Thursday, September 24, 2009

A Story Snippet: With a Little Help

I have heard many versions of this story over the years.  At times it is attributed to Aesop and at others, to traditional Zulu storytelling.   To be honest, I am still not certain of the origin.
I have always enjoyed this story, but I believe I fell in love with it after hearing Lani Peterson describe her experience of watching Jane Goodall tell a version of this story as a means of personal introduction.  (If you ever get a chance to hear Lani tell, make sure to seize the opportunity.)
Please excuse my version.  I’ve decided to have a little fun with it.
Some bird couple must have been tying the knot.  Or maybe it was a nest cluster party and feathery neighbors were invited.  Whatever the reason, all the birds were there – from Turkey to Titmouse, from Pigeon to Peacock.
Everyone was having a merry old time.  But the next thing you know, after a few squawks here and a couple of hoots there, feathers were getting ruffled.  Things were getting out of hand.
A few responsible birds, including Wren, tried to contain the situation.  Unfortunately, anytime they tried to politely say “Ahem, excuse me, but maybe you shouldn’t be throwing that chair over your head” or “Um, pardon me, but maybe playing with matches is not such a good idea” they were met with a rude response: “You’re not the boss of me!”
This went on all night until the place was completely trashed. 

The next morning, all the birds gathered in the same place, hanging their heads in shame.  Many blamed their bad behavior on mob mentality.  Wren related her experience – nobody listened to the responsible birds the night before because they lacked authority.
The idea of having a Bird King was born.  No one would have been able to say “You’re not the boss of me!” if the Bird King had asked them to stop their shenanigans.
Afraid that an election of a Bird King would turn into a silly popularity contest, the birds decided on a contest -- Whoever stayed in the sky the longest would be crowned.

On the day of the contest, excitement and nervousness swept through the crowd.  Wren noticed that everyone wanted to be crowned the Bird King, but not everyone seemed to understand what a huge responsibility it would be.
Birds soaring against the sunset At the starting signal, the sky was so thickly peppered with feathered critters of every shape and size that you would have thought it was night time.  As the morning progressed, bird after bird landed softly, disappointed and exhausted, but keen to see who was still in the running.
Oooh, look at Eagle” they admired, he seemed to hang in the air with no effort.  A few of the responsible birds looked worried – Eagle was nice and all, but had been one of the biggest offenders the night before. 
Eventually, Eagle’s majestic silhouette was all that could be seen against the sunset lit sky.  Looking down at all the birds looking up at him, Eagle surmised that it was time to land.
Just as his powerful talons touched the ground, Wren hopped off of his back and fluttered in the air.  “I win!  She announced.  Eagle was surprised, not only by the fact that Wren had beaten him but by the feeling of relief that washed over him as a result.


Doug said...

Terrific version, Elsa! Well done!

This story is certainly well known as a Scottish/Celtic tale. It may be that all the other versions descend from the Celtic version, by way of European colonization.

I love the wittiness of your version, and the eagle's sense of relief. Very cool!

Who Elsa? said...

Thank you, Doug!

I ended up telling this story at Shelburn Farm where it morphed into an altogether different thing. I'm curious to see which version will eventually settle into my bones.

I clearly have a thing for Wren. :)


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