Who Speaks for Wolf

Paula Underwood

 
This Iroquois (Haudenosaunee) tale, though thousands of years old, was passed from an Erie elder to an Oneida healer named Tsilikomah around 1800. She in turn handed it on to her grandson, as did he to his own son. This man, Perry Leonard Underwood, taught the story to his daughter Paula, who gave it written form.
 
LONG AGO
     Our People grew in number so that where we were
          was no longer enough
     Many young men
          were sent out from among us
                         to seek a new place
                                   where the People might be who-they-were
     They searched
          and they returned
                         each with a place selected
                         each determined his place was best
     
AND SO IT WAS
     That the People had a decision to make:
          which of the many was most appropriate
     
NOW, AT THAT TIME
     There was one among the People
          to whom Wolf was brother
     He was so much Wolf’s brother
          that he would sing their song to them
                         and they would answer him
     He was so much Wolf’s brother
          that their young
                         would sometimes follow him through the forest
                         and it seemed they meant to learn from him
     
SO IT WAS, AT THIS TIME
     That the People gave That One a special name
     They called him WOLF’S BROTHER
          and if any sought to learn about Wolf
          if any were curious
                         or wanted to learn to sing Wolf’s song
                                        they would sit beside him
                                                       and describe their curiosity
                                                            hoping for a reply
     
AS I HAVE SAID
     The People sought a new place in the forest
     They listened closely to each of the young men
          as they spoke of hills and trees
                         of clearings and running water
                         of deer and squirrel and berries
     They listened to hear which place
          might be drier in rain
          more protected in winter
          and where our Three Sisters
                         Corn, Beans, and Squash
                                        might find a place to their liking
     They listened
          and they chose
     Before they chose
          they listened to each young man
     Before they chose
          they listened to each among them
                         he who understood the flow of waters
                         she who understood Long House construction
                         he who understood the storms of winter
                         she who understood Three Sisters
          to each of these they listened
                         until they reached agreement
                         and the Eldest among them
                                        finally rose and said:
                                                       ‘‘SO BE IT—
                                                                      FOR SO IT IS’’
     
‘‘BUT WAIT’’
     Someone cautioned—
          “Where is Wolf’s Brother?
                    WHO, THEN, SPEAKS FOR WOLF?”
     
BUT
     THE PEOPLE WERE DECIDED
          and their mind was firm
          and the first people were sent
                         to choose a site for the first Long House
                         to clear a space for our Three Sisters
                         to mold the land so that water
                                        would run away from our dwelling
                                                       so that all would be secure within
     
AND THEN WOLF’S BROTHER RETURNED
     He asked about the New Place
          and said at once that we must choose another
          “You have chosen the Center Place
                         for a great community of Wolf”
     But we answered him
          that many had already gone
          and that it could not wisely be changed
          and that surely Wolf could make way for us
                         as we sometimes make way for Wolf
     But Wolf’s Brother counseled—
          “I think that you will find
                         that it is too small a place for both
                         and that it will require more work
                                        than change would presently require”
     
BUT THE PEOPLE CLOSED THEIR EARS
          and would not reconsider
     When the New Place was ready
          all the People rose up as one
                         and took those things they found of value
                         and looked at last upon their new home
     
NOW CONSIDER HOW IT WAS FOR THEM
     This New Place
          had cool summers and winter protection
          and fast-moving streams
          and forests around us
                         filled with deer and squirrel
          there was room even for our Three Beloved Sisters
     
AND THE PEOPLE SAW THAT THIS WAS GOOD
     and did not see
          wolf watching from the shadows!
     
BUT AS TIME PASSED
     They began to see—
          for someone would bring deer or squirrel
                         and hang him from a tree
                         and go for something to contain the meat
                         but would return
                                        to find nothing hanging from the tree
                                                       AND WOLF BEYOND
     
AT FIRST
     This seemed to us an appropriate exchange—
          some food for a place to live
     
BUT
     It soon became apparent that it was more than this—
          for Wolf would sometimes walk between the dwellings
                         that we had fashioned for ourselves
                                        and the women grew concerned
                                                       for the safety of the little ones
     Thinking of this
          they devised for awhile an agreement with Wolf
                         whereby the women would gather together
                                        at the edge of our village
                                        and put out food for Wolf and his brothers
     
BUT IT WAS SOON APPARENT
     That this meant too much food
          and also Wolf grew bolder
                         coming in to look for food
                                        so that it was worse than before
     WE HAD NO WISH TO TAME WOLF
     
AND SO
     Hearing the wailing of the women
          the men devised a system
                         whereby some among them
                                        were always alert to drive off Wolf
     
AND WOLF WAS SOON HIS OLD UNTAMED SELF
     
BUT
     They soon discovered
          that this required so much energy
                         that there was little left for winter preparations
          and the Long Cold began to look longer and colder
                         with each passing day
     
THEN
     The men counseled together
          to choose a different course
     
THEY SAW
     That neither providing Wolf with food
          nor driving him off
                         gave the People a life that was pleasing
     
THEY SAW
     That Wolf and the People
          could not live comfortably together
                         in such a small space
     
THEY SAW
     That it was possible
          to hunt down this Wolf People
                         until they were no more
     
BUT THEY ALSO SAW
     That this would require much energy over many years
     
THEY SAW, TOO,
     That such a task would change the People:
          they would become Wolf Killers
     A People who took life only to sustain their own
          would become a People who took life
                         rather than move a little
     
IT DID NOT SEEM TO THEM
     THAT THEY WANTED TO BECOME SUCH A PEOPLE
     
AT LAST
     One of the Eldest of the People
          spoke what was in every mind:
          “It would seem
                         that Wolf’s Brother’s vision
                                        was sharper than our own
     To live here indeed requires more work now
          than change would have made necessary”
     
NOW THIS WOULD BE A SIMPLE TELLING
     of a people who decided to move
          ONCE WINTER WAS PAST
     
EXCEPT
          that from this
                         THE PEOPLE LEARNED A GREAT LESSON
     
                         IT IS A LESSON
                                             we have never forgotten
     
FOR
     At the end of their Council
          one of the Eldest rose again and said:
                         “Let us learn from this
                                        so that not again
                                                  need the People build only to move
                         Let us not again think we will gain energy
                                        only to lose more than we gain
                         We have learned to choose a place
                                        where winter storms are less
                                                  rather than rebuild
                         We have learned to choose a place
                                        where water does not stand
                                                  rather than sustain sickness
     
LET US NOW LEARN TO CONSIDER WOLF!’’
     
AND SO IT WAS
     That the People devised among themselves
          a way of asking each other questions
                         whenever a decision was to be made
                                        on a New Place or a New Way
     We sought to perceive the flow of energy
          through each new possibility
                         and how much was enough
                         and how much was too much
     
UNTIL AT LAST
     Someone would rise
          and ask the old, old question
                         to remind us of things
                                   we do not yet see clearly enough to remember
     
‘‘TELL ME NOW MY BROTHERS
     TELL ME NOW MY SISTERS
          WHO SPEAKS FOR WOLF?’’

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