Even a Grass Plant Can Become Someone if it Tries


A Folktale from Eskimo

You know? near the mouth of the Yukon grows a tall, slender kind of grass which the women gather and dry in the fall and use for braiding mats and baskets and for pads in the soles of skin boots.

One of these grass stalks that had been almost pulled out by the roots when the women were gathering others, did not like the fate in store for it.

"Why should I stay on in this shape and never become anything but a pad in the sole of a boot to be trodden on forever? It must be nicer to be the one who treads on the pad; but since I cannot be that, I will at least be something better than grass."

Looking about, it spied a bunch of herbs growing close by, looking so quiet and unmolested that the grass stem said, "I will be an herb; that is a higher and safer life than this."

At once it was changed into an herb like those it had envied, and for a time it remained in peace. But one day the women came back with baskets and picks and began to dig up these herbs and eat some of the roots, putting others into the baskets to take home. The changed plant was left standing when the women went home toward evening, but it had seen the fate of its companions.

"This is not very safe either, for now I should be eaten. I wish I had chosen some other form," it said.
Looking down, it saw a tiny, creeping vine clinging close to the ground. "That is the thing to be," it said. "That is so obscure and lowly that the women will never notice it. I will be a vine like that."

Without delay it became a little squawberry vine nestling under the dead leaves. It had not lived in peace and seclusion very long before the women came and tore up many of the vines, stopping just before they reached the changeling, and saying, "We will come back to-morrow and get the rest."

The one-time grass plant was filled with fear, and changed itself quickly into a small tuber-bearing plant like some that were growing near. Scarcely had the change been made when a small tundra mouse came softly through the grass and began digging at a neighboring plant, holding up the tuber in its paws and nibbling it, after which the mouse crept on again.

"To be safe, I must be a mouse," thought the changeling. "Animals are a higher kind of being than plants, anyway. I will be a mouse."

Instantly it became a mouse and ran off, glad of the change. Now and then it would pause to dig up a tuber, or would sit up on its hind feet to look around on the new scenes that came into view.

"This is much more delightful than being a plant and always staying in one place and never seeing anything of the world," it said.

While traveling nimbly along in this manner, the mouse observed a strange white animal coming through the air toward it, which kept dropping down upon the ground, and after stopping to eat something, it would fly on again.

When it came near, the mouse saw that it was a great white owl. At the same moment the owl saw the mouse and swooped down upon it. Darting off, the mouse was fortunate enough to escape by running into a hole made by one of its kind, and the owl flew off.

After a while the mouse ventured to come out of its shelter, though its heart still beat painfully from its recent fright. "I will be an owl, and in that way be safe," thought the mouse, and with the wish it was changed into a beautiful white owl.

"Oh, this is fine!" he said. "It is glorious to fly through the air, and go up almost to the sky where I can look down on all the world. I'm glad that I was not content to stay always down in the dirt."

With slow, noiseless wing flaps the owl set off toward the north, pausing every now and then to catch and eat a mouse. After a long flight Sledge Island came in view and the owl thought it would go there. When far out at sea its untried wings became so tired that only with the greatest difficulty did it manage to reach the shore, where it perched upon a piece of driftwood that stood up in the sand.

In a short time it saw two fine-looking men pass along the shore, and the old feeling of discontent arose again. "Those men were talking in a better-sounding language than mine. They seemed to understand each other, and they laughed and were having a good time. I will be a man."

With a single flap of wing it stood upon the ground, where it changed immediately into a fine young man. But, of course, the feathers were gone and the Man had no clothing. Night came down upon the earth soon after, and the Man sat down with his back against the stick of wood on which, as an owl, he had perched, and slept till morning. He was awakened by the sun shining in his eyes, and upon arising, felt stiff and lame from the cold night air.

He found some of the same grass which he had once been, and braided it into a kind of mantle which kept out a little of the cold. Seeing a reindeer grazing, he felt a sudden desire to kill it and eat its flesh. He crept close on his hands and knees, and, springing forward, seized it by the horns and broke its neck with a single effort.

He felt all over its body and found that its skin formed a covering through which he could not push his fingers. For a long time he tried to think how to remove the skin, and finally noticed a stone with a sharp edge with which he managed to cut through the hide. Then he quickly stripped the animal with his hands, and tore out a piece of flesh which he tried to swallow as he had swallowed mice when he was an owl. He found that he could not do this easily, so he tore off small bits and ground them with his teeth.

He had already discovered that by striking two stones together they grew warm and felt good to his cold hands. So now he struck them together until sparks came with which he lighted some dry weeds and brush and had a fire to cook his meat and to warm himself.

The next morning he killed another reindeer and the day following two more and wrapped himself in their skins from head to foot, with the raw side next his own flesh, as the animals had worn them. The skins soon dried on him and became like a part of his body.

As the nights grew colder and colder, he collected a quantity of driftwood from the shore, with which he built him a rude hut, which he found very comfortable. Walking over the hills one day he came near to a strange, black animal eating berries from the bushes. He crept up to it and grasped it by its hind legs. With an angry growl it turned to face him, showing its white teeth. He knew then that he must not let go his hold of it, so he swung it high over his head and brought it down on the ground with such force that the bear lay dead.

In skinning the bear he saw that it contained much fat, and that he might have a light in his house if he could find something that would hold the grease and yet not take fire itself. Going along the beach he found a long, flat stone with a hollow in one surface, and in this the oil remained very well, and with a lighted moss wick he found it much pleasanter to get about his house at night. The bearskin he hung up for a curtain to his door to keep out the cold wind.

In this way he lived for many days, but he was a human being now, and needed human society. He remembered the two young men he had seen on the beach when, as an owl, he sat on the post on the shore.

"Two men passed here once, and I liked them," said he. "They may live not far from here. I should like to see someone like myself. I will go seek them."

He went in search of people. Wandering along the coast for some distance he came to two fine new kayaks lying at the foot of a hill, and in the kayaks were spears, lines, floats, and other hunting implements. After examining these curiously, he noticed a path leading up to a hill. He followed the path and on the top of the hill he found a house with two storehouses near it and several recently killed white whales and many skulls around it.

Wishing to see the people in the house before showing himself, he went with noiseless steps into the entrance way and up to the door. Cautiously lifting one corner of the skin curtain that hung in the doorway, he looked in. Opposite the doorway was a young man sitting at work on some arrows, while a bow lay beside him. He dropped the curtain and stood for some time in doubt as to how to proceed.
"If I enter the house he may shoot me before I have time to make known my good will," thought he. But in the end he thought, "If I enter and say, 'I have come, brother,' he will not hurt me." So, raising the curtain quickly, he entered.

The householder at once seized the bow and drew an arrow to the head just as the intruder said, "I have come, brother." At this the bow and arrow were dropped and the young man cried out with delight, "Are you my brother? Come and sit beside me."

This the newcomer very gladly did, and the householder showed his pleasure and asked, "Are you really my brother? I am very glad to see you, brother, for I always believed I had one somewhere, though I never could find him. Where have you lived? Have you known any parents? How did you grow up?"
"No, I have never known any parents. I never was born and never grew up. I just found myself a man standing on the seashore. There I built me a house and made myself as comfortable as I could; but I was lonely, so I came to find you."

"I also never had any parents that I can recall. My earliest recollection was of finding myself alone in this house, where I have lived ever since, killing game for food. I was alone until this friend came to stay with me. Now you, my brother, shall live here too, and we will never be parted again."

And thus, by always striving to be something higher, the downtrodden grass plant became a Man.
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Schippeitaro A Folktales from Japanese

SCHIPPEITARO
A Folktales from Japanese

It was the custom in old times that as soon as a Japanese boy reached manhood he should leave his home and roam through the land in search of adventures. Sometimes he would meet with a young man bent on the same business as himself, and then they would fight in a friendly manner, merely to prove which was the stronger, but on other occasions the enemy would turn out to be a robber, who had become the terror of the neighbourhood, and then the battle was in deadly earnest.

One day a youth started off from his native village, resolved never to come back till he had done some great deed that would make his name famous. But adventures did not seem very plentiful just then, and he wandered about for a long time without meeting either with fierce giants or distressed damsels. At last he saw in the distance a wild mountain, half covered with a dense forest, and thinking that this promised well at once took the road that led to it.

The difficulties he met with--huge rocks to be climbed, deep rivers to be crossed, and thorny tracts to be avoided--only served to make his heart beat quicker, for he was really brave all through, and not merely when he could not help himself, like a great many people. But in spite of all his efforts he could not find his way out of the forest, and he began to think he should have to pass the night there. Once more he strained his eyes to see if there was no place in which he could take shelter, and this time he caught sight of a small chapel in a little clearing. He hastened quickly towards it, and curling himself up in a warm corner soon fell asleep.

Not a sound was heard through the whole forest for some hours, but at midnight there suddenly arose such a clamour that the young man, tired as he was, started broad awake in an instant. Peeping cautiously between the wooden pillars of the chapel, he saw a troop of hideous cats, dancing furiously, making the night horrible with their yells. The full moon lighted up the weird scene, and the young warrior gazed with astonishment, taking great care to keep still, lest he should be discovered.
After some time he thought that in the midst of all their shrieks he could make out the words, 'Do not tell Schippeitaro! Keep it hidden and secret! Do not tell Schippeitaro!' Then, the midnight hour having passed, they all vanished, and the youth was left alone. Exhausted by all that had been going on round him, he flung himself on the ground and slept till the sun rose.

The moment he woke he felt very hungry, and began to think how he could get something to eat. So he got up and walked on, and before he had gone very far was lucky enough to find a little side-path, where he could trace men's footsteps. He followed the track, and by-and-by came on some scattered huts, beyond which lay a village. Delighted at this discovery, he was about to hasten to the village when he heard a woman's voice weeping and lamenting, and calling on the men to take pity on her and help her. The sound of her distress made him forget he was hungry, and he strode into the hut to find out for himself what was wrong. But the men whom he asked only shook their heads and told him it was not a matter in which he could give any help, for all this sorrow was caused by the Spirit of the Mountain, to whom every year they were bound to furnish a maiden for him to eat.

"To-morrow night," said they, "the horrible creature will come for his dinner, and the cries you have heard were uttered by the girl before you, upon whom the lot has fallen."

And when the young man asked if the girl was carried off straight from her home, they answered no, but that a large cask was set in the forest chapel, and into this she was fastened.

As he listened to this story, the young man was filled with a great longing to rescue the maiden from her dreadful fate. The mention of the chapel set him thinking of the scene of the previous night, and he went over all the details again in his mind.

"Who is Schippeitaro?" he suddenly asked; "can any of you tell me?"

"Schippeitaro is the great dog that belongs to the overseer of our prince," said they; "and he lives not far away." And they began to laugh at the question, which seemed to them so odd and useless.

The young man did not laugh with them, but instead left the hut and went straight to the owner of the dog, whom he begged to lend him the animal just for one night. Schippeitaro's master was not at all willing to give him in charge to a man of whom he knew nothing, but in the end he consented, and the youth led the dog away, promising faithfully to return him next day to his master.

He next hurried to the hut where the maiden lived, and entreated her parents to shut her up safely in a closet, after which he took Schippeitaro to the cask, and fastened him into it. In the evening he knew that the cask would be placed in the chapel, so he hid himself there and waited.

At midnight, when the full moon appeared above the top of the mountain, the cats again filled the chapel and shrieked and yelled and danced as before. But this time they had in their midst a huge black cat who seemed to be their king, and whom the young man guessed to be the Spirit of the Mountain. The monster looked eagerly about him, and his eyes sparkled with joy when he saw the cask. He bounded high into the air with delight and uttered cries of pleasure; then he drew near and undid the bolts. But instead of fastening his teeth in the neck of a beautiful maiden, Schippeitaro's teeth were fastened in HIM, and the youth ran up and cut off his head with his sword. The other cats were so astonished at the turn things had taken that they forgot to run away, and the young man and Schippeitaro between them killed several more before they thought of escaping. At sunrise the brave dog was taken back to his master, and from that time the mountain girls were safe, and every year a feast was held in memory of the young warrior and the dog Schippeitaro.
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Uraschimataro and The Turtle A Folklore from Japanese

URASCHIMATARO AND THE TURTLE
A Folklore from Japanese     


There was once a worthy old couple who lived on the coast, and supported themselves by fishing. They had only one child, a son, who was their pride and joy, and for his sake they were ready to work hard all day long, and never felt tired or discontented with their lot. This son's name was Uraschimataro, which means in Japanese, 'Son of the island,' and he was a fine well-grown youth and a good fisherman, minding neither wind nor weather.

Not the bravest sailor in the whole village dared venture so far out to sea as Uraschimataro, and many a time the neighbours used to shake their heads and say to his parents,

"If your son goes on being so rash, one day he will try his luck once too often, and the waves will end by swallowing him up."

But Uraschimataro paid no heed to these remarks, and as he was really very clever in managing a boat, the old people were very seldom anxious about him. One beautiful bright morning, as he was hauling his well-filled nets into the boat, he saw lying among the fishes a tiny little turtle. He was delighted with his prize, and threw it into a wooden vessel to keep till he got home, when suddenly the turtle found its voice, and tremblingly begged for its life.

"After all," it said, "what good can I do you? I am so young and small, and I would so gladly live a little longer. Be merciful and set me free, and I shall know how to prove my gratitude."

Now Uraschimataro was very good-natured, and besides, he could never bear to say no, so he picked up the turtle, and put it back into the sea.

Years flew by, and every morning Uraschimataro sailed his boat into the deep sea. But one day as he was making for a little bay between some rocks, there arose a fierce whirlwind, which shattered his boat to pieces, and she was sucked under by the waves. Uraschimataro himself very nearly shared the same fate. But he was a powerful swimmer, and struggled hard to reach the shore.

Then he saw a large turtle coming towards him, and above the howling of the storm he heard what it said:

"I am the turtle whose life you once saved. I will now pay my debt and show my gratitude. The land is still far distant, and without my help you would never get there. Climb on my back, and I will take you where you will."

Uraschimataro did not wait to be asked twice, and thankfully accepted his friend's help. But scarcely was he seated firmly on the shell, when the turtle proposed that they should not return to the shore at once, but go under the sea, and look at some of the wonders that lay hidden there.

Uraschimataro agreed willingly, and in another moment they were deep, deep down, with fathoms of blue water above their heads. Oh, how quickly they darted through the still, warm sea! The young man held tight, and marvelled where they were going and how long they were to travel, but for three days they rushed on, till at last the turtle stopped before a splendid palace, shining with gold and silver, crystal and precious stones, and decked here and there with branches of pale pink coral and glittering pearls. But if Uraschimataro was astonished at the beauty of the outside, he was struck dumb at the sight of the hall within, which was lighted by the blaze of fish scales.

"Where have you brought me?" he asked his guide in a low voice.

"To the palace of Ringu, the house of the sea god, whose subjects we all are," answered the turtle. "I am the first waiting maid of his daughter, the lovely princess Otohime, whom you will shortly see."

Uraschimataro was still so puzzled with the adventures that had befallen him, that he waited in a dazed condition for what would happen next. But the turtle, who had talked so much of him to the princess that she had expressed a wish to see him, went at once to make known his arrival. And directly the princess beheld him her heart was set on him, and she begged him to stay with her, and in return promised that he should never grow old, neither should his beauty fade.

"Is not that reward enough?" she asked, smiling, looking all the while as fair as the sun itself.

And Uraschimataro said

"Yes,"

and so he stayed there. For how long? That he only knew later.

His life passed by, and each hour seemed happier than the last, when one day there rushed over him a terrible longing to see his parents. He fought against it hard, knowing how it would grieve the princess, but it grew on him stronger and stronger, till at length he became so sad that the princess inquired what was wrong. Then he told her of the longing he had to visit his old home, and that he must see his parents once more. The princess was almost frozen with horror, and implored him to stay with her, or something dreadful would be sure to happen.

"You will never come back, and we shall meet again no more," she moaned bitterly.

But Uraschimataro stood firm and repeated,

"Only this once will I leave you, and then will I return to your side for ever."

Sadly the princess shook her head, but she answered slowly,

"One way there is to bring you safely back, but I fear you will never agree to the conditions of the bargain."

"I will do anything that will bring me back to you," exclaimed Uraschimataro, looking at her tenderly, but the princess was silent: she knew too well that when he left her she would see his face no more.

Then she took from a shelf a tiny golden box, and gave it to Uraschimataro, praying him to keep it carefully, and above all things never to open it.

"If you can do this," she said as she bade him farewell, "your friend the turtle will meet you at the shore, and will carry you back to me."

Uraschimataro thanked her from his heart, and swore solemnly to do her bidding. He hid the box safely in his garments, seated himself on the back of the turtle, and vanished in the ocean path, waving his hand to the princess. Three days and three nights they swam through the sea, and at length Uraschimataro arrived at the beach which lay before his old home. The turtle bade him farewell, and was gone in a moment.

Uraschimataro drew near to the village with quick and joyful steps. He saw the smoke curling through the roof, and the thatch where green plants had thickly sprouted. He heard the children shouting and calling, and from a window that he passed came the twang of the koto, and everything seemed to cry a welcome for his return.

Yet suddenly he felt a pang at his heart as he wandered down the street. After all, everything was changed. Neither men nor houses were those he once knew. Quickly he saw his old home; yes, it was still there, but it had a strange look. Anxiously he knocked at the door, and asked the woman who opened it after his parents. But she did not know their names, and could give him no news of them.
Still more disturbed, he rushed to the burying ground, the only place that could tell him what he wished to know. Here at any rate he would find out what it all meant. And he was right. In a moment he stood before the grave of his parents, and the date written on the stone was almost exactly the date when they had lost their son, and he had forsaken them for the Daughter of the Sea. And so he found that since he had left his home, three hundred years had passed by. Shuddering with horror at his discovery he turned back into the village street, hoping to meet some one who could tell him of the days of old. But when the man spoke, he knew he was not dreaming, though he felt as if he had lost his senses.
In despair he bethought him of the box which was the gift of the princess. Perhaps after all this dreadful thing was not true. He might be the victim of some enchanter's spell, and in his hand lay the countercharm. Almost unconsciously he opened it, and a purple vapour came pouring out. He held the empty box in his hand, and as he looked he saw that the fresh hand of youth had grown suddenly shrivelled, like the hand of an old, old man.

He ran to the brook, which flowed in a clear stream down from the mountain. and saw himself reflected as in a mirror. It was the face of a mummy which looked back at him. Wounded to death, he crept back through the village, and no man knew the old, old man to be the strong handsome youth who had run down the street an hour before. So he toiled wearily back, till he reached the shore, and here he sat sadly on a rock, and called loudly on the turtle. But she never came back any more, but instead, death came soon, and set him free.

But before that happened, the people who saw him sitting lonely on the shore had heard his story, and when their children were restless they used to tell them of the good son who from love to his parents had given up for their sakes the splendour and wonders of the palace in the sea, and the most beautiful woman in the world besides.
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