Middle Grade Fiction, Short Story Middle Grade

SHORT FICTION: Why the Owl has Very Big Eyes – an Iroquois folktale retold by Leonore Wilson

Raweno was the Maker of Everything. He stopped what he was doing. It had been a long day and he was ready to go to sleep. The last thing he had done was turn Mr Cardinal’s wings as fiery red as a sunset. As he turned to a small, furry critter squatting by his ankles, he felt he was being secretly watched. But who could it be? Mr. Coyote, Mr Wolf, Mr Brown Bear? He would not be afraid, he had told himself. No, he had made them all. So Raweno looked around, even under rocks and in the holes of tree trunks. But he could see nothing. Mr Rabbit, who had lunch with him that day, said, “I always wanted to have long ears to hear better and long legs  to escape the wings of Mr Hawk. Could you help me, Raweno?” Raweno enjoyed the Mr Rabbit’s company as he always shared his lunch of fresh carrots and lettuce and string beans.

“Yes, of course, Mr Rabbit, you may. You are always generous and kind.” And then almost instantly, Mr. Rabbit got his long beautiful ears and quick legs and was delighted. Raweno was pleased with himself,, but then he heard a funny scratchy noise. It got louder and louder and started to sound like a storm rattle or the hiss of the ocean. Could it be Mrs Mouse building a new nest? Raweno turned around. There he saw the big round shiny eyes of Mr. Owl peering at him from Grandmother Oak. He was high up in her black branches. “Oh, you are the one who has been watching me, aren’t you?” Raweno said. He didn’t like being spied on but who does anyway. Raweno was afraid that Mr. Owl might learn all his magic, all his secrets and that all his power might be taken away.

“I know you have been spying on me, Mr Owl!” he said as if he was a very stern father. “Time you learned an important lesson!” He felt he might lose patience with Mr Owl and said, “Don’t you think your noise might get you in trouble both in daytime and nighttime? I am the Maker of Everything, remember. You better watch your behavior, Mr Owl!”

Right then Mr Owl flapped his wings and made a loud noise more than he had ever before. “Raweno,” he said, “Yes, I know you are the Maker of Everything and I think you are magnificent, but I have been watching you and Mr Rabbit. You see I want you to stretch my neck and perform your magic. Give me long ears like Mr Rabbit and I would like beautiful fiery wings like Mr Cardinal. And also, small sharp hunting eyes like Mr Eagle and I can name many more things I want too!”

“No, now stop it Mr Owl or I will call you selfish. You are not grateful as Mr Rabbit. I can see that. You are greedy to want more and more. No, you should be grateful for small things. Mr Rabbit only asked for two things and he asked kindly.”

Raweno then grabbed Mr Owl so hard Mr Owl’s eyes started bugging out. He also pinched Mr Owl’s ears and pulled on them very hard. He pushed Mr Owl’s head back into his body until his little neck practically disappeared. Then Raweno went on all fours like a child and scooped up the wet mud from the ground and splattered it all over Mr Owl’s lovely soft feathers.

“Now see, Mr Owl, because you liked spying on me and because you are greedy, I will make you as I see fit! No, you will not have bright beautiful red feathers like Mr. Cardinal. You will keep mud colored feathers and your children will too. Your ears will be small not at all like Mr Rabbit’s fine ones.  And you will not have small sharp eyes like Mr Eagle. No, your eyes will stay open all night and that will mean you will be very sleepy during the day when I work and most of the critters work too. So now scoot away from me, Mr Owl. I am done with the lessons I taught you!”

So with that Mr Owl flapped off his high perch on Grandmother Oak and over the back of Raweno far into the sky. Mr Rabbit had watched it all and became afraid hearing Raweno’s temper. He hopped fast away and scuttled into his deep burrow to hide! Later during the daytime he hopped about with his new legs, short in front and long in back.  He was so grateful to Raweno, his maker. Mr Owl stayed the way he had for the rest of his days. He had his short neck and big big eyes. He stayed awake at night and often was so lonely. He still could not understand why it was so wrong to spy or to be greedy. In the evening, when he woke up, he listened very hard to the other animals that talked among themselves about all kinds of important things like where to find the freshest food and the coolest water. He wished he was a part of them and could hear what they said, but he could not. The only thing he could do for the rest of his days was to say, “Who? Who?” over and over. And that is why his children and their children that live in the forests are rarely if ever seen.

********

Leonore Wilson

Leonore Wilson is a former college English and creative writing instructor from Northern California. Her work has been in such publications as Quarterly West, Laurel Review, Iowa Review, Five Fingers Review, etc. She helps maintain her 100 year old cattle ranch in the rugged eastern hills of the Napa Valley.

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