Saturday, February 11, 2012

Bridge of the Gods

Sitting down in the cafeteria this morning, I was reminded of a story from the Columbia River Gorge that I used to love, but had forgotten about. Native American mythology has always fascinated me. Unlike Eastern and European mythology where the myths seemed to center on fear, Native stories seems to try and explain events with more of morality tale. The legends of the Columbia River Gorge mountains is one of those examples.

The great chief of all the Gods, Tyhee Saghalie, brought his sons to the Nch'i-wan (big river), giving Pahto the land to the North, and Wy'East the land to the South. Connecting the tribes was a great stone bridge crossing the river, named Tahmahnawis, the bridge allowed the tribes to cross freely and live in harmony with each other. Here, legend vary from various sources. Some say the two tribes became jealous of each others lands and began fighting, and Tyhee Saghalie took their fire from them, or that fire was discovered by Loowit, and old wandering hag. I prefer the fire discovery story.

Once Loowit discovered fire, she brought it to Tyhee Saghalie as a gift. He cooked his food for the first time, and decided it was good, and for her gift, Loowit would be granted a wish. She chose to be beautiful, with long wavy hair and green-gold eyes, so Saghalie made it so. This cause great conflict between the brothers Pahto and Wy'East as they both vied for her affections. Fighting as brothers do, they caused great storms, lightning to strike, avalanches to fall, and the ground to shake. Tahmahnawis, the great stone bridge connecting the tribes across the Nch'i-wan, cracked and fell into the waters, causing the river to rise and a great cascade of water to fall over the remains.

Tyhee Saghalie awoke from his nap in front of his fire and saw the great battle ensuing. To punish his sons for their jealousy, he turned them into the majestic mountains we now see in the Coliumbia River Gorge, Mount Adams (Pahto) and Mt. Hood (Wy'East). Various legends surround Loowit, that she was either turned into another mountain out of sorrow and loneliness, or the Tyhee Saghalie wanted her to watch over the brothers, but she is now known as Mt. St. Helens. Other tribes vary the Loowit legend that she lay down by the victor of the great battle, who knows.

What was the morality lesson to be told? Is it that jealousy will destroy even the most content society? Is it that love can be a powerful, but also dangerous force when you don't consider who you hurt along the way? It can be read many ways, but because I grew up in the Columbia River Gorge in the shadows of Pahto, Wy'East and Loowit, it is a story that will always be close to my heart. I hope to stand atop these beautiful and solemn mountains soon, to see what the Gods of the early people saw, and it will be good.

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