After the great flood had at long last receded, Raven had gorged himself on the delicacies left by the receding water, so for once, perhaps the first time in his life, he wasn't hungry. but his other appetites, his curiosity and the unquenchable itch to meddle and provoke things, to play tricks on the world and its creatures, these remained unsatisfied.
Raven gazed up and down the beach. It was pretty, but lifeless. There was no one about to upset, or play tricks upon. Raven sighed. He crossed his wings behind him and strutted up and down the sand, his shiny head cocked, his sharp eyes and ears alert for any unusual sight or sound. The mountains and sea, the sky now ablaze with the sun by day and the moon and stars he had placed there, it was all pretty, but lifeless. Finally Raven cried out to the empty sky with a loud exasperated cry.
And before the echoes of his cry faded from the shore, he heard a muffled squeak. He looked up and down the beach for its source and saw nothing. He strutted back and and forth, once, twice, three times and still saw nothing. Then he spied a flash of white in the sand.
There, half buried in the sand was a giant clamshell. As his shadow fell upon it, he heard another muffled squeak. Peering down into the opening between the halves of the shell, he saw it was full of tiny creatures, cowering in fear at his shadow.
Raven was delighted. Here was a break in the monotony of the day. But how was he to get the creatures to come out of their shell and play with him? Nothing would happen as long as they stayed inside the giant clamshell.
They were not going to come out as long as they were so afraid of him. So Raven leaned over his head, close to the shell, and with all the cunning and skill of that smooth trickster's tongue, that had so often gotten him in and out of so many misadventures during his troubled and troublesome existence, he coaxed and cajoled and coerced the little creatures to come out and play in his wonderful shiny new world.
As you know the Raven has two voices, one harsh and strident, and the other which he used now, a seductive, bell-like croon which seems to come from the depth of the sea, or out of the cave where winds are born. It is an irresistable sound, one of the loveliest in the world.
It wasn't long before first one and then another of the little shell-dwellers emerged from the shell. Some scurried back when they saw the Raven, but eventually curiosity overcame their caution and all of them had crept or scrambled out.
Very strange creatures they were: two legged like Raven, but otherwise very different. They had no feathers. Nor fur. They had no gret beak. Their skin was pale, and they were naked except for the dark hair upon round, flat-featured heads. Instead of strong wings like raven, they had think stick-like arms that waved and fluttered constantly. They were the first humans.
For a long time Raven amused himself with these new playthings. Laughing as they explored with wonder a much expanded world. Sometimes they helped each other, sometimes they fought over something they had found. Raven even taught them some tricks, but soon he became tired of their ceaseless activity.
For one thing, they were so helpless out in the world. They needed shelter from the sun and the rain. They were so fearful and seemed so small. And there were no girls among them, only boys. Raven was about to shove these tired, demanding and annoying creatures back into their shell and forget them, when, as so often happens with Raven, he had an idea for some fun.
Raven began to search for the girls. For it is the way of things in the world that there are both males and females of every creature. Somewhere there must be girls. Raven searched and searched. Under logs and behind rocks, he looked. But he could not find the hiding place of the first girls.
But as he searched, the tide was going out, and as it reached its lowest, the Raven spotted some giant Chitons clinging to the rocks. These giant shell fish had but one shell, fastened tightly to the rocks with huge soft lips around their edges. Raven pried one loose with his beak. And there inside was a girl. He pried off another, and another, and another in each was a girl. They were very similar to the creatures he had found in the clamshell, but more like the Chiton, softer and rounder, in contrast to the hard shell and strong muscles of the clam. And these were just as frightened of the Raven. He gathered them onto his back with difficulty, and brought them to the boys he had found in the clamshell.
Raven was expecting the boy creatures to be very happy he had found the girl creatures, but to his surprise. They were frightened of them and some even ran back into the Giant clamshell to hide. The girl creatures were just as shy and huddled together watching the males with fearful and curious eyes. Both the boy and girl creatures seemed very modest and sought to cover their bodies with strips of kelp and woven sea weed from the shore.
The boy creatures were astonished and embarrassed and confused by feelings they had never before had. They didn't know how to behave. But some of them overcame their fear and began to do things to attract the attention of the girl creatures Raven had brought. Some began to show off the tricks they had been taught - leaping and running and wrestling with other boy creatures. Some of the girls creatures overcame their shyness, first with quick glances then finally allowing the boy creatures to approach them, and even leaving the safety of their huddled group of girl creatures. Gradually the two groups began to mingle into one and just as gradually the boy creatures and girl creatures overcame all their fears and paired off, walking hand in hand, their eyes absorbed in each other totally.
Raven watched all this with increasing interest and surprise. Among all the creatures of the world, there were few whose males and females were so very different. The males proud, agile and strong, the females gentle, soft and tender. Sometimes the males would be too rough in their play with the females and there would be tears. But those same tears seemed to have an emotional power over the males bringing out out of them protective instincts. The strengths of each balanced the weakness of each.
And since that day, Raven has never been bored. In fact, at times he has almost regreted bringing the first men and women together. From the strong muscles of the clam and the soft lips of the Chiton, from the pairing of these first people came the first families. Children were born, some strong and male, some soft and female. Many generations have been born, have grown and flourished, have built and created or fought and destroyed. Many have blamed the Raven for playing a terrible joke on humanity, for often men and women just barely get along, but somehow from this strange combination of reason and intuition, of muscle and emotion arose that which was needed for the race to survive the storms of life on the shores.
Raven himself felt strange protective urges for these first people. Though a glutton and trickster by nature, he would again and again provide for these creatures he found in the clamshell. In time he would bring them the Sun, Moon and Stars; Fire; Salmon and Cedar, teach them the secrets of hunting, and the world. Raven would watch these weak creatures become both strong and loving, courageous and compassionate, able to fend for themselves and survive.
And their children were no timid shell-dwellers, but they continued to be children of the wild coast, of the stormy shores between the land and the sea. They challenged the strength of the stormy north Pacific wresting their livelihoods from the sea even as they made their homes on its shores.
For more on Raven and the peoples of the Pacific Northwest, see my bibliography in Raven's Roost.
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