Pushing Up the Sky

I've been reading Indian Legends of the Pacific Northwest, by Ella E. Clark, a book I picked up while browsing in the U.S. Forest Service office in Olympia a few weeks ago. First published in 1953 by University of California Press, the book contains dozens of legends gathered by Clark from the actual storytellers themselves and from her scouring of "obscure books" and documents from a myriad sources. What caught my eye while paging through the book was, naturally, the woodcut (above) accompanying a Snohomish legend called "Pushing Up the Sky." Anyone who has lived through a winter in the Pacific Northwest can relate to sentiment captured in this woodcut by Robert Bruce Inverarity.

"Pushing Up the Sky" begins with the creation of the world by the "great and mighty man" Doh-Kwi-Buhch. As he worked his way from East to West, he created different groups of people and selected the best language for each group. By the time he reached Puget Sound, he was ready to end is work and decided to go no further. He created many tribes in the region and then scattered all his many remaining languages (too many according to some) among them in what is described as a "wasteful fashion."

The tribes found that they were not pleased with the way their world was created. They did not like the fact that they could not understand each others' language and that the sky was too low; the taller people bumped their heads on the sky, others climbed into the trees and then made their way into the next world--the Sky World.

The wise men of the different tribes held a meeting and agreed that the people should try to shove the sky up higher. To coordinated their efforts among the varied-tongued tribes, the wise men decided upon a word--"Ya-hoh"--which means "lift together" in all the languages. (Sounds like the old "Heave-hoh!" doesn't it?) A date for the sky lifting was set and the tribes began making and bundling poles to help with the lifting.

On the day of the sky lifting, the people braced their poles against the sky and shouted "Yah-hoh!" and succeeded in raising up the sky a little bit. With another few shoves, the sky was in a position that pleased the tribes. As with any community project, there were a few individuals who missed out. In this legend, those individuals were fishermen and hunters who were single-mindedly pursuing their prey (fish and elk) while the tribes were Yah-hohing down below. With the final shove, the animals leaped into the Sky World and the men followed. The entire party (plus a dog and two canoes) were raised with the sky where they remain to this day as starts in the Big Dipper and Orion constellations.

What a marvelous story of weather modification! The power of community, bundles of poles, and one shared word worked a meteorological miracle. How wonderful it would be to give our low, gray, and sometimes oppressive clouds a big shove every once in a while. How about Sunday?

NEXT BLOG:  How I discovered the last hereditary chief of the Snonohmish tribe, source for this legend, and his story pole in Everett, Washington.