"Kiss the Sky"

a tale from the Oregon coast

Shada bailed water from the dugout's belly. She heard each hurried thrust of her father's paddle in the stern. By pale moonlight she saw the scowls of scorn on the faces of her two older brothers, seated amidships, also plying paddles but with less fervor.

Her mother sat in the bow -- a black silhouette against the low moon -- with baby brother in her lap, young sister huddled at her knee.

"Thunderbird came to me," her father had said when he shook them all awake. "Thunderbird said take everyone, flee far out to sea."

"In the deeps of night?" grumbled one brother.

"In the deeps of winter?" complained the other.

"What about Devourer-Whale?" their mother asked, her voice tight as she scurried about the hut, gathering food, waterskins, blankets.

Little sister piped up, "Devourer-Whale dwells in the sea."

"Because of Devourer-Whale," their father had said. "Thunderbird brings an end to his terror, but to find safety we must seek danger. We must speed toward the mouth of Devourer-Whale."

So they had run into the night, down the short stretch from village to shore. None of their neighbors would listen. All scoffed and went back to bed.

Now Shada bailed and bailed. Soon the quarter moon settled to the horizon, signaling middle of night.

Stars winked overhead. Something spread vast wings across the heavens.

Shada stared upward as she bailed. Three paddles held still. Breaths held still. The moon held still on the world's watery edge.

The shadow plunged, growing larger and larger as if a winged mountain fell from the sky. It knifed into the sea far away.

The sea came to life. It rose to kiss the sky, and the dugout rose with it. Everyone shrieked and clung to the canoe edges.

The sea dropped like a stone off a cliff. The dugout slid down the steep churning flanks, then rose a new heave. It spun and bobbed like a leaf in the pool below a waterfall, taking on water. Shada bailed and bailed while everyone else, moaning, fastened like limpets to the rim of the careening canoe.

The little vessel rode huge swells, sluiced down their flanks, wallowed in the troughs before rising again. The moon slipped below the horizon. The stars brightened their fires.

The sea settled at last. Shada's father looked east.

The wintertime come-home star beckoned. Father nodded. He turned the dugout and began paddling for home.

By dawn's first light he recognized the bones of the mountains on the horizon. He pointed out the landmarks to his sons, for soon they would be men. Men who go whaling must know their way back. They swerved their course toward the village.

There was no village. The undersea battle between Thunderbird and Devourer-Whale had scraped clean the beaches and foothills.

The canoe grounded on a new sandbar. They waded ashore. Shada followed her family up the beach.

"Everyone, gone," her brothers said, gazing around in horror.

"Not everyone." Father gathered his family and sang thanks to Thunderbird, who had rid the world of Devourer-Whale. And to Shada, who never stopped bailing.

A retelling of a legend from the Tillamook, one of the Coast Salish tribes living on the Oregon coast.

This tale may have stemmed from the massive earthquake (on the Cascadia fault) that struck off the coast on January 26, 1700, sending a destructive tsunami across the Pacific to devastate coastal villages in Japan. On the Oregon coast, the wave could have risen as high as 100 feet.

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