For an illustrated version, see pages 1 and 3-4 in The EnvironMentor, Aug-Sept 2017, vol 6 no 1.
Folktale: MINK AND SUN
The Kwakiutl people, who lived around Puget Sound in the state of Washington, liked to tell stories about Mink. Mink was always playing tricks on other animals and people. He liked to make them look foolish.
But when Mink had already tricked almost everybody, nobody trusted him any more. He couldn't play his tricks. What could he do?
He looked up in the SkyLand where Sun trudged across, from east to west, every day. "That looks like an easy job!" he thought. "I can do that. I just have to trick Sun into letting me take over."
So Mink climbed the tallest cedar tree and jumped into the SkyLand. He headed east to Sun's house, and knocked on the door.
Mrs. Sun answered. "Yes?"
Mink lied, "I am your husband's cousin. I have come to pay a visit."
Mrs. Sun looked at Mink's long, thin body and short legs. He didn't look like Sun's family at all. But you have to be polite to relatives. "I'm sorry," she said, "my husband is not at home now. He is carrying the sun's light across the SkyLand, from east to west."
Mink rolled his eyes. "I know that," he scowled. "Let me in, and I'll wait for him."
So she let him in. You have to be polite to relatives.
That evening, when Sun came home from work, Mrs. Sun met him at the door. "We have a visitor. He says he's your cousin but he doesn't look anything like you: long skinny body, little short legs."
"Ah, that sounds like Mink!" said Sun. "I have watched him playing tricks on all the animals and people on Earth, and now he probably wants to trick us. But perhaps we can make him look foolish."
They had a nice dinner. Afterwards, Mink said, "Listen, Sun, you're getting old but I am young and strong. I have come to take over your job, carrying the light across the SkyLand."
"You think you can do it? It's a long walk, from east to west."
"I know that," scowled Mink. "But I can do it. It will be easy for me."
"Well, I guess you know all you need to know," smiled Sun. "You can try tomorrow."
In the morning, they dressed Mink in heavy, thick robes and a heavy mask. Sun gave him a torch filled with pine pitch. "That's enough fuel to keep the light burning all day."
"I know that," scowled Mink.
Then Sun handed Mink a tall walking stick. "I don't need a cane!" said Mink, "I'm not an old fellow like you!"
"Don't you think it might be useful?" asked Sun. Obviously Mink didn't know about the River of Stars.
"Not to me -- I don't need it."
"Well, take it anyway. It makes you look important."
Important! That sounded good to Mink.
They lit the torch and sent Mink out to walk across the SkyLand, from east to west.
At first it was easy. But after a while, the thick robes were hot and the torch was heavy.
"This job is not as easy as I thought."
Then in the middle of the SkyLand, Mink came to the River of Stars. Maybe you have seen it on a very very dark night when there's no moon? Astronomers call it the Milky Way. Its light is so dim that we can't see it during the daytime, but it's always there.
Mink ran up and down the river bank, but there was no bridge. "How am I supposed to get across this?" He didn't know that Sun always used the tall walking stick to vault across the river.
"I'll bet he gave me this heavy stick to weigh me down, so I can't jump over. I don't need that!" He threw the stick away.
He found the narrowest part of the River of Stars, where it flowed fast and deep.
"I'll just get a running start..."
He backed up, he ran, he jumped as hard as he could ---
Ker-plosh! he landed in the River of Stars.
Fssst --the sun torch went out. Darkness fell in the middle of the day!
It was the first solar eclipse.
Sun had been expecting this, and had another torch ready. He lit it, and soon sunlight returned to the world.
But the River of Stars tumbled Mink head over heels and finally dumped him back on Earth. He never tried to trick Sun again.
From time to time, however, Sun puts his torch out for a little while -- in the middle of the day - to remind us to be polite to relatives.
But you knew that.
Franz Boaz found this story among the Kwakiutl people: "Mink and Sun" #585 Mythology of the Bella Coola Indians, 1898.
Emerson N. Matson also heard it from Chief Martin J. Sampson (Puget Sound Swinomish): "The Mink and the Sun" pp123-127 in Longhouse Legends Thomas Nelson Sons 1968.
To hear an audio recording of Fran telling this story, plus more eclipse lore, visit
Our ancient ancestors must have been extremely concerned when they saw the Sun go dim in the middle of the day! Something appeared to be taking bites out of it. Would the monster swallow it completely? What would life on Earth do without the light and warmth of the Sun?
Some cultures figured out that the Moon was getting between us and our Sun, casting its shadow onto the Earth. A number of sophisticated ancient cultures even kept such careful records that they were able to predict when the next eclipse would come.
Meanwhile, folks enjoyed composing myths, legends, and folktales "explaining" what made the Sun vanish for a while. Sometimes as in "Mink and Sun" it's an accident. Sometimes a huge dog tries to devour the Sun, or a villain steals it. In other stories, the Sun herself becomes so distraught over the death of a loved one that she hides herself away. All the stories then tell how human or animal characters had to work to bring back the Sun. We can't live without it!
Monday August 21, 2017, at around 1pm CDT, we in Oklahoma experienced 80-90% total eclipse of the Sun. The Moon's shadow swept across the United States from the far northwest (where the story of "Mink and Sun" originated) to the southeast states.
If you want to watch this awesome phenomenon, be prepared to protect your eyes. Even when only a slim sliver of the Sun peeks around the Moon, it will cause permanent damage if we look at it directly. But the right kind of viewing filters will allow viewing, and it's easy to build a device that projects a safe image we can watch.
For maps, timelines, animations, science, and lots of activities I suggest