Trail runner looked forward to her first spring run on the trails in Arkansas. As she stepped onto the trail she remembered the last time she was out there, snow on the ground, animal tracks everywhere to be found. Although a cold morning, spring was in the air and evident in the woods. The redwood and dogwood blooming, green patches of grass rising up, pushing aside the leaves of winter. Trail runner is training for several extremely difficult and long trail runs this summer, and today she was to push hard on some hill repeats. Less than a ¼ mile into the forest she heard hawk’s loud call greeting her. “Ayeee!” she yelled back to greet him as well. Squirrels darted back and forth and the sun was dancing between the trees. The forest seemed happy to have company to share it’s splendor, showing off her new spring decor. Trail runner’s thoughts drifted to the hill repeats to come. She rounded the corner going down the ridge into the gap, and before she knew it she flew right over a rattlesnake~ utsa'nätï. “Whohoa!” she yelled as her feet instinctively lept over utsa'nätï. She stopped and turned around to look. She was now a safe enough distance that she felt comfortable observing him. “I remember you”, he said. Trail runner was a bit startled to understand utsa'nätï, as she had all but forgotten her last encounter with the animals of this particular forest and had almost let it slip into her memory as a dream.
Trail runner fumbled through her memory of the last trail run in this forest. It was an adventure indeed, complete with a race with deer and rabbit! But, she did not remember seeing utsa'nätï. “You ssssseeeee”, he said, “I heard how you helped deer that day, therefore I will not harm you today, I will help you”. Trail runner looked at utsa'nätï, and remembered that it is said that the deer and snake act as allies. When one is injured or harmed, the other will avenge the offender. In accordance, since trail runner showed compassion to deer during their race, helping him and providing him nourishment, snake determined that he would balance that with a gesture in kind today.
Utsa'nätï went on to teach trail runner a story that would help protect her in the future, as he knew she was bound to encounter other utsa'nätï on her adventures. He began, “One day long ago, Cherokee children were playing in the field when they stumbled upon utsa'nätï. The children screamed, drawing the attention of their mother. She saw the snake posed to strike at one of the children and she threw a rock at its head and killed it. Afterward she felt a pang of guilt for having to kill a living creature, but she felt she had no option. Her husband, hunting in the woods suddenly heard the rattling of many utsa'nätï nearby. He asked the crying snakes, “brother snakes, why do you cry?”. “Because our leader has been killed” they replied. “We are mourning and planning our revenge”. The brave offered to help, He told them, “If there is something I can do, I will do it,” he promised. “Be sure you mean what you say”, said one of the utsa'nätï. “For you may regret your promise once you know what happened.” “My word stands firm”. “Ask and it is yours.” The utsa'nätï swarmed together determining how to avenge their leaders killing. They returned to the brave and said, “It is your wife that killed our leader. To make things right again, she must be sacrificed.” The brave fell to the ground and cried. The utsa'nätï assumed he would go back on his word and started toward the village. The brave asked, “Where are you going?”. “To exact our revenge,” the newly appointed leader said. “My promise is my bond,” the brave insisted. “Just tell me what you want me to do”. “When you return home, tell your wife you want fresh water from the well,” explained utsa'nätï. “I will be there to bite her, but I promise her death will be swift.” “As you will,” said the brave. Once there he did exactly as he had promised; asking his wife for fresh water from the well. His heart broke when her heard her cry as the snake struck her foot. The brave went to the well and held his lifeless wife in his arms. “It is done!” he told utsa'nätï. “Balance has been restored once more.” “you are a man of your word,” said utsa'nätï. “As such, your people shall always be protected by our clan. I will teach you our song. Teach it to your people. Then, should our clans ever again encounter each other, by singing this song we will know that you are friends and not strike out to kill you.”
Trail runner listened intently and after absorbing all that she heard, she spoke, “I was not aware of this bond, I am Cherokee, but was not raised traditionally and do not know this song”. Utsa'nätï replied, “I know, but because of your kindness to deer, I will teach you”. He taught her the song she now carries in her heart, grateful to utsa'nätï for the kindness he showed her. She would not forget the story, the song, or utsa'nätï’s kindness shown her that day.
-Thank you Charlotte Kunchinsky, author, columnist and poet for the above reiteration of the story of the Cherokee learned the snake song.
I am Cherokee, not raised traditionally and not fullblood, I am learning my heritage. I am very proud of my Cherokee history and ancestors. These stories give me a way to explore my own heritage and give me a creative outlet. It also gives me something to do as I run many many many miles solo on those trails in training and racing. I thank my “traditional” family and friends who are patient with me and teach me much.