Nighttime sky provides legends after dark

Snow sculpture of sled dogs in front of Peter White Public Library from the 1941 Winter Carnival. (Photo courtesy of the Marquette Regional History Center)

It seems safe to say we are in deep winter now. Time for enjoying your favorite snow sport and catching up on some reading, either of these possibly enjoyed with the company of your favorite dog. In the Ojibwa tradition, it is the time of year for stories to be told.

With that in mind, some favorite legends for deep winter and these clear cold evenings are tales of how canines had a part in placing the Milky Way in the sky.

On a clear cold evening, it is said, a hunter was on the trail of a large animal. This hunt went on and on, over unknown trails. The animal led the hunter on pursuit up into the sky. The hunter’s footprints formed the path of the Milky Way. The dust left on the path was that raised by Coyote. Neither Coyote nor the hunter ever descended from the hunt, but their path remains.

A second legend of the Milky Way tells how some Indians had a corn mill in which they pounded corn into meal. On several mornings, when they came to empty it, they noticed that some of the meal had been stolen. They examined the ground and found the tracks of a dog. The next night they watched and when the great dog came from the north and began to eat the meal they sprang out from their place of hiding and beat him. He ran off into the sky howling, the meal dropping from his mouth as he ran, and leaving a white trail where we now see the Milky Way. This is how the Milky Way came by its name which means “where the dog ran.”

— Legends from Indian Star Lore by Charles Brown published in 1930

Another canine legend told during the months when the snow is on the ground is the Legend of the Two Wolves.

It is said that one evening an elder told his grandson about the battle that goes on inside of people. The elder said “My son, this battle is between two wolves inside us all. One is Evil — it is anger, envy, jealousy, regret, sorrow, arrogance, greed, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, tase price, superiority, and ego. The other is Good – it is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.”

The grandson thought about it for a few minutes, then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf wins Grandfather?”

The elder simply replied, “The one you feed.”

— From the oral tradition

These legends are so fitting for the month of February, when our north woods trails are perfect for dog sled teams to be out under the stars. The quiet of the snow packed woods welcomes these intrepid canines and their mushers.

If you would like to meet a husky sled dog and his musher team this coming weekend, the Marquette Regional History Center is hosting Jackie and Jim Winkowski for our canine themed “Museum After Dark.” This kids’ adventure event has had multiple themes over the last six years and is always a grand time for exploring the museum under the stars. We will have the special guests and many activities including a scavenger hunt through the museum galleries with living history characters. “Museum After Dark: A Howling Good Time” is from 7-9:30 p.m. Saturday. Visit marquettehistory.org or 906-226-3571 call for tickets.