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Friday, March 3, 2023

Good and Bad Weather - Riggs - Keeping the Public in Public Domain

As a northern peninsula, Michigan manages to have many weeks where there can be two seasons in it and even a day with two seasons.  The weather has been so awful in the rest of the country, that we've grown accustomed to this winter seeming balmy and almost over.  Yeahrightsure.  As I started to write this, the weather began with another "wintry mix", but fortunately not another ice storm.  The two storms this past week and a half coated everything with ice that was beautiful, but caused too many to lose power.  On Wednesday after that wintry mix we got to 50 degrees (don't ask me the celsius, please!) before plunging back on Friday into winter for accumulating snow.  Then came a major snow storm to our "bunny slope " of a hill that even our snow plow can't handle, preventing a storytelling trip to Jackson.  I've been on the other end of telling an audience a performer had to cancel.  I wouldn't do it if there was any way to prevent it.  UPDATE: Early morning call said they closed, too.

Other than coping with ice, this winter hasn't been too bad, but the Michigan March forecast has been for "normal" temperatures with "above normal" precipitation (a.k.a. winter's not finished with us yet even if I do see some crazy Michiganders in shorts!)

All this sent me looking for stories about the fickleness of weather.  The most northern state of Alaska has one I like.  Doctor Daniel Neuman was an amateur collector of both Alaskan artifacts and Native stories, making him a founding father of the Alaska State Museum.  His own story, complete with his father moving the family from Russia before the Revolution, is interesting enough, but he also came at a time when ethnography was catching the world's attention.  Those stories might have sat in a dusty collection except for Renée Coudert Riggs, who rewrote the stories for children.  While there may be some simplification, it does lend itself to storytelling.  In her introduction to Animal Stories from Eskimo Land (with the subtitle crediting Dr. Neuman) she explains:

It was Dr. Neuman who painstakingly made the splendid and unequaled collection of Eskimo antiquities and modern implements now on exhibit in the territorial museum at Juneau. The acquiring of this collection for the Territory was one of my husband’s last official acts as governor.

Every story in the anthology except this one has at least an introductory illustration by  George W. Hood and sometimes a second within the story.  Perhaps because this tale is so brief the illustration may have been omitted, but there are three in the book I think fit the problem facing the two boys.

Nowadays the use of the term Eskimo is controversial as it refers to both the Inuit and Yupik peoples and many consider it "of a disputed etymology, to be unacceptable and even pejorative."  Unfortunately the anthology doesn't mention either Inuit or Yupik, but the story would certainly fit both . . . as well as the rest of us in a time of changeable weather.  The Wikipedia article linked at the start of this paragraph goes on to say "Eskimo continues to be used within a historical, linguistic, archaeological, and cultural context."

So whether you are talking about the weather historically, linguistically, archaeologically, or culturally, this story uses Eskimo as stories, like the weather, blow from one place to another. 


Long ago, on the shores of the Arctic Ocean, two Eskimo boys were walking from their own home to a far-away village. While they were going along, a terrible storm overtook them and they had to hold each other by the hand to keep from falling. Pretty soon the wind rose so high, and the snow fell so fast, they felt they could go no farther. In despair, they clung to each other, blinded by the snow, when a tremendous gust of wind suddenly caught them, and blew them against the side of a little snow house. How glad they were to find shelter!

Inside the house was an old woman, living all alone. She was very kind and invited them to sit down and rest; then she gave them something to eat, and told them that she was going out.

“Do not look after me to see what I am doing,” said she, “or you will be sorry.”

She put on her parka and mukluks, and took her stone skin scraper in her hand and went out the door.

The Eskimo women have a scraper which they use to scrape the flesh, or meat, from the skin of the animals they prepare for clothing. This scraper is somewhat the shape of a carpenter’s plane. The blade is made of a sharp piece of stone. That was the kind of thing the old woman took out with her.

The boys were devoured with curiosity, and after she had gone the oldest one said, “Let us go out and look at her.” But the younger boy whispered, “No, no.” He was afraid; but his brother was determined to see what that old woman was doing out there with her knife, so he persuaded the little one to creep softly to the door with him, and peek out.

Where do you think the old woman was? And what do you think she was doing? Way up in the sky she sat, scraping away at the clouds. She had already scraped off half the clouds, and where she had scraped, the sky was as blue, as blue as could be, but the other half was still covered with thick black clouds.

When she saw the two boys peeping at her, she let go of the sky and fell down. As she came into the house, the boys were sitting on the floor, just as she had left them, hoping she had not really seen them looking at her.

“You rascals! You bad boys!” she cried. “You did just what I told you not to do. If you had not looked out at me, and made me fall off, I would have cleaned all the clouds away, and we should never have had any more storms. But alas! I cannot go up there again, and now we shall have both clear and cloudy weather.”

Ever since then it has been sometimes clear and sometimes stormy, because the old woman had only had time to clean off one-half of the sky.


I guess, like the old woman left it, we still must scrape away the snow and ice a bit longer.  Darn those boys!


This is part of a series of postings of stories under the category, "Keeping the Public in Public Domain."  The idea behind Public Domain was to preserve our cultural heritage after the authors and their immediate heirs were compensated.  I feel strongly current copyright law delays this intent on works of the 20th century.  My own library of folklore includes so many books within the Public Domain I decided to share stories from them.  I hope you enjoy discovering new stories.  

At the same time, my own involvement in storytelling regularly creates projects requiring research as part of my sharing stories with an audience.  Whenever that research needs to be shown here, the publishing of Public Domain stories will not occur that week.  This is a return to my regular posting of a research project here.  (Don't worry, this isn't dry research, my research is always geared towards future storytelling to an audience.)  Response has convinced me that "Keeping the Public in Public Domain" should continue along with my other postings as often as I can manage it.

Other Public Domain story resources I recommend-

  • There are many online resources for Public Domain stories, maybe none for folklore is as ambitious as fellow storyteller, Yoel Perez's database, Yashpeh, the International Folktales Collection.  I have long recommended it and continue to do so.  He has loaded Stith Thompson's Motif Index into his server as a database so you can search the whole 6 volumes for whatever word or expression you like by pressing one key.

  • You may have noticed I'm no longer certain Dr. Perez has the largest database, although his offering the Motif Index certainly qualifies for those of us seeking specific types of stories.  There's another site, FairyTalez claiming to be the largest, with "over 2000 fairy tales, folktales, and fables" and they are "fully optimized for phones, tablets, and PCs", free and presented without ads.
    Between those two sites, there is much for story-lovers, but as they say in infomercials, "Wait, there's more!"

The email list for storytellers, Storytell, discussed Online Story Sources and came up with these additional suggestions:        

         - David K. Brown -

         - Richard Martin -

         - Spirit of Trees -

         - Story-Lovers - is now only accessible through the Wayback Machine, described below, but the late Jackie Baldwin's wonderful site lives on there, fully searchable manually (the Google search doesn't work), at .  It's not easy, but go to snapshot for October 22 2016  and you can click on SOS: Searching Out Stories to scroll down through the many story topics and click on the story topic that interests you.

       - World of Tales - 

           - Zalka Csenge Virag - doesn't give the actual stories, but her recommendations, working her way through each country on a continent, give excellent ideas for finding new books and stories to love and tell.

You're going to find many of the links on these sites have gone down, BUT go to the Internet Archive Wayback Machine to find some of these old links.  Tim's site, for example, is so huge probably updating it would be a full-time job.  In the case of Story-Lovers, it's great that Jackie Baldwin set it up to stay online as long as it did after she could no longer maintain it.  Possibly searches maintained it.  Unfortunately Storytell list member, Papa Joe is on both Tim Sheppard's site and Story-Lovers, but he no longer maintains his old Papa Joe's Traveling Storytelling Show website and his Library (something you want to see!) is now only on the Wayback Machine.  It took some patience working back through claims of snapshots but finally in December of 2006 it appears!

    Somebody as of this writing whose stories can still be found by his website is the late Chuck Larkin -  I prefer to list these sites by their complete address so they can be found by the Wayback Machine, a.k.a., when that becomes the only way to find them.

You can see why I recommend these to you. 

Have fun discovering even more stories

1 comment:

PapaJoe Gaudet said...

Enjoyed as always and the timing perfect, LoiS