In which there's a story to share while you're sitting warm around the fire
I'm a big fan of the woodstove in the living room at Haiku Farm, and I'm not a big fan of Yellow Jackets. So here's a story about both of those things.
Stealing the Fire (Karuk Tribe, North America)
In the beginning time, the only people who had fire were the three Yellow Jacket sisters.
Those three sisters guarded their fire, because they wanted to keep it all for themselves. They were a little selfish. That's a true thing.
So, even though every other animal around got cold when winter came the three sisters didn't care. Even though some animals almost froze that didn't bother those Yellow Jacket girls either. Not a bit. They kept the fire locked up and far away from everyone else.
The animals got tired of being cold. They watched those Yellow Jacket sisters. Those sisters were warm. Their house was warm. They never seemed tired or out of sorts because the winter was too long. They had fire.
The animals were determined to get a piece of that fire for themselves. If they had to, why, they'd steal it from those Yellow Jacket girls. And Coyote had a plan.
Now, Coyote was known to be a clever fella. Most of the other animals knew if Coyote had a trick in mind, then it was probably worth helping him carry it out. So they did.
It went this way.
Coyote planted Eagle, and Mountain Lion, and a couple of the other bigger animals outside of the three sisters' house.
He told them when he gave them the word that he wanted them to jump and shout and scream and throw each other around and have themselves a great time.
Then Coyote took little Frog aside and told him to move on down towards the river - where it wasn't frozen - when the action started and to wait right there. Frog was Coyote's back-up plan.
It was the middle of the winter and Eagle, and Mountain Lion, and the rest of the animals that Coyote had set up were awful bored. Those Yellow Jacket girls were just as bored by the winter as everybody else was. When the noise started they just ran out of their door and stood outside their house cheering on the free-for-all. Those three just loved a good fight, and that’s a true thing.
While all the commotion was going on out front Coyote sneaked around the back of the house and climbed through a window.
He went to the sisters' fireplace and he grabbed a burning stick in his teeth. That fire was hot. It singed his whiskers and burned his chin, and it was too hot to hold for long, but Coyote wanted it anyway. Coyote’s whiskers and chin are still black from the fire to this day—that’s a true thing.
Coyote held on to that stick and ran away. He hoped the girls wouldn't see him getting away with a piece of their fire.
But that's not the way it went. One of those Yellow Jacket girls smelled smoke saw Coyote running away with the burning stick. That girl and her sisters took chase.
Now, Coyote was a great sprinter but those three girls had wings, and they flew right after him. Coyote dodged, and turned, and ran this way and that, but those girls stayed right behind him.
Eagle saw how things were. Eagle turned and dropped down from the sky at Coyote, who handed off the burning stick to Eagle.
Before the three Yellow Jacket girls knew what was going on Eagle took off with that burning stick clamped in his beak.
Eagle flew off into the high blue sky, but those girls didn't lose a beat. They took right off after him too. The fire burned the edge of Eagle’s wings, but he kept flying. Eagle’s wingtips are still black from the fire to this day—that’s a true thing.
But the Yellow Jacket girls didn’t give up. They kept following until Eagle was just as worn out as old Coyote.
Then it was Mountain Lion's turn. She ran out onto the snow. Eagle saw her running , and Eagle passed the fire off to her.
Mountain Lion held that burning branch in her tail and ran as fast as she could, and those Yellow Jacket girls were right behind her. The fire burned the end of Mountain Lion’s tail, and the tip of Mountain Lion’s tail is still black to this day—that’s a true thing.
Lion is fast, and she's strong, but those three sisters were made that day, and they wore her out too.
And that's the way things happened that day. Mountain Lion handed the burning stick off to the Red-Tailed Hawk. Red-Tailed Hawk passed it on to Mother Wolf. The Mother Wolf passed the fire over to the Mountain Goats, but not even the Mountain Goats could climb fast enough or high enough to stay far enough away from the Yellow Jacket girls, and down the line it went.
Finally, fire got to little Frog, waiting by the river.
By that time the stick had burned itself down to a tiny coal, and Frog hid that hot coal in his mouth. He turned his feet toward the sky, splashed those three sisters in the face, and dove down into the river. He dug with all he had until he made his way down to the mucky bottom. Frog scraped a hole out of the river muck and hid there with that burning coal still hot in his mouth.
Those three sisters flew around the river for a long while waiting for Frog to give up, but he stayed down there. He stayed and stayed and the three sisters waited until it got dark. That's when the Yellow Jacket sisters had to finally give up. They figured they had a whole stove-full of fire at home.
Frog could stay in the river bottom until spring if he wanted to. They'd had enough and flew off home. But they were still angry. They're still angry now.
Little Frog just lay down there dug into the bottom, and that hot coal burned into his tongue no matter how much he tried to roll it around in his mouth. He waited and waited and finally he swam the surface and spit the hot coal out of his mouth. His big fat tongue was shriveled up skinny from the heat of the coal, and Frog’s tongue is still that way today—that’s a true thing.
When Frog spit the coal out, the old Tree who was waiting there for Frog swallowed the tiny bit of fire that was left.
Well, the next day came, and Coyote went down to the river bank. Coyote asked if he might have the use of two sticks. Since the Tree had more than enough sticks to go around she let him snap off a couple of pieces.
Coyote called the other animals, Eagle, Mountain Lion, Red-Tailed Hawk, Mother Wolf, and the Mountain Goats and all the rest who were sitting there shivering away over to the river bank.
He showed them how to pull the fire back out of the sticks that the Tree had given him.
Now all the animals know how to make fire, and each winter night the animals gather in a secret circle deep in the woods and they take turns telling stories to keep the boredom away.
The Yellow Jacket sisters are still angry. Those three take every opportunity to remind anybody whoever might be standing around just how angry they are. That’s a true thing.