(a Wabanaki Indian tale)
Once upon a time, in the far north of Canada, there lived a wicked giant known as Wolf-Wind. Whenever the sun was hot and the sea was still, he disappeared, but as the seasons changed, he appeared. He came without warning. When he did, the flowers bent their heads to the earth, the trees cracked in fear, the corn fell flat, and the water crashed against the rocks.
Wolf-Wind was always furious, always vowing to devour anything that dared to cross his path. One day, all the men and women were fishing out at sea. The air was turning cool, but the water was smooth and calm. And then, suddenly, the sun vanished behind a cloud and Wolf-Wind came roaring and howling and hurtling himself across the sea. The people had no time to paddle away, and the giant caught them and ripped their boats to shreds. They all drowned.
In the morning, Wolf-Wind saw the children playing onshore, awaiting their parents. Knowing that they had no parents to protect them, he decided to devour them too.
He rushed toward the land, howling, “I will catch you and eat you!”
The children heard Wolf-Wind coming and ran from the shore. They came to a cave and hid inside, placing a big rock at the head. Wolf-Wind howled at the door. He howled all day and all night, but he could not get in.
At last, he gave up and whisked away, but he called out, “You will never escape me!”
The children stayed in the cave long after they heard nothing more, but at last they came out again. They ran into the forest to seek safety. They were afraid of the seashore now, and so they traveled to the land of grass and trees and streams. They left the far north behind.
One day, Wolf-Wind came again. He raced after the children, but the trees protected them by spreading out their great branches and hiding the children beneath their leaves.
This infuriated Wolf-Wind, and he swore he would destroy the trees. He departed and returned a few days later, but this time he brought along more giants from the far north. One of these giants carried the charm of the frost, but when he tried to kill pine and cedar and spruce and fir and hemlock, they only laughed and swayed and creaked.
“We cannot be destroyed,” they said. “We will protect the children.”
And then, on the night of the full harvest moon, Wolf-Wind and the other giants came without warning, and this time the frost charm killed the leaves of the alder and oak, the beech and birch, the oak and maple and willow. Afterward, the forest was still and sad, and when the children saw what Wolf-Wind had done to their friends, they wept.
But just at that moment, Glooscap came on his sled pulled by his dogs to pay a visit. The great creator and magic master of gifts, Glooscap came to ask the children what they wished to have this year.
“Anything you wish will be yours,” he told the children.
But the children wished for nothing for themselves. “We want the leaves to return to the trees,” they told Glooscap. “That is all we want.”
For a long time, Glooscap was quiet. He knew it was too late to return the leaves to the trees. They lay upon the earth, where they had fallen. And so Glooscap sat and thought. He thought about the sea birds — the gull and loon, the duck and crane, the kingfisher. Those birds laughed at Wolf-Wind. He could not harm them. He thought about the birds of men — the hen and goose, the ducks and turkeys. They too were safe. The people protected them.
But there were no forest birds. Glooscap had not yet created them. And so, after he had sat for a long time in thought, he said, “Children, I will change the fallen leaves into birds. They will never forget how they were born. When autumn comes, they shall go far away, but they will always come back to live as close as they can to the leaves. They will nest in the trees beneath the leaves. They will be beautiful colors like the leaves. They will sing you sweet songs.
“And as for the trees, when summer comes, the trees will no longer be bare. Wolf-Wind may strip them off when he comes with the Giant of the Frost, but they will be replaced each springtime.”
Then Glooscap waved his magic wand, and flocks of little birds sprang from the ground and flew into the trees. They were beautiful colors: red-breasted robins that came from the red leaves of the oak; finches and hummingbirds that were yellow and green from the willow. Yellowbirds and warblers that came from the golden beech and birch; scarlet tanagers and orioles that were red and purple and brown from the leaves of the maple tree.
The children were happy again.
Soon Glooscap felt the chill in the air, and he sent the little birds away to a warm country until the Giant of the Frost went away. But he promised — and this has always been true — that every springtime the little birds would return and build nests among the trees and wake the children with their choir at dawn.
They never forget that they are the children’s gift from Glooscap.