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Friday, September 8, 2023

Beecher - Coming and Going - Keeping the Public in Public Domain

Southeastern Michigan has been what I call "the garden spot of the U.S." this year.  We've barely touched the 90s until this past week.  (I recall starting school in St. Louis -- Missouri, not Michigan -- as summer took its last attack on students stuck in classrooms with the original air conditioning . . . open windows!)  Detroit and Pontiac have shortened school days and Southfield has canceled classes while they work on their air conditioning.  A few days using fans is as close as I've come to wanting air conditioning this summer.  Air conditioning always makes adjusting to the real temperatures outside difficult and, after a time, isn't even comfortable.  Obviously the rest of the country has been a whole different story.

Those 90s this week are about to disappear as we return to our 60s and 70s.  That and seeing a flock of Canadian Geese on our lawn gave me hope that autumn in Michigan is indeed about to start.  

Trees turning colors were hopeful signs, but it's reassuring to know a biological clock in a dozen birds says they need to start their long journey to places with different temperatures.

I'm no real lover of winter, but all the talk of Climate Change makes this seasonal activity beyond the control of humans worth noting.

Just two weeks ago I posted a story from The Topaz Story Book by the Skinner sisters.  The long subtitle for that book is "Stories and Legends of Autumn, Hallowe’en, and Thanksgiving", so it's still worth your checking for months to come.  Back on September 29, 2018 I printed the Henry Ward Beecher story of "The Anxious Leaf" also from The Topaz Story Book.  Today I want to give another brief tale of his that migrating Canadian "Honkers" makes me appreciate.  Geese are certainly not songbirds like in this story, but they, too, leave Michigan for warmer weather.


Henry Ward Beecher

There came to our fields a pair of birds that had never built a nest nor seen a winter. How beautiful was everything! The fields were full of flowers, and the grass was growing tall, and the bees were humming everywhere. Then one of the birds began singing, and the other bird said, “Who told you to sing?” And he answered, “The flowers told me, and the bees told me, and the winds and leaves told me, and the blue sky told me, and you told me to sing.” Then his mate answered, “When did I tell you to sing?” And he said, “Every time you brought in tender grass for the nest, and every time your soft wings fluttered off again for hair and feathers to line the nest.” Then his mate said, “What are you singing about?” And he answered, “I am singing about everything and nothing. It is because I am so happy that I sing.”

By and by five little speckled eggs were in the nest, and his mate said, “Is there anything in all the world as pretty as my eggs?” Then they both looked down on some people that were passing by and pitied them because they were not birds.

In a week or two, one day, when the father-bird came home, the mother-bird said, “Oh, what do you think has happened?” “What?” “One of my eggs has been peeping and moving!” Pretty soon another egg moved under her feathers, and then another and another, till five little birds were hatched! Now the father-bird sang louder and louder than ever. The mother-bird, too, wanted to sing, but she had no time, and so she turned her song into work. So hungry were these little birds that it kept both parents busy feeding them. Away each one flew. The moment the little birds heard their wings fluttering among the leaves, five yellow mouths flew open wide, so that nothing could be seen but five yellow mouths!

“Can anybody be happier?” said the father-bird to the mother-bird. “We will live in this tree always, for there is no sorrow here. It is a tree that always bears joy.”

Soon the little birds were big enough to fly, and great was their parents’ joy to see them leave the nest and sit crumpled up upon the branches. There was then a great time! The two old birds talking and chatting to make the young ones go alone! In a little time they had learned to use their wings, and they flew away and away, and found their own food, and built their own nests, and sang their own songs of joy.

Then the old birds sat silent and looked at each other, until the mother-bird said, “Why don’t you sing?” And he answered, “I can’t sing—I can only think and think.” “What are you thinking of?” “I am thinking how everything changes: the leaves are falling off from this tree, and soon there will be no roof over our heads; the flowers are all going; last night there was a frost; almost all the birds are flown away. Something calls me, and I feel as if I would like to fly far away.”

“Let us fly away together!”

Then they rose silently, and, lifting themselves far up in the air, they looked to the north: far away they saw the snow coming. They looked to the south: there they saw flowers and green leaves! All day they flew; and all night they flew and flew, till they found a land where there was no winter—where flowers always blossom, and birds always sing.


Far away that snow is indeed coming.  All too soon I'll be looking forward to it ending, but for now I'll think of this story while hiking with my dog, seeing migrating geese and hearing the last songs of birds. 


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 December 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

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