SPARROW’S SEARCH FOR THE RAIN
An Indigenous Folktale from Canada
Adapted from Native American Folktales from Canada by Cyrus Macmillan
In a long-ago time when people lived in close connection with the earth and all its creatures, a tribe of Indian people living in a village near the sea. Among them was a wise and kind old warrior who at his birth had been given great power. And with this power, he could perform many wonderful deeds. Nothing was beyond his understanding, for he knew all things. His wife had long passed on, but he had one daughter. She was very beautiful and gentle and took no interest in frivolous things. She lived a very quiet life and all the people liked her well. She was always welcome wherever she went.
Her old father was very proud of her, and he would often say,
“She has inherited much of my wisdom, and someday she will marry a great man.”
But the girl on her part had little thought of marriage or of men. As gentle as she was she could at times be prideful and said that she would rather live alone than listen always to the boastful, useless, chatter of men.
In time, the daughter’s fame spread far and wide through the sea-coast villages, and many suitors came seeking her hand. But her father said, “I have nothing to say. She will make her own choice. She must please herself. For today, children tend to please themselves and not their parents.”
And she said, “I will marry only someone who can amuse me and keep my interest. I have very little liking for dull and tiresome company.”
One day Loon came to see her. He was very good looking although he was somewhat tall and skinny, and his neck was a bit longer and more scrawny than ordinary, but he wore good clothes and he had great skill as a fisherman. He came because he thought he was very handsome, and he believed that his good looks alone would win the maiden.
But she had no love for Loon, for he had not a word to say. When she talked to him he only stared, and then would eventually burst out into loud and foolish laughter. Then the maiden said,
“You have a small mind like the others,” and in disdain, she withdrew from his presence.
Then Coyote came in an effort to win the maiden for his wife. For a whole day, he cut capers, chasing his tail and trying to amuse the serious girl. But he did not succeed very well, and like Loon he departed in humiliation and despair.
Many others came, but they all met with the same fate, and so it went until at last, the girl decided to see no more of them, but to continue to live alone with her father.
The young men of the village were all very angry because the girl had spoken of them so scornfully.
Often they talked among themselves of her proud and haughty air. “She calls us Scattered-Brains,” said one. “She says we have small minds,” said another. “She must pay for these insults,” said a third.
So they vowed that they would somehow teach her a lesson to break her proud spirit.
One of the great men of the village was Whirlwind. He could make himself invisible, and he was often guilty of many wicked pranks.
So the young men went to him and asked his aid in humbling the pride of the haughty maiden. As they were talking to him, they saw the girl approaching not far off.
And quite unexpectedly, Whirlwind rushed towards her and knocked her down in the mud, and tore her hat from her head and swept it into the sea.
The other young men looked on at her plight and all laughed loudly – and the girl was very much ashamed. She went back home and told her father what had happened, and showed him her soiled clothes and her wind-blown hair falling about her face. Her father was very angry, and he said, “Whirlwind must pay for this. He shall be banished at once.”
Then her father went to the Chief and made a complaint against Whirlwind, and the Chief decreed that Whirlwind must leave the village at once. He did not consider carefully what the results of this decree might be. He acted hastily and without thought for he was afraid to oppose the wise man. So Whirlwind prepared to leave the place.
Now Whirlwind’s best friend was Rain. Rain had been born without eyes and was as blind as could be, so Whirlwind always had to lead him along wherever he wished to go.
Rain could not live without Whirlwind as his guide, and so he said,
“If you are leaving the village, I want to leave it too, for I cannot live here without you. I will be helpless if I have no one to lead me.”
So both set out together, Whirlwind leading old Rain along by his side, and where they went, no man knew. They were gone for many months before the people missed them very much. But then their absence began to be felt over all the land, for now, it had no wind and there was no rain.
At last, the Chief summoned a council and the decree of banishment against Whirlwind was lifted. The people decided to send messengers to the two wandering ones to tell them what had happened and to bring them back. Coyote was the first sent on the quest. Coyote went through the land for many weeks, running as fast as he could over many roads, in and out among marshy lake shores and over high wooded mountains. He searched every cave and crevice, but he had no success. Not a leaf or a blade of grass was stirring. The country was parched and the grass was withered brown and all the streams were getting dry. At last, after a fruitless search, he came home and shamefully confessed that his quest had failed.
Then the people called on Bear to continue the search. And Bear went lumbering over the earth, sniffing the air, and turning over logs and great rocks with his powerful shoulders, and venturing into deep caverns. And he made many inquiries, and he asked the Mountain Ash, “Where is Whirlwind?”
But Mountain Ash said, “I do not know. I have not seen him for many months.” He asked the Red Fir, and the Pine and the Aspen, which always sees Whirlwind first, but none knew of his whereabouts. So Bear came home and said, “Not a trace of either of them have I found.”
The Chief was very angry because of the failure of Coyote and Bear, but the wise man said, “Animals are useless in a quest like this. Let us try the birds. They often succeed where the animals fail.” The Chief agreed, for the land was in great distress. By now the fishing-boats lay motionless on the sea near the coast unable to move because Whirlwind was away, and the wells and streams were dry because Rain was absent. The grass and the flowers were withering to decay. So they called the birds to their aid.
The great Crane searched in the shallows and among the reeds, thrusting his long neck into deep places. And Crow looked among the hills. Kingfisher flew far out to sea, but they all came back and said, “We, too, have failed. The wandering ones are nowhere on the land or upon the sea.” Then little Sparrow took up the search. Before setting out, he plucked from his breast a small down-feather and fastened it to a stick no bigger than a wisp of hay. He held the stick in his bill and off he flew.
For many days he went towards the south-land, all the time watching the feather hanging to the stick in his bill. But it hung there, motionless. One day, after he had traveled a great distance, he saw the down-feather moving very gently, and he knew that Whirlwind must be not far away. He flew in the direction from which the feather was blowing, and soon he saw beneath him soft green grass and wonderful flowers of varied colors, and trees with green leaves and many rippling streams of running water.
And he said to himself, “At last I have found the wanderers.”
He flew above a little stream and followed it for some distance until it ended in a cave in the hills. In front of the cave many flowers were blooming and the grass was soft and green, and the tall grasses were nodding their heads very gently. The sparrow knew that those he was seeking were inside, and he entered the cave very quietly.
A fire smoldered just beyond the opening and near it, Rain and Whirlwind lay, both fast asleep.
Sparrow tried to wake them with his bill and his cries, but they were sleeping too soundly. Then he took a coal from the fire and put it on Rain’s back, but it spluttered and fizzled and soon went out. He tried another, but the same thing happened. Then he took a third coal, and this time Rain woke up. He was much surprised to hear a stranger in the cave, but he could not see him because he was blind. So he woke up Whirlwind to protect him.
Then Sparrow told them of the great trouble in the north country. Of the sorrow and hardship, their absence had brought to the people. He told of how they had been missed by the people, and that the council had decided to call them back.
Whirlwind said, “We shall return to-morrow if we are so badly needed. You may go back and tell your people that we are coming. We shall be there the day after you arrive.”
So Sparrow, feeling very proud of his success, flew back home.
But when he arrived after many days, he went first to his own people to tell them the good news. And the Sparrow-people all gathered together and held a feast of celebration, twittering and dancing in their excitement because Rain was coming back the next morning.
Then Sparrow went to the Chief and said, “Great Chief, I have found Rain and Whirlwind and tomorrow they will be here.” He then told the story of his flight to the south and of his discovery.
And the Chief said, “Because of your success, you will never be hunted for game or killed for food.”
The next morning the two travelers who had been so long away came back to the land. Whirlwind came first and great clouds of dust foretold his coming. The sea dashed high against the rocks, and the trees shrieked and tossed their heads, all-dancing in joy at his return.
Rain came along in his blindness following close behind whirlwind. For several days Rain stayed with the people until the flowers bloomed and the grass was green again and the wells and streams were no longer dry.
Since that time Wind and Rain have never long been absent from the Atlantic Coast.
And to this day the Sparrow-people know when Rain is coming, and to signal his approach they gather together and twitter and hop along and make a great hub-bub, just as they did when their ancestors found him by means of his down-feather in the olden days.