Wednesday, 21 December 2011

The Gull That Ate the Whale

Finding Everyland magazine was a bit of a search fluke. The magazine was published from 1909 to 1928; published by Interchurch World Movement of North America, it was ‘for boys and girls’. AHV not only wrote a number of stories including fables for the magazine but also edited a letters column for some time. This tale is the first received and prepared. Here are some of the pages in PDF format./drf

The Gull That Ate the Whale

This story is third in the series "Legends of the Northland." The illustrations are made by the author from the Eskimo drawings which he secured with the folk-tales from the Eskimos.

By A. Hyatt Verrill

From Everyland magazine June 1916. Digitized by Doug Frizzle December 2011.

IT was summer-time the Northland. The bays and coves were no longer icebound, but sparkled in the sunshine. Upon the vast, barren, rocky plains lichens and moss had taken on a tinge of green. About the pools formed by melting snow among the rocks coarse, grasslike sedges had sprung up, and only in the shadow of ledges and ravines were patches of gleaming snow to be seen.

Flocks of twittering snowbirds flitted here and there, hoarse-voiced ravens sunned their black plumage upon the rocks, baby sandpipers ran nimbly along the beaches, and snowy gulls and terns wheeled and uttered querulous cries above their nesting-places on the rocky cliffs.

Weeks before, the last of the igloos (snow houses) had been abandoned by the Eskimos, and close to shore the people were dwelling in their summer tents of skins. Upon the beach the kiaks (canoes) were drawn, and upon the racks the catch of salmon was being spread to dry.

Old Nepaluka, too feeble to work, dozed in the doorway of her tent while Kemiplu her granddaughter played with the shining pebbles at the water's edge. Presently she tired of her play and toddling to her grandmother tugged at the old woman's clothes and begged for something to eat.

"Ai, ai!" exclaimed Nepaluka, rising stiffly, "Thou art ever hungry, little daughter." From the tent she brought a strip of dried meat and handing it to the child again seated herself. As she watched Kemiplu eagerly devouring the tidbit, a smile flitted over her brown, wrinkled face.

"Take heed that thou dost not choke, thou little glutton," she remarked, laughing. "Remember Nudlauk the gull!"

Her appetite appeased, the child snuggled close to her grandmother with a sigh of satisfaction. "O tell me of Nudlauk, Ananating (grandmother)," she begged.

"Very well, little daughter," replied the old woman. "When thou art older thou mayest see the lake and the bones of Nudlauk and the whale and will know that the tale is true.

"A great many ages ago," she continued, "before even the Eskimos lived in the land, there was a great gull named Nudlauk who flew daily across the hills and seas. So large was she that seals and walruses were her prey, and even the bears and wolves and reindeer were to her as but mice and partridges to the great white owls. From the sea, far toward the setting sun, would Nudlauk carry her prey, for to her giant wings the two days' journey was but an hour's flight. Then, standing with one foot on each of two hills, she would tear and eat the creatures she had caught and would feed them to her young.

"At last the seals and bears and walruses were all but destroyed, and, learning wisdom from the fate of their fellows, they would dive beneath the waves or hide among the crevices of the rocks upon the first sight of the gull or the first sound of her beating wings. Unable to get food,—for Nudlauk was slow and clumsy and of little wit,—the great gull became lean with hunger, and each day went farther on her hunting, for far and near all creatures knew her and hid themselves in fear.

"At last, alighting on a mighty iceberg far out upon the sea, she saw, spouting in the waves, a school of whales. Now Nudlauk in all her wanderings had never seen a whale before and she was filled with wonder at sight of the great creatures. 'Ah!' she thought, 'What fine great ogjugs (seals) are these. I will catch one and have a fine feast!'

"So, watching her chance, she swooped and grasped the largest whale in her beak and flapping heavily, for she was weak with hunger, she rose in the air and started homeward.

"But the whale was filled with water and very heavy, and soon the tired gull was forced to stop and rest. As soon as the whale felt himself upon the land he spouted great streams of water, which formed a little pond among the rocks. Again the gull grasped him and started onward for her home beyond the hills.

But ever and anon she stopped and laid her burden down, and at each spot the whale spouted and formed a pond, and one may still see all these little ponds about the country, even to this day. "At last, weary and worn, she reached her home and cried aloud to tell her hungry young that food was at hand. But in her absence the wolves and bears had come, and finding the young gulls weak and helpless, had killed and devoured them; so now, at Nudlauk's call, there came no answer, and soon she saw the mischief that had been done.

"Then in anger and sorrow she screamed aloud until the hills shook and the waters were ruffled as by a wind and the wolves and bears shivered and whimpered with fear within their lairs. But Nudlauk, always a glutton and now very hungry with her long flight, soon forgot all about her young and only a desire to eat filled her foolish brain.

"Grasping the whale by the head she tossed him upward and gulped him down, whole and living, even as do the little gulls to-day when they swallow fish. But the whale, seized with terror, spouted and squirmed and struck out with his mighty flukes and opened wide his great jaws, which stuck in Nudlauk's throat and choked her.

"Gasping for breath and deathly sick the great gull fluttered and struggled, splitting the granite ledges and tearing up the ground, until, unable to get the whale either up or down, she at last fell dying to the earth.

"There between the hills lie her bones and those of the whale which caused her death, and beside the pond that the whale made by his spouting one may see them bleached and white among the black rocks."

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As an armed forces brat, we lived in Rockcliff (Ottawa), Namao (Edmonton), Southport (Portage La Prairie), Manitoba, and Dad retired to St. Margaret's Bay, NS.
Working with the Federal Govenment for 25 years, Canadian Hydrographic Service, mostly. Now married to Gail Kelly, with two grown children, Luke and Denyse. Retired to my woodlot at Stillwater Lake, NS, on the rainy days I study the life and work of A. Hyatt Verrill 1871-1954.