Zuni Folktales by Frank Hamilton Cushing
Previous Index Next
THE COYOTE AND THE RAVENS WHO RACED THEIR EYES
Long, long ago, in the days of the ancients, there lived in Hómaiakwin, or the Cañon of the Cedars, a Coyote,-doubtless the same one I have told you of as having made friends with the Woodpounder bird. As you know, this cañon in which he lived is below the high eastern cliff of Face Mountain.
This Coyote was out walking one day. On leaving his house he had said that he was going hunting; but,—miserable fellow!—who ever knew a Coyote to catch anything, unless it were a prairie-dog or a wood-rat or a locust or something of the kind? So you may depend upon it he was out walking; that is, wandering around to see what he could see.
He crossed over the valley northward, with his tail dragging along in an indifferent sort of away, until he came to the place on Thunder Mountain called Shoton-pia ("Where the Shell Breastplate Hangs"). He climbed up the foot-hills, and along the terraces at the base of the cliff, and thus happened to get toward the southeastern corner of the mountain. There is a little column of rock with a round top to it standing there, as you know, to this day.
Now, on the top of this standing rock sat two old Ravens, racing their eyes. One of them would
settle himself down on the rock and point with his beak straight off across the valley to some pinnacle in the cliffs of the opposite mesa. Then he would say to his companion, without turning his head at all: "You see that rock yonder? Well, ahem! Standing rock yonder, round you, go ye my eyes and come back." Then he would lower his head, stiffen his neck, squeeze his eyelids, and "Pop!" he would say as his eyes flew out of their sockets, and sailed away toward the rock like two streaks of lightning, reaching which they would go round it, and come back toward the Raven; and as they were coming back, he would swell up his throat and say "Whu-u-u-u-u-u-u,"—whereupon his eyes would slide with a k'othlo! into their sockets again. Then he would turn toward his companion, and swelling up his throat still more, and ducking his head just as if he were trying to vomit his own neck, he would laugh inordinately; and the other would laugh with him, bristling up all the feathers on his body.
Then the other one would settle himself, and say: "Ah, I'll better you! You see that rock away yonder?" Then he would begin to squeeze his eyelids, and thlut! his eyes would fly out of their sockets and away across the mesa and round the rock he bad named; and as they flew back, he would lower himself, and say "Whu-u-u-u-u-u-u," when k'othlo! the eyes would slide into their sockets again. Then, as much amused as ever, the Ravens would laugh at one another again.
Now, the Coyote heard the Ravens humming
their eyes back into their sockets; and the sound they made, as well as the way they laughed so heartily, exceedingly pleased him, so that he stuck his tail up very straight and laughed merely from seeing them laugh. Presently he could contain himself no longer. "Friends," he cried, in a shrieky little voice, "I say, friends, how do you do, and what are you doing?"
The Ravens looked down, and when they saw the Coyote they laughed and punched one another with their wings and cried out to him: "Bless you! Glad to see you come!"
"What is it you are doing?" asked he. "By the daylight of the gods, it is funny, whatever it is!" And he whisked his tail and laughed, as he said this, drawing nearer to the Ravens.
"Why, we are racing our eyes," said the older of the two Ravens. "Didn't you ever see anyone race his eyes before?"
"Good demons, no!" exclaimed the Coyote.
"Race your eyes! How in the world do you race your eyes?"
"Why, this way," said one of the Ravens. And he settled himself down. "Do you see that tall rock yonder? Ahem! Well, tall rock, yonder, —ye my eyes go round it and return to me!" K'othlo! k'othlo! the eyes slipped out of their sockets, and the Raven, holding his head perfectly still, waited, with his upper lids hanging wrinkled on his lower, for the return of the eyes; and as they neared him, he crouched down, swelled up his neck, and exclaimed "Whu-u-u-u-u-u-u." Tsoko!
the eyes flew into their sockets again. Then the Raven turned around and showed his two black bright eyes as good as ever. "There, now! what did I tell you?"
"By the moon!" squeaked the Coyote, and came up nearer still. "How in the world do you do that? It is one of the most wonderful and funny things I ever saw!"
"Well, here, come up close to me," said the Raven, "and I will show you how it is done." Then the other Raven settled himself down; and pop! went his eyes out of their sockets, round a rock still farther away. And as they returned, he exclaimed "Whu-u-u-u-u-u-u," when tsoko! in again they came. And he turned around laughing at the Coyote. "There, now!" said he, "didn't I tell you?
"By the daylight of the gods! I wish I could do that," said the Coyote. "Suppose I try my eyes?"
"Why, yes, if you like, to be sure!" said the Ravens. "Well, now, do you want to try?"
"Humph! I should say I did," replied the Coyote.
"Well, then, settle down right here on this rock," said the Ravens, making way for him, "and hold your head out toward that rock and say: 'Yonder rock, these my eyes go round it and return to me. '"
"I know! I know! I know!" yelled the Coyote. And he settled himself down, and squeezed and groaned to force his eyes out of his sockets, but they would not go. "Goodness!" said the
Coyote, "how can I get my eyes to go out of their sockets?"
"Why, don't you know how?" said the Ravens. "Well, just keep still, and we'll help you; we'll take them out for you."
"All right! all right!" cried the Coyote, unable to repress his impatience. "Quick! quick! here I am, all ready!" And crouching down, he laid his tail straight out, swelled up his neck, and strained with every muscle to force his eyes out of his head. The Ravens picked them out with a dexterous twist of their beaks in no time, and sent them flying off over the valley. The Coyote yelped a little when they came out, but stood his ground manfully, and cringed down his neck and waited for his eyes to come back.
"Let the fool of a beast go without his eyes," said the Ravens. "He was so very anxious to get rid of them, and do something he had no business with; let him go without them!" Whereupon they flew off across the valley, and caught up his eyes and ate them, and flew on, laughing at the predicament in which they had left the Coyote.
Now, thus the Coyote sat there the proper length of time; then he opened his mouth, and said "Whu-u-u-u-u-u-u!" But he waited in vain for his eyes to come back. And "Whu-u-u-u-u-u-u-u-u!" he said again. No use. "Mercy!" exclaimed he, "what can have become of my eyes? Why don't they come back?" After he had waited and "whu-u-u-u-u-d" until he was tired, he concluded that his eyes had got lost, and laid his head on his breast,
woefully thinking of his misfortune. "How in the world shall I hunt up my eyes?" he groaned, as he lifted himself cautiously (for it must be remembered that he stood on a narrow rock), and tried to look all around; but he couldn't see. Then he began to feel with his paws, one after another, to find the way down; and he slipped and fell, so that nearly all the breath was knocked out of his body. When he had recovered, he picked himself up, and felt and felt along, slowly descending, until he got into the valley.
Now, it happened as he felt his way along with his toes that he came to a wet place in the valley, not far below where the spring of Shuntakaiya flows out from the cliffs above. In feeling his way, his foot happened to strike a yellow cranberry, ripe and soft, but very cold, of course. "Ha!" said he, "lucky fellow, I! Here is one of my eyes." So he picked it up and clapped it into one of his empty sockets; then he peered up to the sky, and the light struck through it. "Didn't I tell you so, old fellow? It is one of your eyes, by the souls of your ancestors!" Then he felt around until he found another cranberry. "Ha!" said he, "and this proves it! Here is the other!" And he clapped that into the other empty socket. He didn't seem to see quite as well as he had seen before, but still the cranberries answered the purpose of eyes exceedingly well, and the poor wretch of a Coyote never knew the difference; only it was observed when he returned to his companions in the Cañon of the Cedars that he had yellow eyes instead of
black ones, which everybody knows Coyotes and all other creatures had at first.
Thus it was in the days of the ancients, and hence to this day coyotes have yellow eyes, and are not always quick to see things.
Thus shortens my story.
Next: The Prairie-Dogs And Their Priest, The Burrowing-Owl