In The Beginning

A Cherokee Tale by storyteller Gayle Ross. Retold by Olive Hackett-Shaughnessy.

This is what the elders told me when I was a child. In the beginning, everything was water. There was nothing but a great ocean. Then Water Beetle dove to the bottom of the sea and brought up a handful of mud, which grew to become this land.

Buzzard came down from the world above and flew across this world. Making wind with his wings, he dried the earth, carving the valleys and shaping the mountains.

Grandmother Sun began following the path through the heavens that she follows to this day and Uncle Moon smiled at night. And all the creatures came down from the world above to make a home of this middle world.

At that time, Creator spoke to all his children, plants, and animals alike. “It is my wish that you all fast and pray for wisdom and strength. Keep watch and stay awake. This you must do for seven days and seven nights. His children promised to follow his instructions.

Throughout the first night, almost all of Creator’s children remained true to their promise. When the sun rose, only the littlest people, the insects, had fallen asleep. But as day followed night and night followed day, more and more creatures succumbed to their weariness and drifted into dreams.

When the seventh night came to an end, of the animal people, only the panther and the owl remained awake. Along with the wisdom and strength they had gained from their vigil, they were given the power to see in the dark and to prey on those who must sleep at night.

Among the standing people, the trees, only the cedar, the pine, the spruce, the laurel, and the holly had remained true to Creator’s instructions. To these, Creator gave the gift of remaining evergreen, while their brothers and sisters shed their leaves in the fall and stand bare during the cold months of winter. It was given to them also to be the providers of strong medicines. They were given the most sacred of all powers, the power to heal.

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