West Wind -- well, he found his delight in helping, most often, his brother the South Wind, but sometimes his brother the North. Beyond that, he delighted in loud noise, drumming, singing, and dancing with his baby brother.

The East Wind found delight only in complaining, sometimes yawning, sighing. He was lazy and found no purpose in his life.

The South Wind's delight was delighting others, and in making things.

And so these five lived together in their tipi. And one day as they traveled on the earth, they saw in the sky a bright light coming closer, ever closer. They stopped and stared at that light, growing nearer and nearer. And in that light they saw all the colors of the earth. And before their eyes that light took shape. And they saw it was a star, but it was a star become Woman, and she stepped onto the earth.

She was beautiful. Her gown was white. Around her wrapped a buffalo robe covered with the finest quill-work. Detail so fine and in every color that could be imagined. Her face was radiant, and they smiled on her.

The Whirlwind spun up to her. "I have found a sister!" he cried. "I have found a sister!" But in truth, the other four brothers were not thinking of a sister when they looked on her face. But they saw that she was helpless and newly come to this place. And so they invited her to their tipi.

Now, when she got to their tipi, she saw that it was a plain enough place. It is easy to imagine such a place, a place where five men live. And so she quickly made herself of use to them, showing her respect and gratitude for their kindness. The leather she tanned was smoky, soft, and white. The quill-work she put on it was as fine as that she wore herself. The foods tasted delightful, scents and flavors unfamiliar in that lodge, now that the woman had come from the stars.

She kept the fire burning. She kept the talk pleasant. And the men were delighted with her, each of them in his own way and each of them wanting her for wife.

And so, the North Wind said to her, "I am big and strong. I have power, power I might share with you. All fear me, for my might is right. You will be my woman."

Now, wordy war began between the brothers, for the West Wind would not be silent. And he had the power of noise.

"I will have you for mine. Everyone likes me. What is not to like about me? Right is right, wrong is wrong, wrong is right, right is wrong. It does not matter to me. Be my wife."

The East Wind looked up at her. He was indolent and slow-moving. "Aah, well -- you would be mine, so long as you do not bother me. Now I do not like to be bothered early in the morning. If I am, my wrath is strong. I like a walk in the evening. Other than that, my yoke is not heavy to bear. (Yawns) Be my wife."

Only the South Wind did not speak. He looked from brother to brother and then he alone looked into the eyes of that Star Woman. And then he spoke, but not of himself. It was silent and his words dropped into that silence. "I think -- I think you should find what pleases you in one of us. I think you should choose that which pleases you, that which only you would know."

And that which pleased her was what she had heard. And that which pleased him was the smile on her face, as she turned toward him as radiant as her Star People. "I will be your woman," she said.

And so it was. And for a time she lived there with the brothers and now her husband. But the North Wind could not abide not having his way. The North Wind said, "You will see a challenge. This decision will not stand. I will hunt. I will show you what I can do." And he went out and he hunted and he killed and he killed and he killed.

He brought in piles of meat. He laid that meat in heaps at her feet. And as he came into the lodge with his death and killing, all turned to darkness and cold and ice.

The West Wind said, "Perhaps you would reconsider, then. I -- I sing well." And he took out his drum and he began to bang on his drum. Beating and thumping like thunder that drum rang out in that small tipi, until the very pole shook. And it seemed as though the lodge would come down on her head. Her head ached from the sound of him.

The East Wind said, "It is difficult being me. Oh, it is a hard life that I have." And he moaned and complained until she thought she would cry, he was so tiresome.

She turned to the South Wind, her husband, and said, "Nothing has changed my mind. I think we must be away from this place. Cold feelings live here now, in the hearts of your brothers."

It was not in the hearts of his brothers, but only the North Wind, South Wind knew. And so, he took his wife and headed into the south country. Now, the West Wind would come to visit and the Whirlwind would come to visit. The West Wind, where he lived still with the North. The East lived with the North because, well, now it was quiet with his brother and his wife gone, and (yawns) "None bother me."

But as they headed into the south, on that first night the North Wind crept behind them. South Wind was out gathering fire for the wood, for the lodge he had put up for his wife. And in his absence the North Wind came. She heard him cruel and howling behind her. And she knew she must protect herself. And so she took off her buffalo robe and shook it. She spread it out on the earth, crawling beneath it where she would be safe. She pressed her flesh to the warm earth. "The Mother herself will protect me," she thought. "He will not see me under this robe."

But he saw the robe and recognized it. Recognized it for all the colors that seemed to emerge out of it. But when he touched that robe as if to lift it, it froze hard in his hand. All died under his touch. The quills dulled, became brittle, and fell away like dust. She felt his touch above her. She pressed herself deeper and deeper into the strength and power of our Mother. Pulling deeper and deeper from that mystery and that knowing, she now knew how to protect herself.

She sent that robe in every direction. As the North Wind lifted an edge of that robe, she pulled it and stretched it further and further away. He would move to another place and she would stretch it further and further away. In every direction she stretched that robe till it had no edge. It had no end.

The North Wind raged, walking above her on that robe. Beneath his feet all was ice. Far below, the Woman listened as he walked, his footsteps like drum beats above her head. But she listened to that older beat, the heartbeat beneath her. The beat that beat within her. And she pushed that robe further out. And she prayed for her husband to return.

North Wind heard him. He felt the warm breeze of him and was gone to the north before South Wind returned. When South Wind saw his wife's robe, he knew immediately something had happened, but he did not imagine she was deep in the earth beneath it. He touched the robe and felt it cold under his hand. He saw the beauty of her work destroyed, and knew it was his brother that had killed the things of this robe. He wept, first with grief and loss, and then with rage. And he turned and he went to the north, and there he found his brother the North Wind boasting to his brothers of his power and what he had done. "If I do not have her, nor will he. He may find her, but each day, when he rests, I will come in the dark and I will freeze her again beneath her robe. If I do not have her, none will have her."

And soon South Wind and North Wind were flying about that lodge, fighting and screaming and howling, causing great hurt to each other. South Wind was about to lose, when West Wind saw he must help his brother. He jumped into the fight, and with the power of the West Wind, with his brother, those two were able to subdue and bind the North Wind into that lodge.

East Wind looked at them and said, "(Yawns) You all disturb me. I want none of any of you. I am going to that place where the sun comes up each day. (Yawns) It will not disturb me. I will walk in the evening, for early it will be dark in that eastern place." And he was gone.

The West Wind said, "I will not be near this brother, of whom I disapprove. My brother, I will hear you should you need me. Call for me. But I am going to the west, where the sun sets each day. There I will watch its brilliant colors. They are loud in my eyes, those colors. I will like that place."

And the South Wind went in the opposite direction from the one who had once been his brother. He went in the opposite direction and as far as he could from the one he had once loved. There he and his star wife were well each day. But in the night it seems that the North Wind could break free of his bonds. The South Wind went to the north and tied him tighter still into his lodge. But he could not kill him. He could not destroy him. For not only was he an immortal, one of the very winds from the first creation times, he was still his brother. "I will tie you each day if I must. You will not loose this killing fury on the earth."

And so he would go. And there in that place, under that robe still, he spoke to the wife he could no longer see. The wife he knew was there. The wife who was represented and concealed and protected by the Great Mother Earth herself. She spoke to him, but not in words he could see. As his steps and his love and his very tears warmed that frozen robe, in each warm place she sent up colors. The blues. The crimsons. The oranges, greens, yellows, palest colors, most brilliant colors. And as he saw those colors, his heart near broke with the missing of her.

And each morning, when he wakened, the North had come again and those colors were killed and gone. And he would kneel and he would cry, and he would pray and he would send his love into that robe. And as he cried, the colors would return. So it went each day, each day. Until the South Wind knew he could not bear this.

And so he went to his brother the West Wind and said, "You must come and help me bind him well. Help me bind him strong. Help me bind him in that place so he cannot walk the earth each night."

And so the West Wind helped. The East came not to help but to watch, perhaps to take the side of whoever won. But the West and the South subdued the North. And he was tied and remains tied long times in each passage of the moons. And in those long times, lesser is the distance between the South Wind and his bride beneath the earth. And the colors cover the earth.

Oh, but he has a power, the North, a power that is immortal. Never dying, ever growing. And each day it grows until his power is so fierce, it breaks the bonds and then he comes into the south. And then that robe stretches out again, as if to protect the woman, perhaps to protect the Earth which protected her. And yet all is killed. All turns frozen and cold. And yet the tears, the prayers, the love, the hope, reaches deep to those hidden places. And the colors, all the colors, always return.

CURWOOD: Thank you, Dovie. Rick Bass?

BASS: A lovely story. Thank you so much for telling it. I guess it's almost like that Gaia Theory that everything is for a reason, and the balance and counterbalance that one thing is just going to summon the other.

THOMASON: Mm hm. Mm hm.

BASS: It was really interesting that we're in the studio, and there are some cats in the back room. But when you were reading about the South Wind and the North Wind fighting and swirling around, the cats got all agitated and were clawing at the door and stuff. (Thomason and Curwood laugh) A little spooky. But it was wonderful. Thank you.

RITCHIE: It's a great gift to receive, and especially at a time of year like this. And I just enjoy how it opens up our senses to the supernatural qualities of the world around us, and the sense that there are many forces beyond our control. And that things have been as they are for way out of our memory, back through inherited memory, and will be so. And our sense that we can control and harness the world when we are here in our time starts to get brushed aside when we hear some of these tales. It was nice, also, just as I was hearing the story, a melody started to hum in my mind. And it's called The South Wind.



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