The Wolf and the Winter

A thousand thousand years ago, the story goes, the people of the north lived in a world of snow and ice. They warred with the Wolves over what little game could be hunted.

One day, a war party returned home after a year away. They spoke of a strange land to the south where the ground was free of ice. Flowers grew there, game was plentiful, and the people slept without blankets.

There was a camp in this land. In the center of the camp, a bag made from the stomach of a buffalo hung from a tripod. The bag was full of a magic water. Now and then a drop would escape and when it touched the ground green grass sprouted and flowers bloomed. They called this water Summer. It was protected day and night by four armed guards and a great army that slept at the ready.

The Chief of the north immediately understood the power of this water. He looked around at his people, hungry, cold, and afraid. And he knew in his heart that he must bring the Summer home. But not even his fastest warrior could outrun the southern army over the long distance back to the north.

So the chief went to the mountain and called on the Wolf. “My brother," he said, "There is a great power called Summer held in the south. It will bring more game than can be hunted and heal wounds and sickness. It could even bring an end to our conflict. My warriors are not fast enough to steal it to bring it home. Will you help us?"

The wolf growled, “This is a dangerous errand. I am likely never to return." “There may be nothing more dangerous," said the Chief.

“But there is something I desire even more than my life," said the wise animal. "I will bring this power to the North on one condition."

"Name it."

"Swear there will peace between Wolves and Men. Do this and you will have your Summer."

“I swear it on the honor of my people. When you reach the river that divides the North and South, howl if there is trouble. My warriors will come to meet it head on and escort you to safety." The Chief replied.

So the Wolf marched south across the great frozen river that divides the North and South, over the plains and to the edge of the encampment where Summer was kept.

The Wolf snuck into the camp that night. He waited patiently until the guards turned their heads, then charged the tripod, snatching the bag in his teeth. He began to run.

The guards sounded the alarm and the great army awoke. The wolf knew if he could get far enough away from the camp he could disappear into the safety of the night.

But there was a problem. His bite punctured small holes in the bag and drops of Summer fell onto the earth as he ran. Bright green grass and yellow and white flowers sprung up in his path. The army tracked him easily in the wake of green and gold. Day and night, a constant volley of arrows nipped at his heels like a swarm of locusts as he raced over the southern plain. But the wolf was too fast.

At last, one morning, he saw dawn glimmer like a ribbon along the ice of the great frozen river that divides the North and South. He remembered the Chief's instructions. Stopping to set the bag down, he let out a wild howl. The sound rung out over the wide plain of ice in the North. The Chief sprung awake and summoned his warriors. But as the final echo died out, a last desperate arrow found its mark in the Wolf's shoulder, sinking deep into his lung.

The Wolf knew this could not be the end. The safety and prosperity of his kind depended on these last few miles. He took the Summer once again into his teeth, and pushed on.

The people of the north ran to the river in time to watch the Wolf limp onto the shore. As he fell, the Summer dropped from his teeth. It spilled onto the ice of the river and the frozen land of the north. The river melted, changing quickly into a raging torrent. The army of the south could not pass.

The Chief knelt down, but the great animal was already gone. He picked up the bag of Summer and sealed the rim.

He called to the warriors of the south across the river and they brokered a peace treaty to share the summer for half of every year. It is a long journey, so they entrusted it to the migrating birds to carry back and forth each year. Even by air the journey takes 3 months. We call these periods of transit Spring and Fall. As for the Wolf, the people of the north buried him at the foot of the Mountain In The Setting Sun. As they buried him, they bowed their heads and said a powerful prayer of gratitude to the great animal. His spirit rose up into the sky and took up watch as a star in the center of the North. Now no man or animal calling North his home should ever be lost for long. The Chief kept his promise. Men and Wolves became allies. We know him now as Dog.


(adapted from the Assiniboine)

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