Old Man and the Lynx, by George Bird Grinnell
Old Man was travelling round over the prairie, when he saw a lot of
prairie-dogs sitting in a circle. They had built a fire, and were sitting
around it. Old Man went toward them, and when he got near them, he began to
cry, and said, "Let me, too, sit by that fire." The prairie-dogs said: "All
right, Old Man. Don't cry. Come and sit by the fire." Old Man sat down,
and saw that the prairie-dogs were playing a game. They would put one of
their number in the fire and cover him up with the hot ashes; and then,
after he had been there a little while, he would say sk, sk, and they
would push the ashes off him, and pull him out.
Old Man said, "Teach me how to do that"; and they told him what to do, and
put him in the fire, and covered him up with the ashes, and after a little
while he said sk, sk, like a prairie-dog, and they pulled him out
again. Then he did it to the prairie-dogs. At first he put them in one at a
time, but there were many of them, and pretty soon he got tired, and said,
"Come, I will put you all in at once." They said, "Very well, Old Man," and
all got in the ashes; but just as Old Man was about to cover them up, one
of them, a female heavy with young, said, "Do not cover me up; the heat may
hurt my children, which are about to be born." Old Man said: "Very well. If
you do not want to be covered up, you can sit over by the fire and watch
the rest." Then he covered up all the others.
At length the prairie-dogs said sk, sk, but Old Man did not sweep the
ashes off and pull them out of the fire. He let them stay there and die. The
old she one ran off to a hole and, as she went down in it, said sk,
sk. Old Man chased her, but he got to the hole too late to catch her. So
he said: "Oh, well, you can go. There will be more prairie-dogs by and by."
When the prairie-dogs were roasted, Old Man cut a lot of red willow brush
to lay them on, and then sat down and began to eat. He ate until he was
full, and then felt sleepy. He said to his nose: "I am going to sleep
now. Watch for me and wake me up in case anything comes near." Then Old Man
slept. Pretty soon his nose snored, and he woke up and said, "What is it?"
The nose said, "A raven is flying over there." Old Man said, "That is
nothing," and went to sleep again. Soon his nose snored again. Old Man
said, "What is it now?" The nose said, "There is a coyote over there,
coming this way." Old Man said, "A coyote is nothing," and again went to
sleep. Presently his nose snored again, but Old Man did not wake up. Again
it snored, and called out, "Wake up, a bob-cat is coming." Old Man paid no
attention. He slept on.
The bob-cat crept up to where the fire was, and ate up all the roast
prairie-dogs, and then went off and lay down on a flat rock, and went to
sleep. All this time the nose kept trying to wake Old Man up, and at last
he awoke, and the nose said: "A bob-cat is over there on that flat rock. He
has eaten all your food." Then Old Man called out loud, he was so angry. He
went softly over to where the bob-cat lay, and seized it, before it could
wake up to bite or scratch him. The bob-cat cried out, "Hold on, let me
speak a word or two." But Old Man would not listen; he said, "I will teach
you to steal my food." He pulled off the lynx's tail, pounded his head
against the rock so as to make his face flat, pulled him out long, so as to
make him small-bellied, and then threw him away into the brush. As he went
sneaking off, Old Man said, "There, that is the way you bob-cats shall
always be." That is the reason the lynxes look so today.
Old Man went back to the fire, and looked at the red willow sticks where
his food had been, and it made him mad at his nose. He said, "You fool, why
did you not wake me?" He took the willow sticks and thrust them in the
coals, and when they took fire, he burned his nose. This pained him
greatly, and he ran up on a hill and held his nose to the wind, and called
on it to blow hard and cool him. A hard wind came, and it blew him away
down to Birch Creek. As he was flying along, he caught at the weeds and
brush to try to stop himself, but nothing was strong enough to hold him. At
last he seized a birch tree. He held on to this, and it did not give
way. Although the wind whipped him about, this way and that, and tumbled
him up and down, the tree held him. He kept calling to the wind to blow
gently, and finally it listened to him and went down.
So he said: "This is a beautiful tree. It has kept me from being blown away
and knocked all to pieces. I will ornament it and it shall always be like
that." So he gashed it across with his stone knife, as you see it to-day.