(a Patagonian folktale)
Long, long ago, a terribly lonely god named Kooch, surrounded by dense clouds where sky and sea meet, began to cry in despair. He cried for so long, his tears formed the sea that came to be called Arrok; this was the first element in nature. When Kooch stopped crying, he sighed, and that sigh gave birth to wind. The wind moved the clouds, and so light came into the world.
Next Kooch made an enormous island in the middle of the sea, and to inhabit the island, he created birds and animals, insects and fish. There the creatures lived and played and worked, and all was good. But as time passed, the animals began to talk about the ways they wished their world would change.
“This place is good,” Mother Guanaco — who always spoke first — said. “But I need a change of seasons. I need three moons of warmth and sunshine. I need rich pastures. I need thick grass to strengthen myself so that I can feed my babies.”
Kaiken, the slow-flying goose with her short neck and wobbly voice, nodded. Naturally she agreed, for she was raising babies, too. “We need plenty of sun to raise our young ones.”
But the sparrow began to chatter as he hopped from branch to branch in the calafate bush. This talk made him nervous. “Since when has a goose suckled her young?” he asked. “And why three moons?”
The goose spoke up again. “If we have warmth and water, the grass will grow tall and thick, so we can hide our nests from the wildcats and foxes.”
Naturally the fox was offended, and he sat up straight. “We like the cold! We need the cold weather to make our fur nice and thick and shiny. In warm weather, my beautiful coat begins to molt … we must have cold!”
The red-breasted meadowlark was horrified when she heard such talk and scurried forward, chirping loudly, “We die of cold!”
Wise old Mrs. Owl turned her head around one way and then the other. “Prepare a good cave in the cliff,” she said to the meadowlark. “That will protect you from cold.”
Then the puma leaped into the circle. “Cold! Yes, cold! Cold and snow. That’s what we long for! Far easier to track our prey when there are footsteps in the snow. And besides, our sleep is deep and good during those long, cold nights.”
Flamingo turned pinker than pink and cried, “If winter lasted all year long, I’d leave,” and he stood upon one long, lean leg. “Sorry, Mr. Puma, but it’s better if the whole year is summer. You’ll have to give up your thick fur. …”
Piche, the armadillo with the half-closed eyes, waddled forward. “Here’s an idea,” she suggested. “Why don’t we try half summer and half winter? That way we can be happy in the warmth and sleep in the cold.” At the thought of sleep, her eyes began to close.
The quail piped up. “Here’s an idea! Three moons of cold, three of warmth, and the others can be mixed. That’s fair!”
“Mixed?” the rodent asked. She was quite tiny, and she was often confused when talk became complicated.
The quail sighed. “It’s obvious. After warmth, our weather can turn cool, and then when the weather cools it will be warm again.”
“Too complicated,” sighed the armadillo, and she fell back to sleep.
Now Mara, the hare, stepped up. Long-legged and bold, Mara liked to lead the group, and so she had been thinking hard as the others discussed this problem. For a long time they had been pondering, and Mara thought they needed to find a solution. “The problem we have is how long winter should last. I say three moons are plenty.”
But ostrich interrupted. “No, no, let it be winter all the time,” he said. “Let’s be done with this talk.”
“Ridiculous,” Mara said. She snorted, and her whiskers twitched, and the others understood this was a serious moment. “If it were always cold, we would all die of frostbite.”
“And we would starve,” chattered the mockingbird. “When I’m too cold, I cannot sing. You would miss my song, too. …”
The ostrich stamped his feet. “Those of you who like the warmth can travel north, and those who like the cold will stay here. When you’re tired of warm weather, you can return. …”
But Mara shook her head. “No. It is better for everyone to have a climate in which plants can grow and fruits can ripen and the young can grow, and some can burrow and some can play on ice and some can track their prey, and this is the way we shall live. Three moons of winter is fairest.”
The animals grew louder as they argued. Each one took a side, arguing first with this one, then with another, so the island shook with thunderous roars and stamping feet and whooshing tails.
“Twelve moons, 12 moons, 12 moons!” the ostrich cried because he had run out of arguments.
“Three!” Mara insisted, stamping her foot, and then, tired of arguing, she scampered away into her burrow. However the ostrich, not willing to give up, chased after Mara. He grabbed her by her tail and pulled so hard that her tail came off.
And suddenly everyone was quiet.
Elal, the great hero, son of a giant and a cloud, had been silently listening as the animals argued, and he had measured every argument. He walked to the center of the circle, and the animals grew quiet.
“There will be four seasons,” he said. “Three moons each. Sorken, summer; Kapenken, autumn; Sheiaik, winter; and Ariskaiken, spring. That is the end of this conversation.”
After that, Mara never did have a tail, and the ostrich was forever hoarse from talking too long and too loudly. But ever since that day, the world has been blessed by the changing seasons. And just as then, when the spring moon rose and the ice began to melt, everyone sighed with pleasure. Or, nearly everyone…