Once Upon A Time
Austin C. Kennell
While browsing through a used book store recently, I ran across a charming book entitled Shrubs In The Garden and Their Legends, written by Vernon Quinn and published in 1940. For those who, like myself, find escape in fantasy, here are two of the legends excerpted from that book.
The Great Rhododendron
R. maximum album
Before the world was created there was a land above the sky; and there man-beings - men and women with human traits - lived among the sky-people. After a while the man-beings grew so numerous and so quarrelsome that the Land Above was both crowded and unpleasant, and the sky-people asked the Great One to get rid of these beings who were disturbing their world.
With his sharp skinning-stone, the Great One cut a hole in the sky. He blew his breath through it and clouds of mist formed below. He bade the Sun shine through the hole, and the mist turned to water and all the world was a sea.
He then called to the Moon to take her turn at the hole: and as she shone down, a scum formed on the sea. And when Morning-star sent his beams over the scum it drew together into a solid mass and became the earth, with the sea at its edge and lakes and rivers of water in its midst.
There was now a place for the Great One to send the man-beings. But the earth below was bare; it needed plants and birds and insects and animals and fishes in the sea.
The Great One changed most of the man-beings into these, naming what each should be as, one by one, he blew them through the hole on his cloud-breath. That is why every living thing on earth has some human characteristic, for each one retains to this day the trait he had when he was a man-being.
The finest man-beings of all were kept to the last. When they sailed down on the cloud-breath they became Indians, the first men and women.
The Great One was much pleased, and was about to replace the piece he had cut out of the sky, when the sky-people came running to tell him that one little man-being maiden was left. The Sun and the Moon were hiding her!
This so peeved the Great One that when he blew her through the hole he said grumpily, "Be an ugly stick in the ground!"
When the little maiden was nothing but an ugly bare stick the Moon looked through the hole and wept at seeing her. And the Moon's pale tears became waxy white flowers on the stick.
The Sun looked down. He would never weep, of course, but just the same he wanted the little maiden to have something of himself, so he shed a few grains of golden sun-dust and they fell as bright orange spots on the flowers.
The Morning-star wanted his turn before the sky-hole was closed. When he saw that the man-being maiden was a shrub with large and beautiful flowers but no foliage to clothe her, he dipped his fingers into the sky-painter's thick green paint and let it drip down on the shrub.
That is why the rhododendron's leaves are always green - they are made of magic sky-paint. And that is why they are so glossy - they have part of Morning-star's brightness.
The Fiery Azalea Called the Sky-Paint-Flower by the Cherokee Indians
Before there were men-people on earth, animal-people lived in Cherokee-land. Chistuh the rabbit had the longest and bushiest tail of any of them; so when the sky-painter, up above, lost his brush he came down and cut off Chistuh's tail to use. It never grew long again. This made the animal-people so angry they declared war on the sky-people.
Cheulah the fox was their arrow-maker. He fashioned arrows so slender and fleet and so cunningly curved they would speed to the curve of the sky. Six he made, and six more, until there were six times six. Yawnuh the bear, with his great strength, was chosen to shoot the arrows; and the battle would begin at dawn.
But the sky-people knew nothing about it. When dawn came, the sky-painter got together his huge turtle-shells of yellow and orange and crimson paint, and his great rabbit-tail brush, and began to color the sky at the world's edge.
The lemon streak was finished, and he was holding the shell containing coppery-scarlet, ready to smear it above the yellow, when the first arrows came whistling upward. Quickly the sky-painter tilted the shell for a shield, and Yawnuh's arrows lodged in the coppery-scarlet paint. Six there were, and six more, until there were six times six, all with their points stuck fast in the sky-paint.
The animal-people down on earth were leaping about their fire in a victory-dance. They had won, for the sky-people had thrown no missiles. But the sky-painter was only waiting for the arrows to cease. Then he snatched up the first six, with the flame-colored paint clinging to their tips, and hurled them to earth. They landed on a bush and the paint spread out into a flower - the six curved slender arrows can still be seen extending far out of it. He hurled another six, their tips thick with paint, and they became another coppery-scarlet flower beside the first one. And at last there were six times six arrows flung back to earth, and they became six flowers in the flame-colored cluster.
AFTERTHOUGHTS: Maybe these things didn't happen as written - but maybe, just maybe, they did. I for one, hope so.