Man Runs, Raven Flies

by Nathanael Green


"Man was not always so strange," says Mother Owl. Her voice, like the darkness around her, is smooth. She stretches her talons and slides closer to her nest where three chicks shiver on their bottoms. The crickets are silent as a chilliness creeps through the trees with a soft wind.

"Man did not always run on two legs. Once, he was like us," she says. "He had sharp eyes and could see to the horizon. He had wings and talons and would hunt as we do. Perch silent and still in the trees to watch for his prey. During the day, Man would fly and play on the currents like Raven does."

Mother Owl pauses to twist her head, her unblinking eyes searching the forest.

"And the two were friends, Raven and Man. And while Man could fly and see far to the horizon, Raven was cunning. You see," she says with a slow blink, "Raven, too, was not like he is today. He had no wings and no talons with which to perch. His eyes were so bad he could barely see beyond his hands. But because he didn't have wings or the eyesight like his friend Man, Raven learned to craft tools. And even back then, Raven was a powerful sorcerer who knew how to use magic.

"And because he was cunning, he used his tools and his sorcery to fashion a trap on a pile of stones under an elm tree, hoping to catch Grandfather Thunder and make him give Raven wings like Man had.

"After the trap was set, Grandfather Thunder flew overhead and struck the tree with lightning, falling into the trap. But even Raven's trap could not hold Grandfather Thunder and he escaped easily.

"But the next day, when Raven looked, he found that though Grandfather Thunder had escaped, the magic of his lightning had become trapped in one of the stones, turning it into a crystal. Raven cherished this crystal because of its beauty and because it made his magic even stronger.

"And though they were friends, Man coveted the crystal and wanted to use its magic for himself. He asked Raven if he might have it.

"Raven did not want to give up his magic easily, even to his friend. But eventually, Raven relented, saying, 'I will give you the crystal, but in return, you must give me your wings.'

"Man answered, 'No, no! My wings are too precious. What else will you take?'

"Raven pondered this for a long time. Then finally said to Man, 'I will not take anything less than your wings for the crystal. But if you will give me your eyesight, I will give you knowledge of tools. If you know how to use tools,' said Raven, 'You can make your own trap to steal magic from Grandfather Thunder.'

"Man agreed and Raven took out his magic crystal, and chanting a song over it, he created a mist that Man breathed in, and with it came the knowledge of tools. And when the mist cleared, Raven found his eyes were so strong that he could see the ants crawling in the bark of a tree on the far horizon, though now he did not remember how to use his hands to craft tools."

"Soon, Man returned to his friend Raven and said, 'I now know how to use tools, but the knowledge does me no good! I only have these wings and talons and no hands with which to craft them like you do. I cannot craft a trap to get my own crystal. Won't you give yours to your good friend?'

"Raven replied, 'Will you give me your wings?'

"'No, no!' said Man. 'My wings are too precious. What else will you take?"

"Raven, ever cunning, said, 'If I give you my hands, I will not have anything to hold with! But if you will give me your talons for my legs, I will also trade you my hands for your patience.'

"To this, Man readily agreed, thinking Raven to get the lesser of the gifts. To himself he thought, 'Raven will have my talons and my patience, but what good are they when I will have the tools and hands to get my own crystal. And I will still have my wings!'

"And so, Raven chanted over his magic crystal and a mist arose so wet that Man's feathers dripped. And when it cleared, Man found that he now had arms and hands and feet. Raven had none, but had to hold his magic crystal in his beak as he stood on his new talons.

"Immediately, Man whooped with joy and ran off to fashion a trap for Grandfather Thunder."

A rustle in the forest makes Mother Owl blink and spin her head noiselessly, searching through the dark. The owlets sit quietly, tiny eyes blinking, watching their mother and shivering in the cold.

Mother Owl waits, unmoving. The only movement is the crescent moon as it begins to peek above the thick of trees in the distance. Then she turns again, her face peering over her nest and out into the forest.

"But Raven now had patience. And though he had no tools and no hands, he remembered how long and hard he had worked to build the trap for Grandfather Thunder. And soon Man returned to Raven, who had not moved from his spot, and pleaded with him.

"'Raven, friend! I cannot take it any longer! I have toiled for many days to make the trap for Grandfather Thunder, but still I have nothing! Will you give me your magic crystal?'

"Raven then said, 'I will give you my crystal if you will give me your wings.'

"Man cried aloud for he desperately wanted the crystal, but did not want to surrender his wings. In his anguish, he cried, 'Is there yet something else you can give me so I might get a crystal of my own? Something else that you will take besides my wings?'

"Raven shook his head. 'I am sorry, my friend. I have given you my knowledge. I have given you my hands and feet. We have bargained fairly, and now there is nothing else I can give you. I am afraid Grandfather Thunder is wise and it will be a very long time before he falls into a trap again.'

"Man, who had given away all his patience cried aloud in anguish. 'Yes, anything! I will give you my wings, just give me the crystal now!' And with that, Raven chanted over the magic crystal again.

"And when the mist cleared this time, Raven stretched his new wings and lifted off the ground. In his excitement, he flipped through the air and soared high and swooped down, careening through the branches and laughing with joy like he does today, 'hhrawk, hhrawk!'

"When Man saw this he realized his mistake. The crystal was precious to him, but not so much as his wings. He remembered the joy of flight and the memory pained him. As he watched Raven soar, Man cursed himself for trading the crystal for his wings. He set the magic crystal on the ground and as his tears fell on top of it, a mist again arose. Man knew he could never take back his wings, and he sang over the crystal to cast a spell on his children so that they would not remember what happened before they were born. That they would not remember how to fly. They would not feel the loss of their wings like he did.

"And after he cast the spell, Man was still angry and he took the crystal and threw it high and hard, and he did not see it land.

"This is why Man runs and Raven flies."

The hum of Mother Owl's voice fades and silence floats on the breeze again. From miles away, the crackle of a stream can be heard.

Then, one of the owlets wriggles closer to its siblings and says, 'But Mother, why do Man's children run? Are they trying to catch the crystal? Or are they trying to remember how to fly?'"

Mother Owl peers far into the darkness for a long moment before she answers.

"They do not remember why they run."