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The Four Wishes

Source: Abenaki legend

Read this and other stories in the book, Noticing Nature, by Chuck Bonner. Also available in e-book format for Amazon Kindle.

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Be careful what you wish. You just might get it!

Prologue: Gluskabe is not a god, but a culture hero of the Abenaki and related Algonquian cultures. He has been likened to Prometheus, making the world a better place for human beings. However, Gluskabe does not act in antagonism to Tabaldak, the Owner, he just makes a few innocent blunders. Prometheus, on the contrary, frequently defies and tricks Zeus, and he is punished for it. In Abenaki tradition, Gluskabe is contrasted to Tabaldak and likened to the human beings in that he, like us, has the power to create something from something, while only Tabaldak has the power to create something from nothing. Some Abenaki and other Algonquian stories have Gluskabe creating the first human beings, while some have Tabaldak creating everything directly. In any case, human beings are called the children and grandchildren of Gluskabe.

When, Gluskabe (say "GLOOSE-kah-BAY") had finished making the world a suitable home for his children and grandchildren, he decided it was time to rest. He traveled to an island, far out to the east of the land of Wobanakik. Before he left, he let it be known that if any of his children and grandchildren came to visit him on his island, he would grant them whatever they wished.

Once there was a man who was very much afraid of dying, and he wished he could live forever. He decided to travel to the Island of Gluskabe so that he would have his wish. He set off down the river to reach the sea.

Along the way, he met a man who did not have many possessions. He was very jealous of others who had more possessions than he had. This man joined the first, intending to ask Gluskabe to make it so that he would have more possessions than any other man.

These two met a third man who was very vain. He was rather tall, but he wanted to be still taller. He wore his hair piled on top of his head, and he stuffed moss into his moccasins, but still he was not satisfied. He wished to be taller than any man, so he joined them in the canoe to seek the Island of Gluskabe.

Finally, the three met a fourth man who wanted to visit Gluskabe. This man was not a very good hunter, and he wanted to ask Gluskabe to make him a great hunter so that his family and his village would always have enough to eat.

The four men reached the end of the river and set out into the sea. A strong wind began to push them back toward shore. The man who wished to be taller than any man had brought some tobacco with him, and he threw some of it into the air. The wind accepted this offering and became calm.

Soon the four men were fighting a strong current. The man who wished for many possessions knew a song that would calm the waters, and he sang it, and the current stopped fighting them.

Far out at sea, the canoe was surrounded by great whales that gathered all around, and it seemed that they would tip the canoe over. But the man who wished to live forever, whose canoe it was, had brought a small carved figure of a whale with him. He dropped it into the water, and the whales left them.

Now the Island of Gluskabe was in sight. But just as they thought their journey was over, a dense fog came up and hid the island from them. The man who wished to be a great hunter knew that this fog was the smoke from Gluskabe's pipe. He lit his own pipe, so Gluskabe would smell it and know that they were there. Soon, Gluskabe stopped smoking his pipe and the fog cleared.

At last, the four men arrived on the Island of Gluskabe. They left their canoe at the shore and walked to the lodge where Gluskabe lived with Grandmother Woodchuck.

Gluskabe greeted them. "You have had a hard journey to come and visit me, my children. You have each earned the right to make one wish."

The first man said, "I wish to live forever!"

The second man said, "I wish to have many fine possessions, more than any man has!"

The third man said, "I wish to be taller than any man!"

The fourth man said, "Grandfather Gluskabe, my wish is not so much for myself as for my family and my village. I wish to be a great hunter so that my family and my village will always have enough to eat."

Gluskabe smiled at the fourth man. Then he brought out four small pouches and gave one to each of them. He told them, "When you open this pouch, you will have what you wish for. But you must not open the pouch until you are home in your village and in your own lodge."

The four men agreed. They got back into their canoe and paddled back to the land of Wobanakik.

When they landed, the four went their separate ways. The man who wished for many possessions had the longest trip home, so the man who wished to live forever gave the canoe to him. "I am going to live forever," he said, "so I can always get another canoe."

As the man who wished for many possessions paddled home, he could not stop thinking of all the things he would have. He said to himself, "It will not hurt to take just a little peek inside the pouch." He stopped in the middle of the river and untied the pouch. He opened it a little bit and peeked inside. As soon as he did, things began to pour out of the pouch. Silver jewelry, moccasins, belts, shirts, and trousers filled his canoe. He tried to close the pouch again, but he could not. More things continued spilling out - blankets, spears, bows, arrows, tomahawks. The canoe began to sink, but still the things spilled out of the little pouch. Cooking pots and canoes and paddles and lodges covered the man and the canoe and dragged him down to the bottom of the river. And there he drowned under a mountain of possessions, more than any man had.

The man who wished to live forever walked along the trail to his village. He thought of how wonderful it would be to live without fear of ever dying. "I am going to live forever," he said to himself, "so why should I be afraid to look into the pouch?" He sat down beside the trail and opened the pouch. As soon as he did, he was transformed into stone. And there he sits beside the trail to this day, a solid gray boulder, never changing, never aging, and never dying.

The man who wished to be taller than any man arrived at the ridge above his home village. He said to himself, "I want everyone to see how tall I am. I want to be taller than any man as I walk into the village on my return from the Island of Gluskabe." He opened the pouch and looked inside. As soon as he did, he was transformed into a pine tree. And there he stands to this day, on the ridge above the village, taller than any man.

The fourth man did not think of himself as he traveled home. He thought of his family and friends in the village and how good it would be to see them. He thought of how wonderful it would be that they would always have enough to eat. When at last he arrived in his village, he went straight to his lodge, sat down on the floor, and opened the pouch. He looked inside. There was nothing there.

He thought about what this might mean. As he did, he began to hear voices outside his lodge. The voices were coming from deep in the forest. He listened carefully, and realized that these were the voices of the Awasok, the Animal Peoples. They were telling him how he had to prepare himself for the hunt, how he must respect the spirits of the animals he would hunt, and they told him about their ways. He continued to listen to the Awasok and to learn their ways. He became the greatest hunter his village had ever known. He never took more game than he needed, but his family and his village always had enough to eat as long as he lived.

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