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Fox Fire Story

As told by Wolf-Walker Conley, Powwaw: Years ago, a very old storyteller told me that telling a tale is like making corn soup; we add a little more or a less of the ingredients, but the soup is still corn. Our traditional stories are like soup, the teller adds a little each telling. That little addition infuses the people back into the mix, never ending, like the small creeks that feed a mighty river.

And so, I share with you a tale many moons old, yet new:

It has been told, that when the great thunder/pethakhuwe sparked the central fires of the nations, the people became unified and established the clans ensuring all the people would be honored and have a home. This was good, fire provided warmth and welcome to all.

This was long ago, and all the animals, plants, trees and creatures could talk to each other. Okwes/Fox who was very clever, thought he too should have this thing called fire. He tried to think of a way to create fire, but try as he might, he could not figure out fire.

One day, he was visiting the Opsuwiheleyok/Geese people and asked an elder if he would teach him to fly. The elder agreed to teach him; but cautioned him never to open his eyes while flying or the magic would be lost.

So, fox took to the wing with his newfound friends and learned the craft of flight. On one such journey, it became night and darkness descended quickly as they flew over the village of the Sasapis/firefly people. The geese where talking about the lack of moon light and how difficult night flying can be, especially with the clouds blocking the stars. One remarked on the light from the nearby firefly village as a great help though. Hearing that, Fox forgot his promise to keep his eyes closed while flying and opened his eyes to see the light. The magic of flight was no longer his and he fell from the sky like a stone. His fall was heart-stopping, but short as he landed in the soft arms of a sacred cedar tree. Tree people have always been of help to those in need and be it a fox falling from the night sky or not; Telala/white cedar was there to quietly help. Fox thanked cedar and gave farewell as he left the treetop and reached the safety of ground. The firefly village was not far off and fox had his eyes set on seeing their fire light. Perhaps he had found his fire the hard way, but where a fire light is seen, there must be a fire like the two-legged have.

Several kind fireflies approached fox, each gave him a blue shell necklace of welcome and asked if he was well after his fall. They asked what happened to his feathers and why he was covered in red fur, assuming he was a goose. Fox made up a story saying that his feathers were lost in the fall and cedar let him borrow a fur coat. He knew they would not believe a fox could fly. Fox hoped to persuade the fireflies to tell him where he could get some fire. They led him away from the cedar tree and invited him to their village. When they arrived at the village Fox waited to be taken to their central fire, but as the night progressed, he saw the faint glow each firefly had on their tail end. He decided that they must be hiding their fire, so he had to find a way to sneak away when no one was looking to have a look around. Fox suggested to the fireflies, that they have a potluck gathering with all the village for dancing and food. They all agreed that would be fun and helped gather food and summon the drummers. Secretly, Fox was planning on getting away from the fireflies while the music and dancing was underway. The drumming circle started and after a while Fox pretended to tire from beating the drum. He gave his beater to a firefly who wanted to join in and excused himself. Fox quickly left the potluck and headed towards a glowing light he saw at the far side of the village. Little did he know that the glow was coming from the village burial grounds, but he was determined to have fire and the light was promising. The firefly people’s Sachem/Chief had “walked-on” after a long life. He had served his people well and he was being prepared for burial and his glow had not left his “earth body”, that was the light young fox saw. So straight to the burial grounds Fox ran, but as he got closer, he noticed the old sachem was the source of the light. Frightened, Fox approached the sachem in the faint glow and decided to ask him the secret of his light, “Old man, how do you carry the light within you?” now, this was no way to speak to a sachem, but fox didn’t know he addressed a great chief and continued asking about the fire secret. Fox suddenly realized he was being watched and called out; “who is there in the dark? Come out.” With that a large hand came out of the night and rested on fox’s head, fox wished to run, but could not. A voice like a deep bear growl informed fox that it was the Mesingw he spoke with and respect needed to be shown. Mesingw told fox he had come to bid the sachem a good journey and asked fox if he were doing the same. Fox explained his search for fire had brought him and asked to be forgiven for his rude ways. Mesingw thought it good that fox humbled himself and would gift him with fire, but it would be a cool fire like the fireflies. Mesingw gathered the firefly people and told them that fox would share their gift of light, but it would only be during the warm months to honor their sachem’s passing. The fire shall be called Foxfire and unlike the two-legged one’s fire, it will be cool and light the way for those lost on dark nights. All gathered thought this was good, and the firefly people said they would join fox during the warm season to assist. Now, many years later, the faint glow of the foxfire and the dancing light of the firefly blesses the summer nights.

Footnote: Foxfire is a natural phenomenon sometimes visible at night in forests. It’s caused by bioluminescent fungi in special conditions—usually on rotting bark.

“Old man, how do you carry the light within you?”

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