Ice Mountain is a folktale that is traditionally told by female shamans in the Amur region of Siberia. We chose this tale in part for its emphasize on hide tanning and embroidery, and because it is centered around not only being seen and valued for your own unique gifts, but also having confidence in yourself even when your gifts aren’t readily apparent to others. In the original story Beleye, the protagonist, climbs Ice Mountain in order to marry the wind. We wanted to keep with the theme of self confidence but didn’t want to have a story that involved a female seeking a males approval or validation, or a story that concluded with a girl getting married and living happily ever after. In our version of the story, Beleye goes to coyote to further her skills but realizes that she might have more to teach coyote then he has to offer her.
The following rendering is from The Flying Tiger by Kira Van Deusen.
One beautiful morning in late summer, a group of young women from the village on the edge of the world, all the way down there by the sea, set off into the mountains to gather blaeberries. One of them, day dreaming and enjoying the sun on her shoulders, strayed away from the rest, climbing higher and higher in search of larger and finer berries. But then suddenly the air grew chilly, and she looked up, shivering, only to see a wall of mist rolling down the slopes of the mountain towards her.
Startled out of her reverie she realized that she was alone, and at once turned to retrace her steps and to find her friends—but the mist whirled around her, and in no time at all she became lost. Slowly and cautiously she moved on through the mist, only understanding that she was going in the wrong direction when the heather through which she had originally climbed gave way to rock. She stood still, frightened now, afraid to move for fear of stepping over a cliff edge, or falling into the deep cut of a mountain burn.
And then she heard footsteps behind her. She whirled around, peering into the mist, and saw a band of huge ghostly forms moving towards her. Fearful, she would have stepped back—but a sudden small breeze shifted the fog for a moment, and she saw that the visitors were deer. Most of them were hinds, with calves at foot. They didn’t seem afraid of her and so she decided to join them, thinking that they at least would know where they were going, and might even lead her to safety. The deer moved slowly through the mist, grazing here and there, and so it was easy for the girl to keep up with them. A few steps at a time, they led her high up into the dark Cuillins, where eventually she found herself standing beside them at an opening of a cave.
Thinking to wait there in safety until the mist dissolved, the girl entered the cave. But the cave was inhabited; inside she found an old man and an old woman, each seated upon a wooden stool, gazing into a dark rock pool in the caves floor. The old woman turned to the girl and courteously asked her how she had come to be there; the girl told her tale and begged shelter for the night or until the mist would clear. ‘shelter for one night we cannot give,’ the old woman said ‘but shelter for a year and a night you may have if you will help me in the dairy, for I grow old. The deer will take you back down the mountain when the time is done.’
As she looked into the depths of the old women’s dark eyes, the girl found herself agreeing. And so she spent busy days caring for and milking the hinds, and gathering sweet scented herbs from the mountains which the old woman showed her how to find. There was thyme, meadowsweet and wild mint; there was golden asphodel and bog mertle. The old woman dryed them and sprinkled them on the fire which she lit each day out of dried heather. Then she would heat the deers milk, and make crowdie cheese. While the old woman worked at the fire with herbs and milk, the old man sat gazing into the rock pool, in which all the world was mirrored. And then when the crowdie was made, he fashioned from it shaped and figured of things that he had seen in the pools surface. For he and his wife were the makers of the worlds dreams.
Every evening as the sun set below the sea, the old man carried their white dreams to the cave mouth, and held them up to take on color from the sunset. The dreams that he held in his right hand, were true dreams, and out of the blue sky came eagles and falcons, larks and wrens, to carry them throughout the world. But the dreams in his left hand, were false phantoms, designed to mislead. Out of the dark cracks of the mountain came the crows and ravens, to spread the shadows around the world.
When the year and the night of the girls service were ended, the old woman came out of the cave and spoke in a strange tounge to the leader of the herd of deer, a gentle hind with glowing eyes who now was grey with age. She said fairwell to the girl, telling her that her sevice had been honest and true, and that she would find a reward waiting for her when she returned home to the seashore.
The deer led her by a hidden, easy route down the mountain, and they came sooner than she had thought to the sea—But this was not the shore the girl knew. She started to walk along the beach to see if she could discover where she might be, but the deer wouldn’t allow it, and they gathered around her, enclosing her in a circle, and stood looking out to sea.
The girl looked too, and soon she saw, coming out of the sunset, a boat made of all skins (we think the story should end here because what more could you want than a skin boat?); and as it came closer she saw that in the boat was a fair young man with a golden torc at his throat(who cares about the boy when he is bringing her a SKIN boat!). He landed his coracle (which is a skin wrapped over a woven frame— how dreamy…)and came to her, hands outstretched, and at once she knew that she loved him(or loved the boat?).Her called her ‘ the fair one of dreams’, and told her he had dreamed of her many times throughout the past year, back home in his father the king’s halls. Last night, he said, he had been shown in another dream the way to find her, and so he had followed the dreampaths, and had come to ask her to marry him.
The girls of course (of course??? Again with the discernment…) agreed, and they sailed away together across the sea. And when she became queen of her husbands (their) country she taught the people the meaning of many dreams which the old woman had shown her during the time of her service in the mountains, and they grew wondrously wise.
But now much is forgotten.