It was in the blue green light that radiated from the grass-covered hills, and through the early morning spring fog that hovers above Nazan Bay that I saw her. I was seventeen at that time, and each morning while it was still dark I would find the same spot to sit and watch the Bay grow light with the sky. Soon, the lonely village of Atka would be awake, and by noon the emerald coast would be alive with laughing children and their patient fathers teaching them how to fish.
The previous night I had experienced a strange dream; one of those that is clear and real as day, yet is forgotten the instant my eyes were awake. As I sat there that morning on the soft, thick grass, I tried to conjure up the memory of my dream; unexpectedly, behind my closed eyes I was a child of six again, snuggled deep beneath the covers in my bed, listening to my mother’s bedtime story.
“Do you remember Raven, Tuuluuwaq?” She would begin. “Of course, Aga!” I would laugh. She had told me countless tales of Raven, the bird-man-god who made the world. He was also a man who wore the feathers and beak of a raven. Some of the stories she told me were from old Eskimo legends passed down through generations, some she had come up with herself. She was very good at this. My favorite of all Raven’s stories was the one in which he was riding his kayak out to sea to explore, because even though he made the world, he had not seen it all……..
“He came upon a great whale, and he decided he was curious to see what it looked like inside the whale..
“He waited for the whale to yawn, and he just rowed his kayak right inside. It was very dark, and he could see the whale’s great ribs…..”
Mother would go into great detail as she described the inside of the whale, until it seemed she must have seen it for herself.
“ There, in the center of the whale, Raven saw a beautiful young girl with strings attaching her hands and feet to the whale. She was dancing; Raven fell in love with her, and he took off his bird beak and feathers so she could see his human face, and asked her to come with him and marry him. She said she could not leave, because she was the whale’s heart and soul; if she left, the whale would die.”
I opened my eyes and searched the Bay, remembering my Aga’s words and wondering just why they were on my mind.
Then I realized what my dream had been.
I was Raven, rowing my kayak into the whale’s yawn, falling in love with the dancing girl.
I had not had such a dream since I was child, when I would close my eyes in sleep and live the stories that lulled me there. Of all the legends I would dream of, the one with the dancing girl in the whale was the most profound and recurrent, although they stopped coming when I got too old for bedtime stories. I wondered why this one had returned to me.
I closed my eyes again and thought back. My childhood dreams had always been fuzzy. The only details I remembered clearly upon waking were the girl’s long black hair, and that her eyes shined with something I could not yet understand. Sometimes I realized I was dreaming, and the girl would evaporate, leaving me alone inside the whale, which became my room in which I woke to find myself.
This recent one was different, though. The whale, my raven feathers, and the girl had all been real. The girl had a face that was never there in my early dreams. Her cheeks were full and round, and they shined like obsidian. She was the most beautiful girl I had ever seen. “Anana”, my Aga had described her. “Beautiful.”
Once again I opened my eyes, and as my mother’s voice continued in my head, that was when I saw the girl. About a hundred yards away, along the same coast as I, she stood against the wind. She stared out at the misted waters of Nazan Bay. At first I could only make out the outline of her soft form through the shifting veils of fog, but then she began to slowly walk towards me, keeping her eyes on the Bay. My heart leapt at her face. Perhaps the strength of my gaze must have pulled her, because she began to peer through the mist, searching until our eyes met for a moment. I recognized her as the girl who lived at the other end of our tiny village, and also, to my alarm, as the girl from my dream. Perhaps it was the wind and fog mixed with my imagination, but I thought she was dancing.
“How did she dance, Aga?” My young voice asked.
“She danced like a morning glory in the fresh spring wind, and when the whale moved fast, she would leap and jump, and when the whale slept, she would dance very slowly. Eventually, she became so slow that she stopped, closed her eyes and was still.
Raven looked at her, so lovely asleep, that he forgot all about what she said, and he put on his bird feathers and beak and picked her up. As he carried her off outside the whale, he could hear the strings break. At first, too happy to care, he soared above the clouds with the sleeping girl. But then he looked down and saw the whale dying and washing ashore. To his dismay, the girl grew smaller and smaller until she disappeared altogether.”
My eyes filled with tears at the memory of my childish sorrow for Raven, and I was glad that the girl looked away and seemed to forget about me. I felt a momentary urge to run to her and talk to her, learn her name and maybe even tell her about my dream, but somehow I knew in my heart that we would meet again very soon; so I let her disappear into the fog.
“Raven was so sorrowful that he circled in the sky and landed by the whale, and he cried for weeks. His tears were the first ever cried. After that he got up and danced. He danced for weeks, and then he began to sing, and he sang for weeks until he had soothed his heart. This was the first song and first dance. He took off into the sky, and he told all the humans and all the animals to love each other always and care for each other, and never forget that all things have a heart and a soul, and nothing can live without them. He promised to always come back to the earth as long as they did these things.”
“Is that the end?” I heard my boyish voice in my head, as though echoing from years ago. “Is that the end?” I looked down, as my own daughter’s voice was really the echo, and brushed her rosy cheek to remind myself she was real. “Yes, Buniq, that is the end of that story, but Raven has many more.” She looked up at me with those black eyes, now weary with sleep. “So what happened to the girl? Did you see her again?” I laughed with the husky voice that has deepened long since my days of sitting by Nazan Bay as a boy. “Yes, I did see her again. Her name is Kirima, which means, “a hill”, just like the hills that surround Nazan Bay. She is your mother.” It took a moment for her heart-shaped face to light up with surprised understanding. For a rare moment she had no words to say, and I took the opportunity to pull the covers up to her chin and dim the lantern by her bed. She would have her own stories to tell one day.
“Please, just one more? A really, really short one?” She was looking at me with her mother’s eyes in the dark. I gave in and sat back down. “Well,” I said, “there is one more. It is the story of my name.
“My Aga taught me that it was believed that the name of an ancestor contained the ancestor’s soul, and when a baby was given that name, the soul of the ancestor went into the baby. When she told me this, I asked her where I got my name. She said it was not the name of any of our ancestors, but it was very special. “Tuuluuwaq,” she said, “is in Inuit word. It means many different things.” I pause for drama just like my mother had. “Well, what does it mean?” my daughter asked just like I had. I smiled. “It means, “fierce, intelligent, fearless, and—what my mother and I liked most of all—it means raven.”