Backpackers –  Well, there’s a bunch that sound like they need a guy like me if there ever were any!  Let’s make a place at the fire for the new guy and I will happily introduce myself.

I am your friendly neighborhood Ravenspeaker.  I am a traditional Storyteller of the Tsimshian Nation. We are what you folks used to call Northwest Coast Indians. I should probably say a little something about that. Lean closer and I will let you in on a little secret.  Look around,  are there any hyper sensitive non- backpacking kill joys nearby who might over hear?  Good.   Hush now, you never know who might be a part of the pc police so we need to whisper.

We still call ourselves ‘Indians’.  I know, shocker, right?  No one ever really uses that other bureaucratic sounding term that everyone pretends we prefer.  Not since the day they told us we didn’t like being called Indians anymore and that we prefer the other one.  If we have to be ordered to prefer a new label couldn’t they have ordered us to prefer one that doesn’t sound quite so committee friendly  as Native American?  Or better yet, not order us to prefer anything at all? Now the funny thing is, East Indians kinda like it that we call ourselves Indians too.  I bet you didn’t know that.

Where was I?  Oh, yes.  I’m a traditional storyteller and there seems to be very little difference between what I do vicariously and what you do in real life.  I describe adventure, you live adventure.  You probably describe adventure too when you get back to the office.  In fact, between us you can be honest and admit that like me  you probably make it sound a little better than it really happened, don’tcha?

No!  Of course I won’t tell anybody!  Trade secrets, right?  I mean after all there really was a big monster in the woods just like I tell it, and the boy really did slay him with what amounts to a kitchen knife.  So, the fact  you were dangling over a 2000 foot precipice with barely one finger holding onto the slippery mud;  your whole life flashing before your eyes… Well, what does it matter that you actually just slipped a little and the toe of your boot almost glanced the guard rail there to keep  you from sliding into the creek -what?- six feet below?  You get my back and I’ll return the favor.

Alright, down to business.  Like I said, I am the new guy around here.  They asked me if I can add a little storytelling element to the Seattle Backpackers circle of friendship from time to time and I said “why not?”.  I like to put my two cents in and have a little fun doing it.  I also like to get others to share their stories and have a little fun with them… er, that is to say “have fun doing it”.

Now, this month’s theme (winter) has a lot to do with hiking and otherwise surviving in the element when that element happens to include much that falls from the sky cold and white and other forms of iciness that have little do with your ex or your mother-in-law or your other favorite antagonists.

I have never been much for camping in the snow.  When yours truly was a boy scout, back in the days when no one thought that was a bad thing, I once woke up in a tent next to a not entirely closed entry slightly under but otherwise completely out of my sleeping bag while about a foot of snow and 17 degrees surrounded the site.  I was not a happy camper.

We ravens tolerate the cold but don’t exactly love it.  On the other hand, frolicking through piles of snow and standing around watching others slip and slide along icy footpaths is always a welcome respite from what might otherwise be a boring day. Ravens are well known for their interest in the foibles of others.  At the same time I must admit there is little more peaceful than a quiet landscape blanketed in snow, mountains in the background, trees here and there, maybe the occasional critter peaking out from behind a bush. I doubt I really have to convince any of you about that.

© Michael Cline

Now, in Northwest Coast Indian stories I have noticed that snow usually plays a role where magic is at work.  Maybe this is because we Indians tended to live along the shorelines of inlets, bays and river valleys.  Perhaps a few haven’t noticed but it doesn’t really snow much at sea level here and judging by the traditional tales that has been the case in this part of the world for a very long time.

My son tells a story of Porcupine and Beaver whereby the Golden Rule violating prickly guy finds himself stranded in the middle of a pond by his amphibious friend when that worthy fellow objected to a rather nasty practical joke.  It seems that porcupines can not swim but they do know magic and causing it to snow will have the nice little side effect of freezing over deep beaver ponds.

There is also the tale of the four brothers who ventured into the mountains and began harassing the mountain goats they found up there.  I recommend not harassing mountain goats. It didn’t turn out well  for the boys nor for the legendary town of Temlehem said to be the original home of all Northwest Coast Indians.  This was like our garden of Eden along the Skeena River.

First, The Lord of Heaven made it snow so hard over the town that all the roofs of the town’s houses caved in; then it rained so long that everyone had to take refuge on the various mountain tops.  The flood lasted so long when everyone came down they all spoke different languages and each people went their own direction to become the various tribes of the Northwest.

You can imagine how amazed I was to discover that other cultures have similar traditions about a universal flood followed by people developing their own languages and spreading throught out the world.  Amazing stuff, antiquity.

Well, that’s all you get for this month.  Until next time I shall remain your friendly neighborhood Ravenspeaker.

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