I first encountered this charming woodcut eight years ago in Ella E. Clark's book, Indian Legends of the Pacific Northwest as I began my research for A Sideways Look at Clouds. I wrote about it in this 2010 blog but did not include this illustration or the Snohomish creation story behind it in my book. There were just too many wonderful local tribal stories about the sky and clouds to do justice to them in my book.
In a nutshell, the story (sourced by Clark to a book written by Chief William Shelton in 1935) describes the work of several Puget Sound tribes to lift the sky--a sky so low that they bumped their heads on it. Using poles crafted from the giant fir trees and while shouting "Ya-hoh!" (meaning "lift together") the men of the tribes managed to push the sky up to where it is now. Chief Shelton noted that in his day, the Snohomish still shouted "Ya-hoh" when doing hard work together.
On mid-winter days like today, when the the sky (aka the clouds, the thick altostratus clouds) seem a bit oppressive, I think of this story--not because I'd like the clouds to shove off, but because of the hard work required of us to keep the planet whole, to protect our natural resources, and environmental protections for wildlife and wild places.
The Indian Legends of the Pacific Northwest was first published in 1953 with a 50th anniversary edition issued in 2003 by the University of California Press. Last year, a volunteer for South Sound Climate Reality Leaders, handed me a flier outside the Capital Mall movie theater where I had just watched An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power (Al Gore's follow up to An Inconvenient Truth). The flier featured a simple illustration--clearly adapted from Inverary's Ya-hohing sky pushers. Only there was only one person using a pole--the rest were pushing the clouds with their hands. And one of the four figures was a woman. And, there was no story to explain the illustration. There was a poem--"heiroglyphic stairway" from A Love Letter to the Milkyway by Drew Dellinger.