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Maine's Baxter State Park is famous for moose. If you want to see one, the rangers suggest lingering in the vicinity of Sandy Stream Pond. A path leads to a flat boulder called "Big Rock" that commands a view of the water and, beyond the pond, the east face Mount Katahdin. When I perched on the Big Rock early one morning, there was not a moose to be seen, but the mountain had a rosy glow--pink granite warmed by red dawn light. A strip of cloud flirted with Katahdin's summits, embracing Hamlin Peak, but leaving Pamola and Baxter Peaks untouched and jealous. The cloud arm gestured with a cool white hand, as if to tease, while a hopeful moose watcher waited in the fresh light of a new day.
I was not alone. A red squirrel lives near the Big Rock, and he disapproved of my presence. His scolding reminded me of a story--a tale of the Abenaki, who with their allies dominated northern New England when Europeans arrived in North America and for many years thereafter. A hero of
Abenaki mythology is Gluskabe (Gloos-kah´-bee). When the Creator finished making the Earth, he brushed the dust off of his hands, and from that dust Gluskabe shaped himself.
Gluskabe was a figure of power and ingenuity, who took an interest in human beings. When people were first created, he feared that animals might harm them. He called the animals together and pronounced the Abenaki word for human being: "alnabe." The deer and the rabbit fled. Even the wolf retreated. But the red squirrel flew into a rage. It tore limbs from trees, and threw boulders left and right.
At this time squirrels were large, larger than bears, and Gluskabe saw that enormous angry squirrels would cause people plenty of trouble. He spoke quietly to the squirrel, and petted its head. Each time he stroked it, the squirrel became smaller. When Gluskabe stopped petting the squirrel, it was smaller than a rabbit, and although it still had a terrible temper, human beings had no need to fear it.
Gluskabe asked the moose what it would do when it saw a human being. "I will toss him on my horns. I will trample him under my feet."
"No," Gluskabe said. "That is not how it should be." Gluskabe used his powers to soften the attitude of the moose, and in the process bent his nose, and ever since the moose has been a gentle giant, and worn a crooked snout.
Gluskabe was a bit of a puritan. It seems that the Creator had made the sap of maple trees as thick and sweet as maple syrup is today. When Gluskabe went to visit the human beings, he found them lying on their backs in a maple grove drinking sap as it ran from the trees. They were fat, happy, and unambitious, which did not seem fitting to Gluskabe. He put water into the maples until their sap was much less sweet. When the sap had been diluted, people got up and went to work.
These and other stories of Gluskabe can be found in
The Faithful Hunter;
Abenaki Stories told by Joseph Bruchac, published by the Greenfield Review Press.
The squirrel stopped chattering as sunlight brightened Sandy Stream Pond. I heard noise from across the pond; the exact sounds you imagine a moose would make walking through the woods. A big bull stepped out of the forest and posed in the sunlight. At first he faced me, then he entered the pond and displayed his profile. His nose was just as Gluskabe left it.