Q. What are some interesting stories or folklore from Alaska? – Coco
A. The one which comes immediately to mind, Coco, is the legend of The Sleeping Lady. We refer to Mt. Susitna as the Sleeping Lady. Mt. Susitna lies directly across Cook Inlet from Anchorage and is readily visible for miles around. The outline of the mountain looks exactly like a lady lying on her back, covered by a blanket. Here is the story, which has been told by word of mouth since the 1930’s.
Long ago in Alaska there lived a race of giant people along the shores of Cook Inlet. The land was warm then and fruit trees of every kind covered the land. Wooly mammoths and saber toothed tigers roamed the forests, but they did not hurt the gentle people who lived there, because peace ruled the land.
A young man named Nekatla and a fair maiden named Susitna were very happy as they were soon to be married. The wedding day was approaching when suddenly a stranger burst into the village and cried out that warriors were coming from the north who would kill their people and burn their homes.
The stranger was asked how he knew? He said that he knew because it had happened in his village,and only he was still alive.
The village elders began discussing what to do and how to fight them. They didn’t even have weapons in their village because they had always been a people of peace. Nekatla and Susitna listened with alarm; then Nekatla had an idea. He stepped forward, and said, “Look, I have an idea. I will not fight these people because we gave up the ways of war long ago. We are a people of peace. Neither will I run away because then they would just kill others. Le’s go forward to meet them, bearing gifts, and when they see we have no weapons, but only gifts, they will see there is no reason to attack us. Who will go with me? Immediately all the men of the village began preparing to go north.
By morning they were ready to leave. Nekatla and Susitna said goodbye on top the hill where they had spent so many happy hours. Nekatla tenderly held her close and whispered, “We’ll be married as soon as I return.” She replied, “I shall wait for your return, right here.” Then she sadly watched as the line of men disappeared into the forested mountains.
Susitna hurried back to the village and gathered up her basket making materials, needles, knife and baskets for gathering seeds and berries. She busied herself upon the hill, awaiting Nekatla’s return. She kept thinking that he would return any moment.
Days and then weeks passed by, slowly, and still Susitna waited. She told herself one day, “I will lie down for just a moment. I am so tired.” She fell fast asleep.
While Susitna slept, word of a terrible battle reached the village by a boy who came running to report that Nekatla’s idea of going in peace with gifts had not worked. Although Nekatla and the others approached in peace with gifts outstretched, the warriors from the north threw spears and set upon them fiercely. Nekatla and many others were killed by the spears of the enemy. The women wept to hear of the fathers, brothers and sons they had lost.
When the women of the village went to wake Susitna they found her sleeping so peacefully they hated to wake her. “Let her rest in peace some more. Why break her heart sooner than we must”, they said. So they wove a blanket of soft grasses and wildflowers and gently laid it across the sleeping Susitna. “May Susitna always dream of her lover”, they said.
That night all warmth and joy left the village. It grew colder and colder. Susitna settled more deeply into sleep. The fruit trees froze and began dying like men in battle. The tears of the villagers gathered into clouds that rose into the air, falling back to earth as Alaska’s first snowfall.
For seven days and nights the snow fell, until Susitna and all her people lay beneath a shimmering blanket of white. Days passed into weeks and weeks into months.Months became years and years became hundreds of years. For a few months each summer, warmth returned to the land allowing birch and willow and spruce to grow. Grizzly bears and moose and other animals came to replace the old animals; and eventually a new race of people, smaller than the first came to stay in this land.
Today, Susitna still sleeps peacefully. You can look across Cook Inlet from Anchorage and see her lying gracefully and peacefully asleep. In the winter she is covered by a lovely blanket of white snow. In the summer, her blanket is soft grasses and wildflowers.
It is said when people of war change their ways, peace will rule the earth. Then Nekatla will return. Then, Susitna, the Sleeping Lady will awaken!
Don’t you like this story? I do. It is a slightly shortened version of the retelling of this folklore, by Ann Dixon, librarian at Willow, Alaska. I will find some more stories and folklore to bring you really soon, so keep watching. -B. Jennings