Sunday, October 7, 2007


When I was working for Heyday Books in Berkeley, California I read a book called The Way We Lived, arranged by Malcolm Margolin, the founder of the publishing company. it is a collection of stories and reminiscences about California Natives (did you know California once had over a hundred native languages?. Now it has 12. In fifty years it will have 6). I am fascinated by creation myths. Here is a link to a bunch.

It is a good list, Here is my one of my favorite stories from there, which I was introduced to in the book.

In the beginning there was no sun, no moon, no stars. All was dark, and everywhere there was only water. A raft came floating on the water. It came from the north, and in it were two persons,--Turtle and Father-of-the-Secret-Society.

The stream flowed very rapidly. Then from the sky a rope of feathers, was let down, and down it came Earth-Initiate. When he reached the end of the rope, he tied it to the bow of the raft, and stepped in. His face was covered and was never seen, but his body shone like the sun. He sat down, and for a long time said nothing.

At last Turtle said, "Where do you come from?" and earth Initiate answered, "I come from above."

Then Turtle said, "Brother, can you not make for me some good dry land so that I may sometimes come up out of the water?"

Then he asked another time, "Are there going to be any people in the world?"

Earth-Initiate thought awhile, then said, "Yes."

Turtle asked, "How long before you are going to make people?"

Earth-Initiate replied, "I don't know. You want to have some dry land: well, how am I going to get any earth to make it of?"

Turtle answered, "If you will tie a rock about my left arm, I'll dive for some."

Earth-Initiate did as Turtle asked, and then, reaching around, took the end of a rope from somewhere, and tied it to Turtle. When Earth-Initiate came to the raft, there was no rope there: he just reached out and found one.

Turtle said, "If the rope is not long enough, I'll jerk it once, and you must haul me up; if it is long enough, I'll give two jerks, and then you must pull me up quickly, as I shall have all the earth that I can carry." Just as Turtle went over the side of the boat, Father-of-the-Secret-Society began to shout loudly.

Turtle was gone a long time. He was gone six years; and when he came up, he was covered with green slime, he had been down so long. When he reached the top of the water, the only earth he had was a very little under his nails: the rest had all washed away. Earth-Initiate took with his right hand a stone knife from under his left armpit, and carefully scraped the earth out from under Turtle's nails.

He put the earth in the palm of his hand, and rolled it about till it was round; it was as large as a small pebble. He laid it on the stern of the raft. By and by he went to look at it: it had not grown at all. The third time that he went to look at it, it had grown so that it could be spanned by the arms. The fourth time he looked, it was as big as the world, the raft was aground, and all around were mountains as far as he could see.

The raft came ashore at Ta'doikö, and the place can be seen today.

That is just a fifth of the story, the rest can be found here. I love that the history of the earth is the history of local places important to the Maidu people. My guess is that Ta'doikö is somewhere in the Sierra Nevadas. If I was to go there, first thing I would do is 'ask' William Shipley, possibly the last person who knows Maidu. I would get myself into the Bancroft collections at Berkeley and dig through the following books:
"The Maidu Indian myths and stories of Hanc'ibyjim / edited and translated by William Shipley ; foreword by Gary Snyder.",
"Maidu texts and dictionary." and "Maidu grammar." all written by him (Shipley, William F.)
Here is an amazing interview with him, mostly about him being gay and one of the early professors at UC Santa Cruz. But here adds this:
I picked the Northeastern Maidu, who live up by Mount Lassen. Actually, the people I learned from didn't live there at the time. They lived much closer to Red Bluff. They lived up a ways into the foothills from Red Bluff, in a little place called Payne's Creek.

You can find all of those places in Google Earth around here:
+40° 29' 17.42", -121° 30' 18.03"

A different publishing company I worked for in Berkeley, Wilderness Press, had a tour book on the Lassen Volcanic Park. I browsed a lot of the park books, and had this funny sense that I would probably never go to that place over any other. How ironic if it ends up that I do, because of this epic hunt on the internet.

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