Dreaming in Mackinaw

Screen Shot 2014-09-11 at 7.53.31 PMMy husband and I took a few days off and stayed in Mackinaw City, Michigan. I had a horrible cold and woke up in the middle of the night with a sore throat. As I got out of bed to find a cough drop I had a very strong mental image of elderly Indian faces illuminated by firelight and carved sticks hanging thickly from the branches of the trees around me.

I also knew this story:

There were once two sons of a chief as different as day and night. The eldest was a born hunter, broad shouldered and strong. He was also a natural leader who drew respect and attention whenever he spoke. The younger son was a quiet artist and a deep thinker, who kept his thoughts and observations to himself. As you might expect, there existed rivalry between the two extremes, with the older brother often winning his way by force.

It came to happen that the younger son fell sick and lost his voice. The old medicine man told him the voice is a free spirit who once in a while decides to walk about free of the body. In order to lure his voice back the young man needed to carve a “voice stick” and hang it in a nearby tree. If the voice liked his artistry it would return and he would be able to speak once again.

So the young man searched the woods and caught in the low growing shrubs at the edge of a fast flowing stream he found a beautiful stick. It was darkened by it’s time in the cold water, but the wood inside was still fresh, so when he carved it, he knew he could create beautiful designs that would surely draw his voice back to him. Then he remembered his brother’s bullying ways. Nearby was a much larger stick shaped like a war-club. He decided to start carving that stick and if his brother demanded it from him, then he would let him have it, and be able to keep the pretty stick for himself.

It happened as the younger brother expected. The older brother saw the carving on the larger stick and coveted it. Without a voice to defend himself all he could do was let his big brother carry his work away – exactly as he had planned in the first place.

When he was done carving the smaller stick it was indeed a thing of beauty with fish, flowers, bear and deer winding around it in a way that appeared to dance as the stick spun in the wind. The morning after he hung his stick in the tree outside his wigwam his voice had returned.

Several years later illness struck the whole village and many people lost their voices. Voice sticks hung from the trees like icicles. Eventually the voices came back to their people – but not exactly as expected. The older brother’s voice liked the younger brother’s stick so much that when the younger brother was able to speak he found himself speaking with the authority and charisma of the older brother. The younger brother’s voice, with nowhere else to go, occupied the older brother’s body, much to the older brother’s shock and surprise.

The entire village was thrown into chaos as the younger brother took charge and the older brother sat down to carve sticks and tell stories to the children. Eventually equilibrium was found and everyone adjusted to the new normal, until the next time the illness struck. This time the older brother carved his own stick, as beautiful as the younger brother’s, and his voice, pleased with the genuine offering, returned to its rightful place.

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