Saturday, September 13, 2014

American Gods:The Legend of Chickie's Rock

This is a story about the land where I grew up.  I hiked this trail with my family many, many times as a child, and it was my father, also a native-born Lancastrian, who told me this tale.

If you follow the trail in the photo above, the woods will become denser and denser, more and more beautiful. After a mile or two, you will find yourself at a great rock cliff, overlooking the Susquehanna River far below. This is Chickie's Rock. The name comes the Susquehannock (an Iroquois tribe) name for the area, "Ka'ot'sch'ie'ra" (which was Anglicized, by way of German, to "Chiquesalunga"), which means "crayfish point". It is among the largest and most beautiful glacial anticlines on the east coast (or so I'm told). Here is the legend of the place, as my father told it to me when I was little.  I do not know the provenance of this myth.   It's possible my father just made it up, but more likely he embroidered and adapted it from a story he heard while growing up, as I have done here. I've heard similar tales from several other Lancastrians, but most have not heard it.  My father was a prolific storyteller, so it is possible (though I think unlikely) they also heard it (second or third hand) from him.

Once upon a time, when Europeans were first moving into the area, a hunter named Johann become lost in the woods.  Hungry and afraid, Johann wandered for two days, until suddenly his dog bolted off into the woods.  Johann gave chase.  As he ran, all of a sudden, the trees gave way, and there, on a magnificent cliff overlooking the river, was his dog,  curled up at the feet of the most beautiful woman Johann had ever seen.  She was tall and strong, with skin the color of clay and lustrous hair the blue black of winter midnight.  She turned, and, seeing Johann's straits, she invited him to her fire and gave him water and blueberries.  The woman too was struck; this man so unlike any she had ever know had appeared out of the woods as if by magic!

He spoke no Susquehannock, and she no Detisch, but they found a way to communicate.  The next morning, the young woman led Johann back to his camp.  For his part, he could not get the young woman out of his head, and after a week went by, he ventured out to the secluded cliff they had shared.  Much to his surprise, he found her waiting for him!  From then on, they met every few nights.  Over time, they learned each other's language, and the woman, whose name was Chickie, took Johann back to meet her tribe, including her father, the chief, who was not best pleased at this turn of events, and forbade her to see him again.  But, of course, she did.  Months past, and Chickie's belly began to grow full like she had swallowed the moon.

The chief was furious!  In a fit of rage, he killed Johann.  Chickie, mad with grief, ran into the woods.  The woods tried to stop her; trees lowered their branches into her path, brambles grabbed at her clothes, stones rolled themselves under her feet, but Chickie could not be stopped.  She leaped over the stones and ducked under the branches.  She ran so hard she did not notice the bramble cuts that covered her.  Arriving at the cliff, her special magical cliff, she flung herself over it, hoping to join Johann in the Land Below.  If her love was dead, why live anymore?

And yet, and yet, the woods would not permit so beautiful and devoted a daughter to die on the rocks.  As she fell, she felt herself melting and dissipating.  Slowly, slowly, Chickie and her baby turned into a cloud.  To this day, if you look out into the sky, you can her still, hanging above the river, reaching down with her sweet rain to caress Johann's bones.

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