By ALEXANDER DOLITSKY
These two literary fables, “How Swan Found Happiness” and “The Quarrel between Sun and Moon,” are incorporating the style and motifs found in the northern oral narratives. The main purpose of these fables is to explain, to teach, and to exemplify how to behave in society.
Although my literary tales do not provide an authoritative moral code by which to live, they convey a moral directive in imploring readers to examine the extent to which we humans are victims of circumstances versus the extent to which we are the makers of our own destiny.
While written in a traditional style, my tales contain lessons relevant to today’s social and political challenges, such as regional conflicts and territorial disputes, displacement of people from their homelands to foreign lands, adaptation to new social and physical environments, and the search for happiness, faith and peace in the turbulent and ethnically diverse global society in which we now find ourselves. In other words, how we might begin to get along with one another and understand, respect, and tolerate our neighbors’ traditions, beliefs, customs, accents, and rights, while at the same time preserving our own unique ethnic identities and core cultural values.
How Swan Found Happiness
This happened long, long ago, when people lived off the gifts of the land and sea, when winter did not quarrel with summer, and when Rivers of Ice (majestic glaciers) proudly stood in the mountain valleys. In those faraway times, Raven reigned as master of the sky; Wolf prowled deep into the tangled forest; Beaver swam unbothered in the secluded ponds; and Fox hunted freely alongside the flowing brook. All of these creatures lived where they should be living, where their ancestors, after living there many long years, had left them a memorable legacy. They were at home.
Only white Swan was a stranger in this faraway land, struggling to find his natural place. A ferocious wind had blown up from the sea and swept him away from his native flock, carrying him far inland into this strange land. When he tried to rest in a forest meadow, Raven would screech down at him and Wolf would chase after him. If he landed in the middle of the pond, Beaver would threaten him and chase him off, too. When he landed on the river, Fox, fussing about on the bank, would rush toward him, defending her burrow from the foreign white bird.
So, it was that Swan found himself hurrying from one place to another in search of a welcoming, compassionate, cozy home—in search of happiness.
Owl, noticing the lone Swan flying about unable to find his place, spoke to him. “Listen, Swan, you will never find peace on this land that is so strange and foreign to you. You will never find love and happiness here. You should fly away to another place.”
Ruffling his feathers, Swan replied, “And where would I fly to? A wind from the sea carried me here against my will. It took me away from my native flock. Time will pass,” he assured Owl, “and my forest neighbors will become friendly. One day, they will accept me into their world.”
Owl listened attentively, turned his head to the right, then to the left, peered at Swan with huge round eyes, blinked, and said, “Come see me in the spring, when the salmonberries begin to ripen and the red salmon are just about to swim up the river to spawn. If by spring you have found happiness, a new home, and love in this land, I’ll give you my respect. If not, I’ll give you my advice.”
Swan flew away into the cold winter. For months he hid in the forest out of sight of the animals, away from their homes. When spring arrived, he flew back to where he had met Owl and confessed to him, “I’m so tired. I haven’t been able to find happiness, a new home, and the love of others in this land. Tell me what to do! Where should I go? Where should I live?”
Owl pondered for a moment and replied, “To find the happiness you seek, you must overcome your fears. You will be tested three times. Each time you must defeat evil and cowardice with kindness and bravery. Here is my feather. Fly wherever it flies and stop wherever it stops.”
The feather took flight, sailing off toward the setting sun, Swan flying along behind it. How long they flew, who can say? They flew across seven forests. The feather flew ahead, finally alighting in a forest meadow. Landing behind it, Swan caught sight of Wolf sitting still in the meadow. His leg was caught in a trap! Seeing Swan approaching, Wolf growled softly at him, then yelped in pain.
Having no choice, Wolf begged Swan to help him get free from the trap. Swan pricked up his ears, thinking: “He chased me out of the forest. He wanted to rip me to pieces, to shred me. How can I trust him? I will only make myself easy prey for him! But, if I help him, maybe we will become friends, and he will share with me his forest home.” Swan wanted to trust Wolf, but he was afraid. Wolf yelped in pain again. He looked at Swan, his eyes filled with desperation. “I must help him, even if he might try to tear me to shreds,” decided Swan.
Swan approached the howling Wolf. Using all of his strength, he pressed his beak between the trap’s jagged jaws and pried with all of his might, until at last the trap sprung open, freeing Wolf’s leg. Wolf stood up on all fours and limped away. At the forest’s edge, he turned and smiled his thanks to Swan.
Owl’s feather took to the sky again, and Swan followed. They flew across seven lakes. The feather, light as a faded autumn leaf, softly descended onto a lonely, sleepy lake. And so did Swan. Swan’s heart began pounding when he heard Beaver’s tail slapping the water nearby. “Oh, Beaver will attack me and kill me,” frightened Swan whispered to himself, as he paddled quietly to the edge of the lake to hide in the tall grass.
Beaver was building a dam. But spring thaw had brought a flood. No matter how many sticks and branches Beaver put in place, he could not stop the water that poured out of the lake and into the stream. Swan watched as Beaver swam back and forth with branches, crawling along more and more slowly with each trip as he ran out of energy; he could not do it by himself. Swan knew if Beaver did not get his dam built, he would never survive the cold winter.
So, Swan said to Beaver, “I can help you build the dam. I can bring you many twigs and branches, and together we will stop up this stream. And for my help, maybe you’ll allow me to live on this lake.”
In response, Beaver turned his back and set off to weave some branches into the dam. “Well,” contemplated Beaver to himself, “I can’t do this by myself. I need help. The lake is big, enough for two.” Turning back to Swan, Beaver indignantly muttered, “Fine, help me. And you can live here, too. But only at the other end of the lake.” Beaver then sank into the water and continued his work.
Swan brought many twigs and branches. Working together, Beaver and Swan built a dam so strong no flowing stream could penetrate it. Swan watched as Beaver used his last ounce of energy to dive down and crawl into the safety of his dam.
The feather flitted off over Swan’s head, again floating in the direction of the sunset. Swan took flight behind it. They flew across seven rivers. The feather landed on the bank of a tumbling brook, with Swan landing beside it, not far from Fox’s den. Spotting Swan, Fox, fearing for her kits, began to fuss. She tried to fool Swan, walking slowly away in hopes of enticing the white bird away from the den.
“Don’t be afraid of me,” pleaded Swan. “I have landed here in search of happiness, and not to get your kits. I’ll be a kind and true neighbor; I’ll protect your den.”
Swan turned to Fox for an answer, but Fox squinted her eyes and looked back at Swan in puzzlement. “Protect us?” she wondered. “That strange white bird could be trying to trick me. But, then, he does seem to be sincere.”
“I’ll warn you of danger from the sky and bravely defend your home and your kits,” continued Swan.
“Swan would be able to see everything from up in the sky,” considered Fox. “Indeed, he could be a very helpful neighbor and is too proud and trustworthy for deceit.”
“All right, I’ll share this place with you, but right now I need to go hunting,” she said, running off into the woods.
“What’s that?” Swan puzzled. Suddenly he found himself standing right at the very place Owl’s feather had first flown from in search of happiness. All around him, on the lakes and ponds, water lilies burned fire red, birds sang… And directly in front of him stood a female Swan of unusual beauty. He had never seen such a graceful swan in all his life. Behind the female Swan sat Owl, looking at him with frank admiration.
“In following the feather, you feared nothing; you listened to your heart, not your fears,” said Owl. “You withstood all tests and challenges. You defeated evil with good deeds. By offering help, you gained friendship; and by your courage, you acquired freedom. Thus, you have found happiness, love, and your home.
”The two swans thanked Owl for his wisdom and good words. They spread their wings wide, and together flew into the unbounded blue sky, over the forests, lakes, and rivers—their new place.
So, the two swans became mates. They loved each other and lived happily in their new home for many, many years.
The Quarrel between Sun and Moon
So, it was. One time, Sun and Moon got into a quarrel about who was more important and who should be the master of Earth.
Said Sun to Moon: “When I rise, every living thing on Earth rises with me—the people, animals, forests, and fields. I bring them warmth and light. Every living thing originates from me and every living creature depends on me. Without me, there would be no life.”
Moon replied, “And when you disappear beyond the horizon, I come to replace you. I bring quiet and comfort to all. The oceans and seas are attracted to me with their incoming and outgoing tides. I reveal the stars in the heavens. At night, I become a beacon for all living creatures, a compass for people and animals. Without me, there would be no life.”
Sun and Moon argued endlessly on and on, neither able to convince the other who was more important and who deserved to rule Earth. They were so stubborn, they could hear only their own voices; neither could hear the other’s reasons.
Finally, growing tired of arguing, they agreed to ask Day and Night to decide which of them was more important.
“Day—tell us. Which of us is more important? Who has the right to be the master of Earth? Sun or Moon? You decide!”
Lit up in bright, iridescent colors, Day, drawing from his own brilliant insight, pondered the questions and replied, “From sunrise to sunset, I see Sun; I encounter only him. He brings light, warmth, joy, and energy to all. Yes, yes, sometimes he does also bring misfortune—drought, harsh heat, fires . . . But without Sun, I would not have a place on Earth! Yes, Sun is more important. Sun should be the master of Earth!”
Sun smiled at Day with gratitude, glowing yet brighter from a thrilling pride. “Yes, I am more important,” he muttered to himself giddily.
Sun and Moon then turned to Night.
“Night—tell us. Which of us is more important? Who has the right to be the master of Earth? You be the judge!”
Night grew dark, then even darker—pitch dark, becoming quiet, like a dove. Then said Night in a soft voice, “From sunset to dawn, I see only Moon. I live alone with Moon and all of the stars. Moon brings serenity, rest, and mystery, and, after sunset, she lights the Earth. Yes, sometimes her tides are too high. And sometimes she disappears, leaving the world in darkness.”
Night’s voice was so quiet and calm, Sun, Moon, and Day had to lean in to hear it. “But without Moon,” continued Night, “I could not exist! She is my partner and my neighbor. Moon is worthier. Moon should rule Earth!”
Shining bright and full, Moon glanced at Night gratefully; and with a newfound confidence Moon whispered under her breath, “Yes, sometimes a whisper speaks louder than a shout. All in all, I am more important!”
Thus, Sun and Moon failed to resolve their argument. They did not know whom to ask or where else to turn for advice.
Hovering silently nearby, Wind, hearing the quarrel of Sun and Moon, grew exasperated by their pride and arrogance. Suddenly blowing in from all directions, Wind addressed Sun and Moon in a loud voice, “I exist in all regions. I travel everywhere. I gather clouds that neither of you can penetrate, devastating Earth at will with hurricanes, storms, and tornadoes. When I come with my frost, I freeze the entire land. I cover the rivers and lakes with ice. And when I arrive with snow, I cover all of the land with it. I hide everything under the snow. But I also bring cool, drying breezes and caress all living creatures.
“I watch over you from all remote corners of Earth during both day and night. I scatter clouds to reveal your beauty and power. If not for me, you would remain hidden behind the clouds forever. Indeed, without any one of the three of us, there would be no life on Earth.
“Who of you is more important, you ask? I’ll tell you,” Wind resumed. “To me, everything is equal and everyone is important. But it is the one who lives in peace, the one who appreciates others and treats them with kindness, and who endeavors to make life better for everyone—that one is worthiest!”
Embarrassed, Sun and Moon lowered their heads. Memories of their long debate now filled them with shame. “So, how should we settle our argument? How can we once again find peace between us? Doesn’t someone have to be the master of Earth?” they asked Wind sheepishly.
Wind stepped back and drew a deep breath. Puffing up his powerful cheeks, his huge round eyes of an ox wide and bulging, he looked at Sun and Moon with a penetrating stare.
“You agree between yourselves,” he spoke. “Day is for Sun. And Night is for Moon.”
Sun and Moon lowered their eyes; they stood silent and still.
“You are both important and worthy,” continued Wind. “Each of you is the master of your own realm. Live in this world in peace—for yourselves and for others!”
And that’s all.
Alexander B. Dolitsky was born and raised in Kiev in the former Soviet Union. He received an M.A. in history from Kiev Pedagogical Institute, Ukraine, in 1976; an M.A. in anthropology and archaeology from Brown University in 1983; and was enroled in the Ph.D. program in Anthropology at Bryn Mawr College from 1983 to 1985, where he was also a lecturer in the Russian Center. In the U.S.S.R., he was a social studies teacher for three years, and an archaeologist for five years for the Ukranian Academy of Sciences. In 1978, he settled in the United States. Dolitsky visited Alaska for the first time in 1981, while conducting field research for graduate school at Brown. He lived first in Sitka in 1985 and then settled in Juneau in 1986. From 1985 to 1987, he was a U.S. Forest Service archaeologist and social scientist. He was an Adjunct Assistant Professor of Russian Studies at the University of Alaska Southeast from 1985 to 1999; Social Studies Instructor at the Alyeska Central School, Alaska Department of Education from 1988 to 2006; and has been the Director of the Alaska-Siberia Research Center (see www.aksrc.homestead.com) from 1990 to present. He has conducted about 30 field studies in various areas of the former Soviet Union (including Siberia), Central Asia, South America, Eastern Europe and the United States (including Alaska). Dolitsky has been a lecturer on the World Discoverer, Spirit of Oceanus, andClipper Odyssey vessels in the Arctic and sub-Arctic regions. He was the Project Manager for the WWII Alaska-Siberia Lend Lease Memorial, which was erected in Fairbanks in 2006. He has published extensively in the fields of anthropology, history, archaeology, and ethnography. His more recent publications include Fairy Tales and Myths of the Bering Strait Chukchi, Ancient Tales of Kamchatka; Tales and Legends of the Yupik Eskimos of Siberia; Old Russia in Modern America: Russian Old Believers in Alaska; Allies in Wartime: The Alaska-Siberia Airway During WWII; Spirit of the Siberian Tiger: Folktales of the Russian Far East; Living Wisdom of the Far North: Tales and Legends from Chukotka and Alaska; Pipeline to Russia; The Alaska-Siberia Air Route in WWII; and Old Russia in Modern America: Living Traditions of the Russian Old Believers; Ancient Tales of Chukotka, and Ancient Tales of Kamchatka.