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The Hero's Journey

Healing Circles writer Roger Fernandes (University of Washington) is from the Lower Elwah S'Klallam reservation located on the Olympic Peninsula. An educator for 30 years, Fernandes has developed the structural model for our curriculum project which is using Hero's Journey stories to teach people health and wellness. He especially acknowledges elders as that primary source of guidance saying, "It's a very important aspect of the journey."

"You need an elder to guide you - to help you to figure things out. In the story, Elder appears to help you. "And so that's the hero's journey of transformation - of transforming from one person who's alone, confused and wandering into a person who has a place in their culture and has an understanding of who they are."

Story 3 – Coyote and the Tree

Coyote was going there. Coyote was going through the woods when he saw a tree that was moving.

He went closer to investigate and found there was a hole on the tree that would open and close. Open and close.

Coyote said, “That is very strange! A hole in a tree, that opens and closes. I’ve never seen anything like that before!”

He watched it for a while and then thought, “I wonder…if I got inside the tree when the hole opened and then when the hole closed I would be inside the tree, but then it would open again and I could get out. I wonder…”

Coyote decided to do it. When the hole opened he stepped into the tree. The hole closed and he was inside the tree. Just to be safe he said, “Open hole!” And the hole opened and he stepped out.

“That is so cool!” Coyote said. “I like doing that. I’m going to do it again!”

So he waited and when the hole opened he stepped into the tree. Then the hole closed and he was inside the tree. Just to be safe he said, “Open hole!” and the hole opened. He stepped out of tree and said, “That is so much fun! The other animals will be so jealous when they see my new trick! I’m going to do it again!”

When the hole opened he stepped into the tree. The hole closed and he was inside the tree. Just to be safe he called, “Open hole!” And the hole opened again and he got out of the tree.

“This is so much fun, I could do it all day long.” Coyote said. But don’t worry, for he will not get in and out of the tree all day long. That would not make a very good story. He was now going to do something for the fourth time and if you know Native stories you know that the number four is very important. To Native people the number four is a natural number because there are four directions, four seasons, and four stages of life.

So the fourth time the hole opened and Coyote stepped in. The hole closed and he called out, “Open hole!” but the hole didn’t open! He called out again a little louder, “Open hole!” The hole didn’t open. Coyote yelled, “OPEN HOLE!” but the hole didn’t open.

Coyote clawed and scratched and bit at the hole, but the wood of the tree was so hard, he didn’t even leave a little scratch. Coyote looked around and realized, “I’m trapped in this tree! I’m going to be stuck in here FOREVER!”

And he started to cry like a coyote. “Ah-ooooooooh!”

He cried so loud his friends, the Birds heard him crying. They flew to the tree to investigate. They could hear him crying, but they couldn’t see him anywhere.

They called out, “Coyote! Coyote! Where are you?”

He heard them calling and cried out, “Hey! Help me! I’m stuck inside this tree!”

”How did you get stuck inside that tree?” they asked.

“That’s not important now,” he said. “What is important is you have to get me out of this tree!” He thought quickly and then said, “I need one of you with a big beak to come up and pound a hole in this tree so I can get out. I know! Robin, you have a strong beak. You come up and pound a hole in the tree so I can get out!”

Robin flew up. In those days he had a big beak. He started to hammer on the wood of the tree. But the wood of the tree was so hard that Robin’s beak broke! That is why Robin has a small beak today.

“Oh no!” cried Coyote. “That won’t work! I need two birds with big strong beaks working together. Sparrow and Wren! You have big strong beaks! You two work together!”

In those days Sparrow and Wren had big strong beaks. They flew up and started to hammer on the wood of the tree with their beaks. But the wood of that tree was too hard and their beaks broke. That is why Sparrow and Wren have little beaks today.

Coyote said, “I need a bird with a really strong beak who knows how to hammer on the wood of trees. Woodpecker, you have a strong beak. You do it!”

So Woodpecker flew up and with his big strong beak started to hammer a hole into the wood of the tree. And his beak was big enough and strong enough that he started to make a little hole. Coyote peeked out of the little hole with one eye and cried, “You’re doing it, Woodpecker! You’re doing it! Keep hammering so I can get out!”

Woodpecker stopped however and in a nervous voice said, “It’s getting dark, Coyote. I have to go home now before I get in trouble.” And Woodpecker flew away.

“NO!” yelled Coyote. “Don’t leave me, Woodpecker! I don’t want to be stuck in this tree! I don’t want…. Wait a minute! I’m Coyote! I have many powers! I have many gifts! I can get out of this tree through this little hole! Why didn’t I think of this before? All I have to do is tear myself apart, bit by bit, put myself through the hole and then when I’m outside, put myself back together. Why didn’t I think of that before?”

So Coyote started to take himself apart. He pulled off his tail and pushed it through the hole. He pulled off his toes and put them through the hole. He pulled himself apart; his legs, his stomach, his shoulder, his neck, his arms, his ears, his, nose. He tore himself completely apart and put all the parts through the hole.

There he was, laying all in pieces outside the tree. He started to put himself back together. He put back his toes, his feet, his legs, his hips, his stomach. He put back his neck and ears and nose and teeth. He put back everything except his eyes! He couldn’t find his eyes anywhere! He crawled all around the tree looking for his eyes.

“They’ve got to be here somewhere!” he cried. “I remember putting them through the hole! I know that they must be…”

Just then he heard a noise.

“Caww! Caww!” It was Raven. Coyote remembered Raven’s favorite food was… EYEBALLS!

“No, Raven! Don’t take my eyes!” cried Coyote. “Please, I need them! Bring them back to me!”

But Raven just flew away with his dinner.

“Oh, no!” cried Coyote. “I can’t be blind! I have to find something to see with!” He began crawling around the tree feeling for something to see with.

He found two little pebbles. He put those where his eyes used to be. They rolled around his eye sockets like little BB’s, but he couldn’t see anything.

“These don’t work!” he moaned. “I have to find something better!”

Coyote crawled around and found a big bush and on the big bush he found two big fluffy flowers. He plucked the flowers and put them where his eyes used to be. They didn’t work either!

“Coyote began to cry. “Ah-oooooooh! Ah-ooooooh! I’m going to be blind! I’ll never be able to….”

Just then he heard someone laughing.

“Who’s there?!” he called. “Whoever you are, I need your help!”

”Oh, it’s just an old woman out digging roots.” Said and elders voice. “And no, I’m not going to help you! You’re Coyote! You play tricks on people!”

“Oh, please old woman! You must help me!” cried Coyote. “I really need your help! Please…”

”NO!” she said. “You’re the trickster! I’m not going to help you!”

Then she paused. “But, tell me this, Coyote. Why are you crawling around the ground, feeling your way? And why do you have two big fluffy flowers where your eyes should be?”

“Oh, these are very special…flower eyes!” Coyote said. “With these flower eyes, I can see all the invisible spirits as they move around the world. Look! Over there! There’s one in that tree!”

“Invisible spirits? Flower eyes?” the old woman said. “Coyote, where can I get eyes like those?”
”Oh, I’m sorry” said Coyote. “These are the only two in the whole world, and I have them. Look! Over there! There’s another one by the stream!”

The old woman thought a moment and then she said, “Coyote, will you trade something for them?”

”Well, I don’t know” said Coyote. He thought a moment then he said, “Well, you seem like a nice old woman…. I tell you what I’ll do. I will trade these one of a kind flower eyes for…. YOUR EYES!”

“My eyes?!” said the old woman. “I don’t know. That’s a tough trade….”

But Coyote kept yelling, “Look! Over on that hill is another one! Look at that one flying by!”

“O.K., Coyote! I’ll do it!” yelled the old woman. She reached up and pulled out ther eyes and gave them to Coyote. He took out the flower eyes and handed them to her.

He put her eyes into his eye sockets, and they fit! He could see again!

The old woman put the flower eyes where her eyes used to be. She looked around and then cried, “Coyote! These eyes don’t work! You lied to me! You tricked me! Give me my eyes back!”

Coyote said, “Selfish woman! When I asked you to help me you said, ‘NO, I’m not going to help you; you’re Coyote!’ Then you found out I had something you wanted, and then you wanted to be my friend. Then you wanted to trade. For being so selfish you shall be punished! From now on you shall crawl around the ground, feeling your way, looking for your food! From now on, you shall be…. SNAIL!”

And that is where the snail people come from. And Coyote went on his way.

And that is all.