As Foolish as One Who Shoots Arrows at Mosquitoes.
Zachook, with a half amused, half sympathetic smile at my futile
efforts to slaughter a small percentage of the mosquito cloud that
enveloped us, made a smudge of leaves, and I willingly exchanged the
tortures of being eaten alive for those of slow strangulation in the
My remarks had been neither calm nor patient, consisting mainly of
my entire vocabulary of opprobrious adjectives and epithets several
times repeated and diversified, aided by a wide, but wholly inadequate,
range of profanity in the various languages at my command. And, to
digress slightly, I would recommend the study of Arabic and Spanish to
those feeling a similar need; they do not meet all requirements of
forcible expression, but they add some wonderful flights of imagination
to the more practical English expletives.
Zachook was apparently as unimpressed as the mosquitoes, but when I
had recovered some portion of my breath and equanimity, remarked: He
who shoots with his tongue should be careful of his aim.
Choking with anger and smoke I could only splutter in reply, while
Ta-ka is Ta-ka, and Yaeethl is Yaeethl.
What has the Raven to do with these insufferable pests? Has he not
enough to answer for without linking his name with these suckers of
blood? Yaeethl is Yaeethl, but Ta-ka is Ta-ka.
Yaeethl or Ta-ka. The get of the Raven are ravens, and from Yaeethl
comes Ta-ka the Biter.
When the selfishness of men had driven the gods from the earth, the
Great Ones held a council in Tskekowani, a potlach in the World Beyond.
All the gods were there. They talked of the sins of men and of the
punishments that should be visited upon them. Long they talked.
Then Theunghow, Chief of Gods, called each by name, and bade him
name his sending.
And each god named a sickness, a pain, or a killing.
At one side stood Oonah the Death Shadow, and in his hand held his
quiver. And as each punishment was named, into his quiver placed Oonah
an arrow, sharp-pointed, swift-flying, death-carrying.
The quiver was full, and all had spoken, all save Yaeethl the
Raven, who by the cook pot sat smiling, eating.
To Yaeethl spoke K'hoots the Grizzly, saying:
'Dost thou send nothing, Brother? Behold, the Quiver of Death is
full, and from the Raven is there no arrow of punishment for men. What
arrow gives Yaeethl?'
'Why bother me when I am eating? Is there not time after the pot is
empty? Many arrows there are. Because men insult me shall gods spoil my
eating?' Thus spoke the Raven as he scraped the pot.
Then Hckt the Frog urged, saying:
'Art thou a god, or is thy belly a god, that in the council the
Raven takes no part?'
'A god am I, and a god have I been since the Beginning, thou son of
wind and slime. But that my ears may be no longer troubled, a little
punishment will I send, that the sons of men forget me not. No arrow
from Yaeethl shall find place in Oonah's quiver. Arrow and messenger
both will I send. Thy punishments carry the peace of death, mine the
torment of life.'
'And this punishment of thine?' asked Hckt, sneering.
And Yaeethl, as from the pot he cleaned the last morsel, replied:
Of all the punishments named by the gods, the first to reach the
earth was that of Yaeethl,Ta-ka the Mosquito.
To Khandatagoot the Woodpecker, the simple-minded, went Ta-ka, and
from the Woodpecker claimed hospitality. And the rights of a stranger
gave Khandatagoot to Ta-ka, gave him a place by the fire, and of his
food a share, for his head a shelter, treating him as the son of a
sister is treated. Together they fished and hunted, together they ate
and slept. Of the hunting and fishing the chief part was
Khandatagoot's, of the eating and sleeping Ta-ka's, Ta-ka who from
On a morning the Woodpecker fixed his canoe, and alone to the hunt
went the Mosquito.
All day was Ta-ka gone. Low hung the sun when to camp he returned.
Slow flying came the Mosquito, and as blood is red, so was the body of
Ta-ka, and swelled mightily.
Then was the Woodpecker frightened, thinking his friend wounded,
and crying, ran to help him. To the ground sank Ta-ka, but no wound
could Khandatagoot find.
Many questions asked the Woodpecker, and to them Ta-ka replied:
'No hurt have I, but full is my belly, full of the choicest eating
that ever made potlach. Yet much did I leave behind, the feasting of
many months did I leave.'
Then was the belly of Khandatagoot pinched with hunger for this
good eating, and of Ta-ka claimed his share.
On the tongue of the Woodpecker placed Ta-ka a drop, saying: 'No
more can I give of what I have eaten, but as you have shared with me,
so shall I share with you. The fill of many bellies is there left.'
'Where is this sweet eating?' asked Khandatagoot, 'Tell me the
trail that I too may feast until my wings are heavy.'
'No trail is there, Brother. The red juice of a dead tree is this
eating, a dead tree in the forest. It's name I know not, but hunt, and
you shall find it. Go quickly, lest others get there first.'
* * * * *
And since then, said Zachook, throwing another handful of leaves
on the fire, since then the Woodpecker spends his days seeking in dead
trees the red juice that flows in the veins of live men.