To the Ojibwe, she was known as the Foolish Girl. For she refused the comfort and warmth of the wigwam, preferring a tent of stars instead. Even in the winter, her family could not pull her away from the sky long enough to sleep with them. Yet her sister was surprised to find a warm hand when she pressed it to her heart as a plea. As if the girl’s bones were wood that held a hidden fire.
They called her the Foolish Girl. Because they could not see.
On this night, deep in winter’s darkness, she gazed upon a red star winking like an eye on the eastern horizon. Her lips formed words without thought. An owl answered her, but she did not hear.
She wished to marry that star. She wished for the star’s light to enter her. To pour from her hair, her skin, her mouth when she sang. She wished for the star’s love to keep her warm, far away from the cold and darkness of this place her people called Turtle Island.
She fell into the sleep of silence with ice on her tongue. Her eyes looked up.
When she awoke, she was in the star world. It was very different, and very beautiful. Light prevailed. The red star was there, transformed into a man with red hair. He loved her well, as it was effortless to love in this world. She was as happy as she hoped to be. Time passed on the crest of a wave. Unmarked by seasons, hunger, or cold.
An old woman lived in the star world, too. She sat upon a hole in the sky. One day, while the old lady stretched her legs, the girl approached the hole. She could hear a sound travel up from the forgotten world below.
It was the flute of her people. Carried to her on a wind spirit’s back.
In its song was the crickets’ collective memory, an owl’s ghostly call, the breath of her sister’s unborn baby against a soft, wheat breast. It was the beating of snow from the cardinal’s wings. It was a lone wolf’s baying, and a mother’s lullaby swaddling her in sleep.
It was the gravity of home.
The wave of time broke. The flute’s song was drowned under a torrent of rain falling from the sky. The Foolish Girl thought of ceremonies she would miss, harvests she could not meet, a family’s river of grief. The longing to see them manifested itself as lightning, while regret pounded its black fist against the terrible brightness. And the rain poured harder from its hole.
When the old woman returned, she saw straight into the girl’s heart. The light in her soul had turned blue.
“I sit here for good reason,” she chastised the girl.
But gravity was already stretching the hole in her heart. Pulling her down. And the old woman was fonder of the foolish girl than any other of her star children. So she turned her back on the hole in the sky, as the girl leaped from a womb.
A cord of light swung across the night sky. Another falling star.
And before morning dawned, the broken cries of an infant answered the owl’s imperfect call. The breast was offered. She drank its warm milk.
They would come to name her: "Who Lightens the Whole Place." Because there were stars in her eyes when she looked at the people, and the home, she so loved.
This they could see.
Happy Thanksgiving to all my American friends!
While the kernel of this story does come from an Ojibwe (also
known as Chippewa) legend, I took many, many liberties
to make it my own. "Who Lightens the Whole Place"
is an authentic Anishinabe name, however.
The painting is "Indian Camp" by Carl Henry von Ahrens. He
befriended the Ojibwe in Ontario and was given the name,
"Cluster of Stars."
I hope that all of you who celebrate this holiday
will enjoy the day with loved ones. And if you can't
be home, then I hope you still feel the light of
love in that warmest of houses inside our hearts.
I am grateful for you all.