How the badger’s white stripes came to be

Grandma Effie
Photo Credit: courtesy Ron YellowBird

The summer day was stretching long into the night’s time. Late in the afternoon, I sat with grandma under the cabin porch as the dry hot breeze remained well into summer. The heat lingered from mid-morning to supper time. The only relief was under the porch. I can still remember the incense released in the breeze from the Sagebrush Forest. I would lie on the wooden porch and find myself complaining about the long, hot days.

I said, “I wonder how the animals feel on this hot day?” Listening to my complaints, my grandmother always answered my curiosity with a story.

One evening after supper, we moved to the cabin porch, she on her rocking chair with me lying by her. The heat of the day was cooling and as the evening came on, I felt relief from the daylight that was casting shadows from the Sagebrush Forest and soon the evening star appeared. I had always felt comfortable in the gradual descent of darkness while walking barefoot on the warm sand until the footpath ended in a maze beneath the canopy of the Sagebrush Forest. It was there I met Mr. Badger as he was preparing to venture out from his burrow in search of something to eat. He stood up and asked me if I was the Ute boy who lived on the edge of the Sagebrush Forest.

“In a cabin I believe, and with the medicine women of long ago, does she still collect herbs from the surrounding hills?” asked Mr Badger. “Is there something wrong or do you not speak?”

“Of course, I can talk and how come you can speak my language?” I asked. “Do you live there beneath that thicket? How come I’ve never seen you before until now?”

“Actually, I’ve lived here for quite some time. I met the WeNuchu (old Utes) when I was a kid and I remember how they looked, how they lived and most of all, how their spiritual belief of coexisting with all life around them was pervasive. I did not fear them, nor did they wish to eat me, but we shared our taste of prairie dogs. Yes, I can remember hearing you cry in pain and yes it was a day that we all will never forget.” All my neighbors here were told by magpie and blue jay. They told of an infant Ute boy who was given to his grandmother, the medicine woman for doctoring and left with her. Throughout the night the crying persisted and in the background, you could hear her chanting and praying. The scent of herbal rub and drink drifted about the cabin, it brought calm to the living air. Glowing dim from the lantern light within the cabin, I saw a mystical appearance of spiritual angels. We all sat around the cabin that night and there in the heavens was a sign! The night sky was without moon and the stars were endless. Warm breezes blew from the southwest and all the bugs, toads and the classical night sounds were silent. Even in the darkness one can see the ridgeline against a backdrop of the universe. We waited and listened for the passing, the medicine woman was talking to the child’s great grandmother’s spirit. That night in the soft glow of the kerosene lantern that sat on the wooden table, next to the kitchen window, there were Nuchu talking and whispers of agreement and then appeared a spiritual angel who would watch over the Ute boy. The old Raven says that the great-grandmothers returned in spirit form upon hearing the chanting and smelling the essence from oils long forgotten. The one angel spirit smudged the Ute boy with cedar before she took the infected spirit out of him and left his little soul with him. In that moment was born again, the Ute boy who is standing before me. The screaming from the infant stopped, the pain disappeared, and a new life began.

“The scar from that night remains in your walk,” said Badger “You have not cried since and there is a presence around you, that is visible only to a kindred spirit.” “Yes, I have lived here for sometime now,” said Badger, then he reminded me of how vulnerable my physical strength was and how I stood out from everyone. What they didn’t know was the bond I had with my inner spirit. Although I would not listen to my intuitions, I would find myself in trouble on occasion. Maybe my curiosity would lead me to find out about how others live. Certainly, I have experienced an out of body travel in consuming a bitter herbal tea, that is when the exchange was made and now here I stand.”

“Yes, here I stand talking with Badger,” said I.

That must have been a sight there in the Sagebrush Forest. After all, we stood eye to eye having of many talks to come. Before I say anything else, I had to ask of the white stripes on his face. Badger looked at me and said, “That is a story that happened a very long time ago. If there is one creature in this world not to trust it would be Coyote. My old friend and a lifelong prankster, I knew not to listen to his brazened talk. Here, sit down and I will tell how events came to be. Before I do though, let me offer some dried prairie dog.”

“Now one fine day, I met Coyote on the trail while we were going to a gathering.” I asked him, “What’s in the sack that you are holding so tightly? Of course, Coyote replied without haste.”

“What’s in your bag?” he shot back.

“I asked you first … and he would object wildly and throw a tantrum, right there on the trail.”

Coyote said that the contents of his sack was very powerful, and he couldn’t show anyone it’s powers. He held up the sack near his face with a smile and a wink. “I should have known better, however my curious nature was getting the best of me,”

“Come on, let me have a look,” I pleaded.

Coyote asked me, “What’s in your bag that you have been holding since we met. I bet it’s something good to eat or is it a prized possession from your collection of odd and ends?”

“Neither guess is correct. However, I will tell you that my bag of darkness is of greatest importance, when you show me what is in your sack and why are you holding it behind your back” I looked at him carefully, especially his eyes. One could see his thinking was becoming a burden. Suddenly, Coyote with his mischievous smile and the shifting of a nervous foot surprised me by agreeing to let me see first the contents in the sack.

“In this sack contains light and it is as bright as the sun,” he said. As I was starting to look for the sack to come out from the owner’s clutches, Coyote pulled a fast one and opened the sack to surprise Badger. The light streaked out across the face of Badger and burned his face with white stripes. The unprepared look into Coyote’s sack caused such a fright, that Badger burrowed into the ground and there he remained, taking with him his bag of darkness and a sign for rest.

Coyote was howling up the country and could be heard with his pack of thieves. They were celebrating another successful prank. The motley crew began laughing about Badger, for now a permanent streak ran along his face. Coyote and his band of misfits didn’t notice that the temperature was rising and getting uncomfortable. The day was getting longer and hotter. Everyone was miserable and crabby. Soon, the howling began to sound of someone in pain and in dire straits. Coyote was not laughing anymore, in fact he ran back to Badger’s burrow. He was panting so hard that he could hardly talk.

“B … B Badger my old friend, I came to say that your bag of darkness is more important than my sack of light. I know you can hear me, if you only could see me for a moment. I’m dehydrated and burning up. Hey bud, I was just joking, and I didn’t mean to scar your face!”

Now, Badger was still smarting from the burn and he could hear Coyote complaining outside his burrow.

“Well, well … it sounds as if he’s had enough, thought Badger and I shall be the better critter.”

Slowly Badger emerged from his home, cautious of Coyote. Afterall, he is commonly known in the ghetto of prairie dog town, as the “Sultan of Prank.” The Badger however, is a scrappy customer and can stand his ground with any grunt. Still, Coyote was his old friend and he sounded desperate.

In the shade of the Sagebrush Forest the Badger popped out of his home and screamed, “Oh My God, what happen to you! You look like my old bathroom throw rug and what’s that smell?” “Hey, watch it you’re drooling on my fur and what’s with you, why aren’t you gloating about your mean trick?” said Badger. “That’s okay, tell me why the commotion outside my home?”

“Well, first of all I wish to apologize for my behavior and the underhanded prank that left your face with those white streaks. Let me confess that your bag of darkness is important and is very much needed. Please, open your bag so I can get some much-needed sleep.”

Feeling sorry for his old friend, Badger opened his bag of darkness. “Now remember that darkness is slow in coming and with the appearance of the evening star, darkness soon follows,” proclaimed Badger.

I can still hear grandmother say, “That’s why the days are long and hot in the summer, and in the winter the night remains longer.”

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