(An Ojibwa Indian Legend)
Once upon a time there was an Objibwa boy named Opeechee. When he came of age, it was time for his dream fast, a time for him to go out into the forest on his own. There, as he fasted, he would wait for his spirit guide to come to him. It was a tradition of his people.
Opeechee’s father was a proud man, and he wished for his son to become a great warrior. So eager was he for this that he could not wait for the traditional time of fasting, when warmth returned to the land and the snows had melted.
“You are strong enough to endure the cold,” his father told Opeechee. “The cold winds will give you strength and will make your visions clearer. You must go now and prove how strong you are.”
Opeechee was a good son, and all his life he had worked to please his father. Though the weather was freezing cold, the grounds covered with snow and the winds fierce, he did not wish to let his father down now. And so he followed his father into the forest. At the top of a hill, they quickly built a makeshift lodge. His father gave Opeechee a deerskin.
“Wrap yourself in this and sleep and fast,” he said. “I will come to you each morning. Dream well, my son.” And with those words he turned and walked back home.
That night was bitterly cold. All night long Opeechee shivered, but he watched and waited attentively. At midnight a deer came and spoke to him.
In the morning when his father returned, he asked his son, “What did you see?”
Opeechee spoke of the deer. “Is this my spirit guide?” he asked.
His father shook his head. “You will have a greater vision still. But you must wait and watch and listen closely.”
He returned to his lodge and left Opeechee in the falling snow. At midnight a beaver came and spoke to him.The next morning Opeechee’s father returned and once again asked his son what he had seen.
“A beaver came to me,” Opeechee said. “He taught me a song. I will sing it to you, and you can tell me if this is my spirit guide.”
His father shook his head. “Stay longer, Son. You will gain more power.”
He walked back home, leaving Opeechee shivering and hungry.
For the next four days Opeechee waited and watched. Each morning his father returned to ask what he had seen. Opeechee told him of his nighttime visitors — a badger, a crow, a squirrel, a rabbit. He was growing thinner and weaker, for he had not eaten in six days, and the weather was growing colder still.
But each day his father said, “Wait and watch. You will have a great vision.”
At dawn on the seventh morning, Opeechee’s mother insisted that she go into the forest with her husband.
“I am worried about our son,” she said. “I want to see him and know how he is doing.”
And so they walked into the forest together. As they climbed to the top of the hill to the makeshift lodge where their son slept and dreamed, they heard a sound unlike any they had ever heard before. It was a bird singing.
“What is that?” Opeechee’s mother asked. “It sounds like the bird is calling my son’s name.”
The father shook his head, but he began to walk more quickly. As they approached the lodge, the father called, “Son, it is time to end your fast and come home. Your mother and I have come to guide you back.”
He waited for Opeechee to answer, but no answer came. The parents bent down and peered inside the lodge, and as they did, a gray-and-black bird with a bright red chest flew out, calling, “Opee-chee, Opee-chee …”
The mother began to weep, for she understood right away. “It is my son,” she sobbed, as the bird flew onto a branch above them.
Then the bird began to speak.
“Mother and Father, I am transformed into this bird because you sent me away too early. You no longer have a son, for you asked too much of me. But every spring I will return to visit you, and when I return, I will sing. My song will let parents know when it is time to send their boys on a dream fast. It will be a time when the warmth returns, the snow melts and the air is fragrant again.”
And with those words, the bird flew away into the forest to await spring.