Legend of the Firewheel
ancient times, even before coyote became famous among
the animals as the "trickster," creatures of
the barren mesas and arroyos of the West respected his
skill and ingenuity. One spring deer mouse and turtle
and jackrabbit lamented that their lands had no bright
colors and their houses were drab and plain. The red and
yellow fire of the sun was beautiful, but too hot to touch.
Even after the rains, the sweet grass only spouted green
and the cholla and prickly pear grew fat, but never bloomed.
Jackrabbit was elected to seek out coyote and ask him
if he would find more color for their barren arroyos and
mesas. Jackrabbit could run fast enough to get away should
coyote decide he was more interested in eating than talking.
The next day jackrabbit found coyote napping under a pinon
tree. He called out, ready to run should coyote become
too alert. But coyote merely opened one eye and told jackrabbit
to come closer. He had eaten a fat fish for breakfast
and would not hunt again until tomorrow. Jackrabbit explained
his mission and how all the animals wished for colors
to brighten their homes. Coyote listened then closed his
eye and resumed his nap. Jackrabbit scampered away hoping
that he had succeeded.
After his nap, as the setting sun blazed fiery and hot,
coyote thought about jackrabbit’s request. He would
find a way to bring bright colors to their desert home.
He would ask the Sun. Now, coyote knew that the Sun would
never willingly give him the bright fire he wanted, for
Sun was cruel and laughed as he baked the desert sand.
So he thought and thought until he had a plan.
Coyote climbed a tall cliff just after Sun had gone to
his home beyond the mountains for the night. Coyote howled
and cried his most mournful cry long into the night, only
stopping to catch his breath. Now Sun had worked hard
all day and wanted to sleep, but coyote’s cry kept
him awake. He shouted to coyote to quiet down, but coyote
continued to howl. Finally, Sun rose from his bed and
crossed the desert and came to the place where coyote
sat and howled.
"Coyote, you must stop your crying so I can sleep
and be ready to travel the earth tomorrow."
"I’m sorry Sun," coyote replied "I
am trapped on this rock and cannot find my way down in
the dark and I am so sad and hungry I cannot help but
cry. Won’t you give me a little of your light to
hold so I can find my way home?"
Now sun wanted to go home and sleep, and so he gave a
little piece of his red and yellow fire to coyote. He
fashioned it so coyote could hold it and not get burned.
"Take this," he said gruffly, "and let
me get some sleep." As soon as Sun departed for his
home beyond the mountains, coyote scampered down the rock
and took his treasure to deer mouse, turtle and jackrabbit.
They worked all night to fashion it into many small pieces.
By morning the desert around their homes was dotted with
the bright red and yellow fire of the sun.
When Sun saw how bright and colorful the land was, he
knew he had been tricked by coyote and was angry and scorched
the already barren land and took back his fire. All the
small creatures cried out and wailed in sorrow at the
parched and blackened land. They called out to the Great
Spirit who lived in the cool forests of the northern mountains.
The Great Spirit heard their sad cries and came to the
barren lands. He called out to the Sun, to deer mouse,
turtle and jackrabbit and to coyote and commanded all
to come before him. Each told his tale in turn.
The Great Spirit pondered all he heard. In the cool of
the evening he made his judgement. To deer mouse, turtle
and jackrabbit he spoke kindly:
"I have neglected my small children of the desert
and your land is indeed empty of color and beauty. I will
set that right. But you took matters into your own hands
and went to coyote with your troubles rather than to me,
so the beauty I grant you will be beauty of the land and
you will not be able to gather that beauty for your homes.
You shall have red rocks and painted sands. The air will
be clear and bright and you will see far and enjoy all
the beauty for many miles. Rainbows and double rainbows
will crown the storms of summer. And the cholla and prickly
pear will bear bright blooms you cannot pick without pain.
This land will be like no other."
With a ferocious frown the Great Spirit turned to Sun.
"You have betrayed my trust, and in your anger, scorched
these already dry lands. Coyote tricked you, not the small
creatures who now suffer your fury. Henceforth, you will
add to the beauty of this land. At the end of each day,
you will light the sky with glorious fire so all will
know your power, but it will not scorch. Instead it will
announce the cool of evening and rouse the creatures of
Lastly, Great Spirit turned a stern face to Coyote. "Oh
mischievous dog, you tricked my brother Sun into giving
you his fire. For such a deed, you will wander all the
dry lands without a home, and your journeys will keep
you lean and hungry, and you will be known by your mournful
cry all your days.
"Since Sun freely gave the power of his fire to you,
Even I cannot take that away. But, I will change it; make
it a firewheel of red and yellow and wherever you travel,
the firewheel will bloom like a blanket across the earth.
This alone of all of the new beauty of your land may the
small creatures collect for their homes. And the firewheel
will remind them of how the land was made right again
and even more beautiful."
As the Great Spirit turned away to the north and began
his journey back to the cool mountains, he suppressed
a small smile at coyote’s cleverness and knew he
would be back.
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"Legend of the Firewheel" © 2000
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