Friday, 1 June 2012

Why the Crow is Black and the Loon Speckled

 Why the Crow is Black and the Loon Speckled
‘Legends of the Northland’ column, Everyland magazine, June 1915. Digitized by Doug Frizzle, May 2012.
By A. Hyatt Verrill
Author of "An American Crusoe" "The Cruise of the Cormorant,"etc.

The spring was approaching in the Arctic, and little flocks of snowbirds were twittering outside the igloos on the snow. Soon the Eskimos would be moving into their skin houses and would live much of the time out-of-doors, but it was still cold and dreary, and the people were glad to seek the shelter of their ice huts save when fishing or hunting. In Newilic's home old Nepaluka, ever busy, stitched steadily away at a pair of sealskin moccasins while her son bound a tough thong of skin about the cracked stock of his ancient rifle given him by a whaler in exchange for musk-ox and bearskins.
Little Kemiplu played about, running here and there, tumbling among the heavy robes and furs and filling the close, smoky air with childish laughter. Presently she spied a pot of black soot carefully set aside for future use, and unnoticed she dipped her chubby fingers in the thick black mass and, pleased at its appearance, daubed it over her round little cheeks. Then, running to her grandmother, she proudly exhibited the results of her first attempt at self-adornment. The gentle, patient old woman dropped her work and threw up her hands in amazement:
"Hail Ai!" she cried, "what is this, you naughty little one? Are you a little imp, or is it a little crow I see? Ah, Kemiplu, you are indeed like the crow. Never quiet for a moment, and now you are as black as when the loon was through with him."
All unabashed Kemiplu cried out in glee.
"Oh, Ananating," (Grandmother), "tell me the story of the crow and the loon!"
The old woman picked up the pet of the household in her arms and exclaimed:
"Ah, you little tease, you have wasted the father's black and have daubed your face, and what now but your grandmother must reward you with a story! Well, my old eyes are tired with the sewing, and 'twill serve to keep you from further mischief, so I will tell you the tale you desire."
"Many moons ago," began the old woman, "all the birds were of one color, white like the snow, and all the beasts were of one color, brown like the rocks. One day the crow, while stealing bits of skin from the village of the Eskimos, saw the medicine-man, as he pierced the skin and rubbed in the black for the tattoo.
" 'Ah,' said the crow, 'how beautiful do the men make themselves, while we birds are ugly white and one can scarce be known from another!' Flying off he soon saw his friend the loon, and stopped for a chat.
" 'Ai! Ai!' he cried, 'I have been watching the Eskimos and have seen how the men-creatures make themselves beautiful. What a shame that you and I cannot do likewise!'
"Now the loon is a very wise bird; indeed, he might be called a medicineman among the feathered people, and when he heard the crow's story he exclaimed:
" 'And why, brother, should we not also use the black pot and paint our bodies ? If you, who are so wily, will steal the pot of color, we will try.'
"So the crow flew back to the village of the Eskimos, and watching his chance he stole the pot and made off with it. Then the loon said:
" 'You, brother, have seen the man use this thing and must know how to use it better than I. Tattoo me first and I will watch you work, and then when you are through and I have learned the trick I wall tattoo you.' " So the crow took the little sharp bones and dipped them in the black and commenced to tattoo the loon's neck. The loon squawked in pain but he stood still patiently while the crow decorated his neck with black stripes and dots and made neat black squares upon his back.
"Then the loon took up the bone points and told the crow to stand still while he worked out a pattern. But the crow—always a coward—danced and hopped at the first prick, and the needle slipped and made an ugly, scraggly mark. So the loon, who is ever quick-tempered, cried out, 'Stand still, or I will throw the pot at you!'
"Then for another while the crow was quiet, but soon he again began to move and squirm, and the loon, seeing all his beautiful lines and dots rubbed and spoiled, grabbed up the pot of black and threw it at the crow, and the soot spreading and running over him blackened all his feathers as he flapped, squaking, away.
"And as the ugly black bird flew off, the loon, thinking of his own fine tattoo marks laughed loud and long; and even to this day the crow is black and the loon is speckled, and ever as the loon sits on the calm water and sees the reflection of his pretty black and white feathers he thinks of the long ago and laughs in wild glee.
"And now, little daughter, if you are like the crow surely your father is like the loon, for even as he looks upon your black face his sides shake with laughter, so I will clean you lest he burst with merriment."
Thus closing her tale with a fling at her fat, good-natured son, she began the difficult task of removing the black stains from Kemiplu, and presently tucked the child among the robes to dream of things even more wonderful than her grandmother's old legends.

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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.