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Long ago Beaver lived in the northland in a lake where the waters ran cold and deep. Beaver loved this place, and so he decided he would make the lake his permanent home. For weeks he worked to build himself a sturdy lodge.
Raven lived in the northland, too, but Raven was not happy. When he saw how contented Beaver was, he was filled with jealousy. He envied Beaver’s industriousness, for Raven was often lazy. He envied Beaver’s home. And he envied the peace Beaver felt. Raven decided he must make Beaver unhappy, for misery loves company. Raven wanted Beaver to be as unhappy as he.
So one day Raven disguised himself as a poor old man and walked slowly to the shore of Beaver’s lake. When Beaver saw the poor old man, he felt sad. He hated seeing others in pain or discomfort.
“Please, come into my lodge and make yourself at home,” Beaver said to the old man.
Raven, disguised, gladly accepted the invitation.
Beaver treated Raven as an honored guest, and Raven accepted every favor Beaver offered. Raven sent Beaver this way and that, running to fetch wood and fish and whatever else he could imagine. He never said thank you to Beaver for his generosity. Still, Beaver was so content with his own life he did not notice Raven’s laziness or ingratitude. He was happy to share his good fortune.
After his guest had stayed many days, Beaver saw that his food would soon be gone.
“Old man,” Beaver said, “I must go out tomorrow to fetch some food. I may be gone for several days. Please keep the fire burning. Fire is a precious gift and difficult to come by.”
The next day, before dawn, Beaver started on his trek. He waved goodbye to the old man and reminded him again to tend the fire.
Raven never intended to help Beaver. Rather, the moment Beaver was gone, Raven put out the fire, hurried to the water’s edge, and pecked at the shoreline with his strong beak. When he had made an opening, he grabbed the rim of the lake and rolled it up. When the entire lake was gathered into one big bundle, Raven grasped it in his beak and flew away, chuckling at what he had done.
Days later, as Beaver journeyed home, he spied Raven sitting on a cedar branch, holding an enormous bundle in his beak. “What’s that you are holding, Raven?” Beaver asked.
“Your lake,” Raven answered through his clenched beak.
“Oh, please give me back my home,” Beaver begged.
Raven shook his head.
“Please, please,” Beaver begged. “I need my home. I’ll welcome you anytime you wish, if you will only give me back my home.”
Again Raven shook his head.
Beaver wept and wept. He wept so long and so loudly that before long all the forest creatures heard his crying. They ran from their nests and dens to see what troubled their friend.
When the creatures saw what had happened, they decided they must help Beaver. The wolves began to dig at the roots of the tree. The deer stood on their hind legs and nibbled at the bark. The bears began to climb the tree, snarling at Raven, who sat just out of reach. When the bears had nearly reached him, Raven flew away, carrying the lake in his beak.
He flew and flew, but the lake was heavy, and so he stopped at one tree, and then another, resting here and there. All the animals chased after him.
But the bundle was so heavy that at last Raven accidentally tipped it. Some of the water spilled from the bundle. As Raven flew on, more and more water spilled out, and at last the bundle was so light that Raven flew away, never to be seen in those parts again.
As for Beaver’s lake, it was not lost forever. The water that fell from Raven’s beak became two great rivers, and from their banks, many streams spread across the whole land.
Once more Beaver made himself a home in the water, but ever since that time, he has been less trusting of others who seek to share his shelter. When others come near, Beaver runs and hides. He lives only with his own kind, and allows no one to visit him.
by Amy Friedman and Meredith Johnson