Here, for your retelling in this season of spring winds, are the bare bones of a story about winds.
For an illustrated version, see pages 17-18 in The Environmentor, Vol 1 No 4.
Glooscap and the Wind Eagle
They say that one day Glooscap wanted to hunt some ducks that he saw swimming in the lake, but when he tried paddling his canoe out to them, strong winds blew him back to shore.
After repeated tries, he decided to do something about that pesky wind. He badgered Grandmother Muskrat into telling him that the wind is caused by a giant Wind Eagle who flaps his wings atop a high mountain, which can be located by facing into the wind.
Glooscap traveled into the wind: up the valley, into the foot-hills, past the timberline, to the rocky top of the mountain.
As he walked, the wind became stronger and stronger. It blew off his moccasins, then his shirt, then his pants, then his hair, even his eyebrows! He had to clutch the boulders and crawl. But he found Wind Eagle.
“Grandfather Wind Eagle,” Glooscap spoke respectfully, “you do a good job of making the wind blow. But you could do it better from that other peak over there.”
“Thank you, grandson. I can’t travel over there. My wings are not for flying.”
“Then I can carry you,” Glooscap offered. He wove a carrying strap from tree bark he found back down the mountain. He wrapped Wind Eagle’s wings tight and hefted him on his back. But as Glooscap came down the mountain and jumped over a wide crack in the rock, he dumped Wind Eagle. The great bird fell down into the crack and was stuck, helpless.
Pleased at the success of his trick, Glooscap traveled back down the mountain. It took so long that his hair and eyebrows grew back.
He put on new clothes and moccasins, grabbed his hunting weapons, and began to paddle out into the lake.
But there was no wind. It was very hot. He began to sweat. Dust covered the plants.
The water level was low. The water was dirty and smelled bad. Soon Glooscap smelled bad too.
He went back and asked Grandmother Muskrat what was wrong with the world? She forced him to admit that he had trapped Wind Eagle. “We need the wind,” she said. “It cools us. Wind stirs the water and keeps it sweet. It brings fresh air and rain clouds. We need the wind, Glooscap.”
Chastened, he went back up the mountain to that crack. But he was worried that Grandfather Wind Eagle would be angry at him. Then he remembered: he looked different now! So he said, “Uncle Wind Eagle, how did you get down here?”
Wind Eagle looked hard at him. “Nephew, a very ugly hairless man with no clothes tricked me and dropped me here.”
“Uncle, I will help you.” Glooscap got Wind Eagle out of the crack and released him back up on the mountaintop. “But remember, the wind doesn’t always have to blow strong. Sometimes it can blow gently.”
“Thank you, grandson, I will remember that.”
And to this day the wind sometimes blows hard, sometimes soft, and sometimes not at all.
- Glooscap (Gluscabe, Koluskap, etc) is a traditional culture hero of many northeast Native American nations. He is sometimes wise and powerful, but other times (especially in his teen years) he makes mistakes that can be instructive.
- A delightful detailed version of Gluscabe and the Wind Eagle can be found in Keepers of the Earth (Michael J. Caduto and Joseph Bruchac), a book that also provides a short science lesson and some student activities about wind.
I am sure that the Abenaki nation adults who told this story did not literally believe that a big bird’s wings made the wind blow. More likely, the story was told to caution youngsters and adults alike against taking rash action when you don’t understand the consequences. But the image of hairless nude Glooscap crawling up to the big Wind Eagle will stick in listeners’ memories, and I hope will prompt discussion of what does make the wind blow?