When the earth was new, her parts were rawer and simpler than they are now. Mountains were huge piles of rock and dirt, and valleys were gaping holes with untamed rivers rushing through on their way to frothing, foaming seas. A strong young wind blew constantly, tearing down the mountains, filling up the valleys, and playing wild games with the waters.
Mountain Man was young then too, and full of strength. When the wind came, tearing up dirt and boulders and hurling them into the valley, Mountain Man patiently gathered them to carry back up the mountain, on his massive, brown shoulders. With his big, gentle hands he lovingly replaced each boulder and small pebble. When the mountain was whole and perfect again, Mountain Man would stand back to admire it, his basalt-black eyes full of joy from his work.
Rain Woman often came to visit. She had the power to wash away half of the mountain, if she wished, but she was very gentle because she loved Mountain Man. She quietly wrapped it in her soft gray cloak of mist, and let her long gray hair drip down to settle the dust and cleanse the rocks.
Rain Woman and Mountain Man had a child. A lovely, little girl who looked like them both.
"She has your water-blue eyes," Mountain Man said, as they watched the child play among the boulders of his cave. "She’s more rain than mountain."
"Yes, she’s like me," Rain Woman answered, "and look, she moves in the smooth flowing water dance. But she has your strong brown body, and she loves this mountain and will not be parted from it."
So the Mountain-Rain child lived with her father, and learned the mountain work. Her mother came as often as she could, and taught her daughter the wisdom of water. When Rain Woman left, the girl would stand for hours on the mountain top, with water eyes full of questions, searching the far horizon for answers.
Mountain Man often quarreled with his neighbor, Valley Man. The two were opposites and could never agree.
"He’s shallow, an empty little man," complained Mountain Man. "His voice is filled with echoes. I’m never sure what he is saying. And his eyes are deceitful – like bogs and quicksand covered with mist."
"You’re burying me," Valley Man would shout at the mountain. "Your clumsy boulders spend more time down here filling up my valley than they do on your mountain side. Soon I will be all filled with a heap of stones and rubble, and I will look like a small copy of you. That’s what you want, isn’t it?"
The two screamed and thundered at each other long and bitterly.
One day Valley Man was especially vicious about a heavy stone that had fallen and buried itself so deeply in the soft valley loam that it could not be moved, not even with the great strength of Mountain Man.
Mountain Man went home to his cave with a dark and heavy rage burning in his heart. He picked up the thunder hammer and hit the wall a blow which shook the mountain to its core. His anger was so strong that he hit the wall again.
The rumble from his rage could be heard a long way off. His daughter grew frightened when the sound reached her ears. With all the swiftness of water rushing downhill she ran home. When she entered the cave, the fear in her heart turned to stone. She sickened at what she saw. A large cavern had been gouged in the wall of their home. Mountain Man stood amid a heap of chips and shards.
The anger drained away from his black eyes, and they filled with sorrow at what he had done. His body lost its strength. His hammer dropped. His knees buckled. He cried bitterly about the destruction to his beautiful mountain. It was terrible to hear – a deep groaning wail, like the wind crying in sorrow and anguish. Your heart would burst to hear it.
The Mountain-Rain child’s heart nearly burst with her own anguish. She climbed up into the cavern, hating its new and raw ugliness, and cried a pool of tears onto the floor.
Rain Woman heard the rumbles and wailings, too. She came from a far country as quick as a cloud could fly, to give comfort to the two she loved most.
But Mountain Man could not be comforted. His eyes were turned inward, searching the darkest part of his heart for the source of his rage.
Rain Woman gathered her child in her arms to wipe the tears of hate and fear from her face.
"There, now," she soothed when she understood her daughter’s pain. "This cavern is just what you need. You come from the water family and you need a pool of water to comfort your body and nourish your mind and heart. I’ll fill this cavern with rain and you can have your own pond in the heart of the mountain."
This she did and the raw cavern was transformed into a dark pond full of sweet clean water. The Mountain-Rain child grew to love this place better than any other part of the mountain and she spent much time playing and swimming there. At times she would dive down and lie on the solid stone floor of the pond, open her ears and listen to the water secrets that fizzed and bubbled around.
Of course, she still loved the mountain and often walked it’s steep slopes, making small repairs for Mountain Man.
One day she came upon a small crack in the side of the mountain where a trickle of water was seeping out. Dirt and pebbles were washed away and the water had worn a narrow pathway down to the foot of the slope.
Dismay clinched at her heart. This water had to be coming from her own pond. It was escaping and washing away the side of the mountain. Quickly she gathered up the loose dirt and pebbles and packed them back into their places. She set a heavy stone over the crack to stop the trickle, but the shell of the mountain was too thin and the heavy stone fell through, leaving a gaping hole through which the water now gushed freely.
Her task was set. Mountain-Rain child labored long and hard repairing the side of the mountain which was being washed away. Mountain Man helped when he could, but he had much work to do on other slopes so she spent most of her time alone.
One day she followed the water course down the mountain side. As she came around a large boulder, her heart leapt in surprise. She found herself face to face with a strange boy. He was startled, too, and they stood for a moment staring at each other.
Then a smile flashed over his nut-brown face, and the strange boy held out his hands.
"Greetings! I’m Seed Planter," he said. "I found this stream at the foot of the mountain and followed it looking for places to plant my seeds."
"Where are you from?" Mountain-Rain child asked.
"Down there," he answered, and jerked his thumb back toward the valley. "I’m the son of Valley Man and River Woman. Some time ago my mother brought me a gift of seeds from a far country. I planted them and they grew into lovely green things. They matured and made their own seeds and I have worked to collect and plant seeds ever since."
Mountain-Rain child looked into his leaf-green eyes and saw that they were filled with joyful promises of abundant harvests.
"This water is sweet and good ," Seed Planter said. "Is it yours?"
She nodded, and led him up the mountain to the hole where water poured out.
"Why, the water springs from this hole as if the mountain were full," Seed Planter cried, amazed. And turning to her, he said, "If this is yours, you must be the Sweet Spring Girl."
And that is how she got her own true name.
Seed Planter scattered many seeds in the damp spots of the mountain side, and Sweet Spring Girl kept them watered. She still worked hard at mountain repair, but she was careful not to trample the young green shoots that appeared when the seeds sprouted and grew. Seed Planter returned every day to tend the plants and together the boy and girl watched a wonderful thing happen.
As the little brown seeds sprouted, they dug long white roots deep into the soil. Some wove themselves into loose dirt, and held it still, in place. Others grew thin, strong fingers around small pebbles, and clamped them firmly to the mountain. The plants were holding the mountain together in perfect repair!
Sweet Spring Girl could now devote her thoughts and energy to her spring and the pond in the cavern. She called Rain Woman to come and fill the pond again. Seed Planter planted more seeds to grow in the new damp soil.
Mountain Man was pleased because his mountain no longer slid down and made Valley Man angry. Valley Man was happy because he no longer felt Mountain Man was threatening to occupy his valley. And so the two made peace.
"He has a good voice," Mountain Man said, and he often called out to Valley Man in his own deep ringing voice, just to hear his friend answer back with a chorus of echoes.
"Mountain Man is a good neighbor," Valley Man said. "I seem deeper because he stands so tall beside me."
Time passed and the Sweet Spring Girl grew into a clear strong woman who brought water to the forest and valley. Seed Planter grew as tall and strong as a young oak. He was as full of promise as an acorn. When the two understood their power they came together and had many children. They were Sweet Berry, Healing Herb, Meadow Grass and Tall Tree, followed in time by Singing Bird, Swift Deer and Black Bear. They have covered the mountain and valley with the noisy green living joy of their children and grandchildren.
That’s the Truth as I’ve heard it from my grandmother, the Sweet Spring Woman. She still lives on the mountain where I live and she answers my questions with the plain and simple wisdom of the Old Times and with the clear and distant vision of a mountain-rain child. She tells me we’ve seen only a small pebble of joy this earth can hold.
Daphne Denny lives in Bradley, CA.