Come and listen to the tale
of how the snow began
how the stars turned night to white
and fell into your hand
From her perch on top of her hut in her little Alaskan village, Ila stared into the northern night, tracing the stars with her fingertips. She could taste the salty air that drifted from the sea that was dark and deep. She listened to the whale’s song, watching them rise and fall beneath the tide as spurts of ocean sprayed out of their blow holes. In the ocean breeze, Ila could almost feel the spray hit her cheeks as the wind carried it to her, and when she stuck her tongue out she could taste the whale’s last salt-water song spraying into the wind. They were migrating south to warmer waters.
Ila was cold and alone beneath the great sky. She wanted a friend to be there beside her. The other children were not kind. They laughed at Ila because she did not know who she was or from where she came. Ila’s parents were no more. They had gone away to across the dark sea and into the deep blue. Ila had watched them float into the night sky. Their boats reached the horizon and Father Moon gathered them into his arms and grandmother said they became the stars.
Ila whispered prayers to Father Moon. She did not want to wake her snoring grandfather and grandmother. She pushed the thick straw of the roof aside and watched them from above. Huddled together on a thick bear hide, they shivered beneath the thatched roof.
Father Moon watched from above too. Grandmother said that Father Moon saw the world beginning to end. All its rounds and edges. Father Moon called upon the seasons. He stood to guard the Inuit people. He sat atop a throne of stars, which were at his command. The stars were his warriors. They were great and mighty. They listened for the prayers of the Inuit people. Some said that once in a blue moon, they answered.
Father Moon give me a friend, Ila begged, wrapped in a wool blanket her grandmother had knit with bone needles. Winter was coming and soon the whales would leave for warmer waters and grandfather and mother would wither like the dying grass. Ila knew Grandmother and Father were preparing for the great voyage just like mother and father. They would be put in boats like mother and father and drift into the great deep until they became the sea and the sea met the sky and they joined Father Moon. The harvest had ended and the blue moon of winter was coming. Father Moon would put the world to sleep. The bears would return to their dens and only the strong would awake in the spring. Soon she would be alone.
Please, Father Moon, give me a friend, a friend to keep me warm, Ila whispered to the stars. She stared long and hard into the night sky searching for the moon. She gripped the rough evergreen frame of the windowsill, holding on. How long must she wait? How long till Father Moon answered? Her knuckles turned to white. She looked into the deep, for the farthest star and in the farthest corner. She stared until the dark began to ripple. And then one star, just to the right of Father Moon twinkled. With every twinkle the star grew in size, it rotated and twirled, like it was dancing and spinning all in one place, like a toy top.
Ila blinked and the star was gone. Maybe it died, she thought. But how peculiar! Ila watched as Father Moon rose to his full height in the sky, ascending his throne. He was full and fat tonight, probably stuffed from the harvest. What does the moon even eat? thought Ila. What would she eat when the winter came? How long would the harvest food last through winter? Tomorrow was the winter solstice. Tomorrow the earth would grow cold. And grandmother and father were so frail. They would not make it to spring.
Grandmother and father! They needed fire, Ila thought. She must find wood and start a fire.
She slid down the thatched roof of her home, into the gray grass.
Ila felt the cool air enter her nostrils, filling up her lungs. She walked into the hut and quietly touched her grandparents hands that were holding each other. Their hands were freezing. Grandmother! Grandfather! Ila said, but they could not hear her. They were so cold and there was but a flicker of warmth left in their frail bodies.
Ila needed to find firewood. She headed toward the trees and mountains behind her hut. She wandered through the towering evergreens, collecting firewood. She loved the crunch of the leaves beneath her bundled feet. She wanted to play, but she must find firewood first. Every piece she found was wet, it would take forever to catch flame.
Ila heard a rustle in the trees. What’s that? She thought. “Who’s there?” she shouted, with a quiver in her voice.
“Come play!” said a high pitched voice.
“Who are you?” Ila said.
“I’m a friend!” said the voice.
“I have no friends,” Ila said. “You are tricking me!”
Ila followed the voice through the trees. Like a maze, darting in and out. Something touched her shoulder.
“Aha!” said the voice. It startled Ila and she jumped.
Ila turned around quickly and found herself staring straight into the bluest eyes she had ever seen. They sparkled like the sea. It was a boy of her simIlar height, with a white smile and big eyes and hair so blonde it was almost white. He was dressed in all white, with a fur vest from the skin of a polar bear, and his feet were wrapped in white cloth.
“Are you a ghost?!” Ila asked.
“Oh no,” the boy said. “I’m as real as you!” He held out his hand and she touched it. His hands were warm. A warmth emanated from his palms, which glowed under the twilight.
“Who are you?” Ila asked.
“I’m Orion,” said the boy. “I am the son of Father Moon. I am here to show you the hope of the night and the changing of seasons!”
“There is no hope in winter,” Ila said, walking past Orion as she searched for dry firewood. “The cold will come and take grandmother and father. They will be put in boats and drift into the sky like mother and father to become the stars and I will be left alone here in the cold.”
“There is warmth,” said Orion, taking Ila’s hand. “Let me show you!”
Orion shot off, pulling Ila behind him at comet-like speed. Hands grasped, they weaved through the pines, running and filling their lungs with the cold winter air. The first biting breath of the changing winds pecked at their red cheeks. Ila followed Orion’s glowing hair, trying hard to keep up. The trees grew taller and taller and the world was spinning in the dark night. She could feel her heart beating fast with every stride, her feet crunching the cold ground beneath her moccasins. Everything was flying by her as Orion pulled her through the evergreens and past the pines. She saw a flash of fur dash by her on her right, and another on her left. A large animal gave out a deep howl, like a friendly growl, it’s large body pacing beside Ila. A polar bear! It smiled at her as it panted beside her.
“Grab on!” Orion shouted, as he raced beside the bear. He grabbed its fur and in one graceful swing mounted the beast. Ila looked to her left and saw the other polar bear, racing beside her. She grabbed its fur and the bear dragged her along a bit, before turning its head push her up onto its back with its nose.
“There! Straight ahead!” Orion shouted. They were gaining height, Ila looked around her and saw they had scaled halfway up a mountain in only minutes. Ahead, colors filled the sky. Blues, purples and greens crowned the head of the mountain.
Finally, they reached the top. The bears circled each other in a circle. The bears looked like lovers, a king and queen of the wild winter, mighty and strong, dancing at the top of the mountain beneath the stars and the Great Lights. Orion, and Ila collapsed on the mountain top, laughing, gasping for breath, lungs full of crisp cool air, staring up into the sky. Ila could hear the sea clashing into the side of the mountain, it’s deep bellows thumping in time to her heartbeat. Crashing and culminating in a great rhythm of the heavens. She could hear all of nature at once. The song of the howling bears, the crashing of the sea, the drum of the earth—a symphony of Great Lights. The earth was alive. In the cold night the world was both silent and loud all at once. The night owl’s song was crisp and uninterrupted. At the top of the world, the symphony surrounded her so that it was all she could hear. She was enraptured.
Ila’s heart beat fast. Blood rushed through her veins like a swift river and she felt the pulse of the earth and her ears became red with heat, as the crisp, fresh winter’s air ran through her body. She was happy atop the great mountain, underneath the Great Lights and wrapped in the warmth of the polar bears.
“Feel that?” Orion asked.
“What?” she said.
“The earth,” Orion said, pressing his cheek to the cold ground. “Its heart still beats even in the winter, as yours does. There is still life!”
They laid there, on the mountain. Ila’s heartbeat began to slow and she remembered grandfather and mother below. They had each other, but they were cold. They could not run anymore. They would not feel the rush she felt. The wild winter wind was gone from them. They would not survive the frost.
“I have to get back to grandfather and mother!” said Ila. “Tonight they will freeze!”
“Don’t go!” Orion said.
“Come with me! Stay with me and be my friend,” Ila said, taking Orion’s hand.
“I can’t,” he said, dropping her hand and looking at his feet. “I can only live in the night. I am a star. I’m no real boy. I once was, but I became no more. One winter night I ran to the mountain, but I did not make it to the top. My parents found me in the morning and I was placed in a boat to float out to the horizon. The water was cold and I was cold and I floated on until I sank into the sea, and the sea became the night sky and I ascended to the stars. Father Moon took me in his arms and I joined him up above. I am only a reflection of water droplets frozen in the sky, reflecting off of Father’s Moon’s bright light. I have no light or warmth of my own to give you. I heard your prayer tonight, and he let me come so that you may have a friend, for one night. Just tonight. But you could join me! We could live together as stars! And every night would be our own!”
Ila wanted badly to join the stars. To leave the hurt and the inevitable loneliness of no warm and friendly bodies to warm her. But she thought of grandfather and mother. The Great Lights began to fade. The night became dark again. The end of a symphony.
“I cannot leave my family,” Ila said.
“But soon you will be alone,” Orion said.
“But I cannot leave them to be alone without me,” Ila said. “They’re all I have left.”
“Dawn will break soon,” Orion said, “and I must return to Father Moon.”
Orion walked with Ila to the edge of the mountain as the night began to fade, turning to a light grey. He peeked over the ledge and stared down at the sea. The sky was becoming lighter.
“I will find a way, Ila,” Orion said.
“For what?” Ila asked.
“For us to be together, and to keep your grandparents warm.”
“I will remember you, Orion, when I look to the night sky,” Ila said.
They stood at the edge of the mountain, staring into the sea, reflecting the light of Father Moon. Ila looked into Orion’s crystal blue eyes, stormy like the sea had been. She gave him one soft kiss. He smiled and fell back into the sea. As he fell, he began to glow. He dove into the water and submerged. Ila watched, waiting for him to reappear. But where he entered, a light began to glow beneath the water, and then it raced below the water toward the horizon. It sped like a shooting star beneath the deep blue, like a great whale until it met the edge of the sea and shot up through the sky, settling at the right hand of Father Moon.
Ila felt a nudge. The polar bear picked her up and placed her on his back. She held tightly onto his fur as she rode him back to her hut. When she returned to her hut, she saw grandmother and father wrapped in each other’s arms. Ila ran outside and climbed to the top of her hut, looking for Orion. She saw a shooting star land beside the right side of Father Moon. She began to cry.
Above, Father Moon held Orion in his arms. “What is it my son?” asked Father Moon.
“She did not come,” said Orion. “She is cold and lonely and I have to watch her from above because I cannot warm her.”
Father Moon held Orion as he cried. Father Moon and Orion could see Ila down below, shivering and crying in the first winter’s night. Orion’s tears began to crystalize, he cried and cried because he was lonely. He cried because he had to leave his friend, whom he loved. He cried as the day began to break. As his tears fell, they became the cold. In small frozen droplets they descended upon the earth, becoming white flakes upon the ground. They grew and grew as Orion cried. What ocean and water and magic star and light he was left him and filled the earth in frozen beauty. His tears became a white cloak upon the earth, trapping the warm heart of the earth like a warm blanket.
At daybreak, Ila awoke to a warm, white earth. Her hut had been covered in millions of white, frozen droplets like tiny tears, salty to the taste. The white cloak was light and soft like fur, but remained frozen in the winter air. The white cloak had enveloped her hut. She climbed below and into her hut. Grandmother and father greeted her with pink, smiling faces. They had stayed warm beneath the magic white cloak that had covered their hut, trapping in the heat.
And so the snow began. The white winter cloak that became our igloos and our homes. The cold that held the warmth and trapped within it the glow of the stars. So that now, with every snowfall we are warm with Orion’s tears, and Father Moon shines on above us. And we are kept beneath the white cloak of the first snow until we wake and bloom again.