Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Shaggy dog

I delight in shaggy dog stories.  The shaggier the better, as far as I'm concerned.  That's why, for the last ten years, I have included one such at the end of every monthly newsletter of Brighton Lions Club.  Granted, not all of those stories have really fit the bill as shaggy dogs, but it isn't always easy to find new ones of the right sort of length.  Anyway, I have just discovered another source of suitable material, and here is a sample for you.

Are you sitting comfortably?  Then I'll begin.


During the days when Native Americans were being forcibly and systematically removed from their ancestral lands, a small band of Cherokee had managed to elude the U.S. cavalry by using secret refuges in the Appalachian Mountains.  The only advantages they had were a particularly brutal winter that made navigating the mountains impossible for anyone without an intimate knowledge of them, and the brilliant leadership of their cunning war chief, Black Wolf.

Now Black Wolf was getting on in years, and he had never married or had any offspring.  He knew the time was coming for him to name a successor, and his intended candidate was his nephew: Falling Rocks, so called because of the way he would fall on the enemy with the fury of a rock slide.  However, the other members of the tribe would think that he favoured Falling Rocks due to his kinship, rather than merit.  Some in the tribe would rather he name another brave, Tall Bear, to be the new war chief.  Tall Bear was perhaps the mightiest warrior in the tribe, but he was brash and impulsive - he had no mind for strategy, and won his battles on brute force alone.  Falling Rocks, however, was a tactician and leader.  He knew when to fight, when to flee, and when to try diplomacy.  Black Wolf knew that the future of his tribe depended on more than merely being a skilled warrior.

To reconcile the two sides, Black Wolf announced that the new war chief would be decided by a test, and invited all who were interested to participate.  Seven braves met him atop a rocky peak, just as the spring thaw began to open the mountain routes.

"This is a test to determine who shall be the new war chief," Black Wolf addressed the assembled warriors, "You will walk in the direction of the setting sun, and return.  Whoever travels the farthest shall be my successor.  This test has no end - only you can decide when you have travelled far enough."

The braves pack their belongings and depart the camp that evening, with Tall Bear and Falling Rocks racing to be the first through the pass.  Despite being rivals, there was no animosity between them. They had fought alongside each other many times, and each felt that the other pushed him to his fullest potential.

After a few days, one of the braves returned.  "I saw a great village of the whites, with more people than I ever knew lived on this world.  It was heavily patrolled by soldiers and I felt I could go no further."

A few weeks pass, and another brave returns to the camp.  "I visited vast lakes so large I thought they were part of the ocean, but the water was fresh, not salty.  I encountered a great thunderous waterfall of tremendous power.  At this point, I felt I could go no further."

A month passes, and the third brave makes his way back.  "I saw a mighty river, larger than any I had seen before.  I could find no way to cross its muddy waters, and was forced to turn back."

Another month passes until another brave returns from his quest.  "I made it to vast plains, with no trees in sight.  Mighty horned beasts grazed in herds beyond counting.  Their hooves shook the ground like thunder.  I dared not risk being lost to the anger of these creatures, and had to turn back.

Months pass, and the fifth brave returns to the tribe.  "On my travels I discovered another range of mountains.  Unlike ours, these were sharp and jagged, piercing the sky with their height.  I thought that this must be the backbone of the world, but I could find no way to cross them, and could go no further.

Still, neither Falling Rocks nor Tall Bear had returned, and the tribe had been severely weakened without them.  They could not access their hunting grounds, which were now overrun with whites, and winter was once again threatening to seize the mountains in ice.  The elders of the tribe were pressuring Black Wolf to name his successor now, because they could not survive waiting around for anyone else to return.  Black Wolf held out for as long as he could, every day sitting on the peak where he had issued his challenge, watching the pass for the return of his nephew.  Finally, the rest of the tribe had had enough, and demanded that he name the brave who most recently returned as war chief.  Just then, a lone figure staggered through the mountain pass, wrapped in buffalo skins and holding some sort of strange shell.  It was Tall Bear.

"I walked until I encountered another ocean.  It was similar to ours, but I could tell it was also quite different.  The life that inhabits it was unlike what we catch in our waters.  However, I could find no way to go any further."

Black Wolf knew that he couldn't wait for Falling Rocks any longer, and named Tall Bear the new war chief, but every day he would go to the peak and watch the pass for his nephew.  Eventually the cold winter air struck him with an illness that he knew he would not survive.  Calling Tall Bear and the other braves to him, he told them that he still knew in his heart that Falling Rocks was still alive, and it was his dying wish to have the tribe always keep vigil for when he returns.  Tall Bear and the other braves swore to never stop waiting for their brother in battle.

And that's why, to this day, when travelling in those mountains, you can still see signs that say "Watch for Falling Rocks".


(not necessarily your) Uncle Skip, said...

Why is it, even when I know the last line of the story, I still read all the way to the end?

I suppose it was to see just how shaggy you could make it.

Good job, my friend.

Buck said...

Heh. Falling Rocks must still be out there, because I never saw him in all my travels through the western US.