The Storyknife

yaaruin: “storyknife”
Language: Central Yup'ik

The story knife is a traditional girl’s toy used for
 sketching pictures on the ground or in the snow. 
The pictures show clothing, people, houses, animals,
 and events, and are drawn to illustrate a story or as
 a game in which others try to guess the artist’s 
subject. Knife stories were accompanied by songs. 

from The Smithsonian Institution’s Alaska Native Collections:


A story from the Panchatantra, the ancient Indian collection of animal fables:

A Tortoise and two Geese lived together in a pond for many years. At last there came a drought and dried up the pond.
Then the Geese said to one another, "We must seek a new home quickly, for we cannot live without water. Let us say farewell to the Tortoise and start at once."
When the Tortoise heard that they were going, he trembled with fear, and besought them by their friendship not to desert him.
"Alas," the Geese replied, there is no help for it. If we stay here, we shall all three die, and we cannot take you with us, for you cannot fly."
Still the Tortoise begged so hard not to be left behind that the Geese finally said,
"Dear Friend, if you will promise not to speak a word on the journey, we will take you with us. But know beforehand, that if you open your mouth to say one single word, you will be in instant danger of losing your life."
"Have no fear," replied the Tortoise, "but that I will be silent until you give me leave to speak again. I would rather never open my mouth again than be left to die alone here in the dried-up pond."
So the Geese brought a stout stick and bade the Tortoise grasp it firmly in the middle by his mouth. Then they took hold of either end and flew off with him. They had gone several miles in safety, when their course lay over a village. As the country people saw this curious sight of a Tortoise being carried by two Geese, they began to laugh and cry out, - "Oh, did you ever see such a funny sight in all your life!" And they laughed loud and long.
The Tortoise grew more and more indignant. At last he could stand their jeering no longer. "You stupid . . . " he snapped, but before he could say more he had fallen to the ground and was dashed to pieces.

Retold by Maude Barrows Dutton in The Tortoise and the Geese and Other Fables of Bidpai, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1908.

Illustration by T Wharton

The clearing

 When I was a kid growing up in northern Alberta I heard a story about a magical place: a small clearing in a grove of aspen trees, somewhere among the farms and fields of the district, that had some kind of mysterious power. It was a place that could cure all ills, whether of the body, mind or spirit.

The clearing was rumoured to be on a particular farmer’s land, but if I ever heard the name of the farm family involved, I don’t remember it. I don’t even remember who told me this story.

The story went that the farmer woke up one night without knowing what had disturbed his sleep. He went outside and saw strange white lights glimmering and drifting far off across his land. He thought maybe it was kids with flashlights goofing off, maybe somebody playing a prank. He flicked his own porchlight on and off a few times, to send a message to whoever was out there that he was watching. When that had no effect he went and got his rifle and started walking across his land toward the lights. He hadn’t gone far when the lights suddenly went out.

The farmer, it's important to know, had always been a bitter, angry sort of person, given to bouts of drinking and rage.

The next morning the farmer walked out to where he had seen the lights. It was a grove of trembling aspens between two of his fields. In the middle of the grove was a clearing. Nothing seemed unusual or out of place there. It was a sheltered, peaceful spot of uncut grass and wildflowers. The wind stirred the aspen leaves and they whispered as they always did.

But after the farmer left the clearing, everything had changed. From that day on, much to the wonder and relief of his family, he was cheerful, loving, and content, and never touched another drop of alcohol.

The farmer told his family and a few close friends about what had happened and how he believed it was the clearing that had changed him. He wanted to share the miracle with those he loved and cared about. And so if anyone he told had an illness or a sorrow or a family problem, he took them out to the clearing and left them to spend a little time there, and more often than not the trouble was soon resolved. Even if it wasn’t, the clearing was said to lift a person’s heart and fill you with an unshakeable certainty that all would be well.

The story of course got out, and people used to come out to the farm and pester the farmer to show them to the clearing. He denied any knowledge of what they were talking about and told them they were wasting their time. He had to chase off plenty of curiosity-seekers he found wandering over his fields in search of the “magic spot,” as it came to be known.

That’s pretty much the story as I heard it. Aliens? Angels? I don’t know … to me the tale has the ring of an urban legend. Or I should say, a rural legend. And the details don’t quite add up. If the farmer became so happy and loving, why didn’t he share the miraculous clearing with anyone and everyone who needed it? 

Has anyone else heard a story like this, maybe from some other agricultural region of Canada or the world? I’d be interested to know.

The LARP people

We had seen these live-action role-players many times, playing their games in the field near our house, but we’d never talked to them.

Two summers ago my older son and his friends tried making a sneak attack on the LARP “nerds.” The LARPers smacked them down easily.

Once the younger LARPers attacked me when my running route passed through their realm. But it was a friendly attack. I didn’t feel in the least bit threatened by these screaming medievally-costumed teenagers wielding foam swords and clubs. It was more a territorial display than anything. Or just exuberance.

The next time I ran that way, they didn’t attack. I was strangely disappointed.

Today my younger son and I finally went to the field near my house to watch the LARP people and talk to them.

We talked mostly to Paul, the founder of the group, who came here to Edmonton a few years back. He says that his group, the Western Winds LARP, is the oldest in the city. They are actually not “role-players” in the strict sense of the term, since they concentrate mainly on practicing fighting skills and staging battle games. They don’t develop characters or follow storylines, from what I understood, though other groups in the city do.

We watched them play a game in which one team had to carry their treasure (a bucket with foam weapons in it) from one side of the field to the other while the other team launched an attack on them and tried to take the treasure. The team with the bucket had the advantage because they had a guy in armour. I mean real armour. Steel breastplate, vambraces, greaves and other stuff I didn’t have a name for. Apparently, in this game, if you’re hit once in an unprotected place, you’re “out” (for a brief time before you can respawn). You have to be hit seven times on an armoured spot before you’re out.

It turned out the guy in the armour is a carpenter in his weekday life. On the weekends he’s well-nigh invincible.

It looked like enormous fun. My son wanted to get right in there and join the melee, and truth be told I did, too. We’d like to be LARP people. But my son isn’t old enough yet, and I’m probably too, ahem, mature. And anyhow we didn’t have weapons.

I really liked that armour.

Ray Bradbury

“Science is no more than an investigation of a miracle we can never explain, and art is an interpretation of that miracle.” 

Ray Bradbury 1920 - 2012

 Illustration by T Wharton


The wildman

His name is Balor Gruff. He’s nearly seven feet tall. Where he comes from, originally, is unknown. He was found by an Errantry patrol as a baby, abandoned or lost in the forest, and was brought back to Fable, where he was cared for and raised. He was given the last name of Gruff because this was the only sound he made as a baby. As for his first name, one of the Errantry knights thought that this odd-looking creature resembled a dog he’d had as a child, named Balor.

It wasn’t clear to anyone what race or species Gruff belonged to, so he was just known by the catch-all term “wildman.” He certainly looked wild enough, with his shaggy hair and a face that has been described as a cross between a lion and an ill-tempered pug dog.

Balor embraced the name of wildman. The alternatives were not to his liking, especially the word “ogre,” which he often hears people whispering in fear as he goes by.

Those who know him well don’t bother about what to call him. What matters to them is that Gruff is a knight of the Errantry, a friend who has proven his courage and loyalty on many occasions. There are times when he can be impulsive, and reckless, but his heart is in the right place.

If there are any other wildman living in the Realm, Balor Gruff has never met any of them, though he would like to, so that he would no longer have to alone in the world. And then he would find out for certain just what, or who, he is.

 Image by T Wharton