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Imagine the Universe!

"One of my favorite stories comes from the Cochiti Pueblo, which is nestled in the mountains of Northern New Mexico. It's about a little girl who is entrusted with a sack. She's not told what's in it, but only that she shouldn't open it and that she should deliver it to the Eldest of the Elders. But her curiosity gets the better of her. The story explains why the night sky appears as it does, both with stars in patterns and stars scattered about. I find the Eldest of the Elders reaction to what she did to be the most interesting part of the story."

Cochiti Pueblo Star Story

A long time ago, after the great flood, the people emerged from the Underworld. The woman who was called Our Mother gathered the people together and instructed them on where they should go to make their new home. This woman was called Our Mother because no one knew of anyone who was older than her. Indeed, not even the eldest of the Elders could think of anyone who had ever lived before Our Mother.

So the people heeded her words. Our Mother told the people of a good land to the South, where their crops would grow well and where the hunting was plentiful. And so the people made themselves ready for their journey, and on the appointed day they gathered themselves, their families and their belongings and they made out on their great journey southward.

Amidst all of the hustle and the bustle, amidst all of the comings and the goings of that day, one little girl got left behind. Her name was Kotciminyako. That name may sound strange to you and me, but to Kotciminyako and her mother, it was a perfectly fine name. Kotciminyako went to Our Mother and Our Mother told Kotciminyako where the people had gone, and she instructed Kotciminyako in what direction she should walk in order to find The People. Kotciminyako listened to Our Mother very carefully. And then, Our Mother gave Kotciminyako a sack. It was a white, cotton sack. It was full, but not too heavy and not too large; just the right size for Kotciminyako to carry on her back. Our Mother gave Kotciminyako the sack and she said, "When you find The People, give this sack to the Elders. They will know what to do with it. But whatever you do, don't open the sack!"

Kotciminyako said, "I promise, Our Mother, I won't open the sack!"

Our Mother gave Kotciminyako a little bit of lunch for her to have along her way, and again, she pointed Kotciminyako in the direction in which she should walk. And again she said, "Now remember, when you find The People, give the sack to the Elders. But whatever you do, don't open the sack!"

And Kotciminyako said again, "I promise, Our Mother, I won't open the sack!" And Kotciminyako went on her way.

Now the day that Kotciminyako made her journey, it was a bright, sunny day, and the Earth was coming alive again after the great flood. Kotciminyako looked around, and, there the little green plants were growing again, and the little animals were scurrying about. Birds were flying and singing in flight. Kotciminyako she looked, and the mesas were green with life and far off in the distance, there were the snow-capped mountains.

Kotciminyako, she was steadfast in her journey, but, after all, she was a little girl. She would stop along the way and smell a flower, stop to pet a frog and try to catch a butterfly. She looked up at the sky, and it was a beautiful turquoise blue, and Kotciminyako wondered. She thought how different this bright, sunny sky was to how dark it got at night. And as she walked, Kotciminyako thought about that sack that she was carrying. She thought, "What could be in that sack? And what are the Elders going to do with it? And why did Our Mother tell me not to open it?"

When the Sun got to about the highest point in the sky, Kotciminyako came along a stream and she thought that this would be a good place to stop and have her lunch. So Kotciminyako sat down on the ground and put her lunch in her lap and she put that sack right in front of her. And as she sat, eating her lunch and looking at that sack, she wondered. "What could be in that sack? And what are the Elders going to do with it? And why did Our Mother tell me not to open it?" The more Kotciminyako looked at that sack, the more she wanted to know what was in it. Until finally Kotciminyako could stand it no longer. She set her lunch aside and she took the sack and she put it in her lap. Now the sack was tied at the top with rope. It was tied so tightly that Kotciminyako couldn't even get her little fingers in there, just to peek, to see what was in the sack. So Kotciminyako paused... and looked around... and she started to undo the knot.

She worked slowly and she worked carefully, and that knot came undone and, there! was another knot! And that sack was no closer to being open. So Kotciminyako looked around again, and undid the second knot.

Again, she worked slowly and carefully and she got that knot undone and, there! was another knot! And Kotciminyako undid that knot. No sooner would Kotciminyako undo one knot that another knot would appear. Kotciminyako worked carefully, and patiently, and with her nimble fingers she undid all the knots until finally all the knots came undone. The last knot came undone and Kotciminyako looked over, just to peek, and


from the sack jumped this little white fluff that just hung in the air, glistening in the sunlight. It looked like a dandelion that had gone white, and Kotciminyako followed it with her eyes as it hung in the air and slowly moved up. Kotciminyako looked at the sack and OUT! jumped another one! And this one had a little tint of blue to it, and it too hung in the air and slowly moved up. Kotciminyako looked and OUT! jumped another one! And another one! And another one! And this one had a little tint of orange and this one a little tint of red and another one with a little tint of yellow, and another one, and another one and another one and all of the sudden all of these little fluffs started coming out of the sack and they started to move up and move up and out of Kotciminyako's reach. And Kotciminyako started to grab them as quick as she could to try and put them back in the sack but they started coming out faster and faster and Kotciminyako grabbed them as fast as she could but they were moving faster and faster and they were getting out of her reach until finally Kotciminyako grabbed all that she could and put them back in the sack until finally when all of them were out of her reach and she could catch no more of them she put what she could back in the sack and she took the rope and she tied it around the sack and she knotted it and she knotted it. And she knotted it.

That sack was now a whole lot lighter than when she started. Kotciminyako threw the sack over her shoulder and resumed her journey.

Just as the Sun was setting, Kotciminyako arrived at where The People had made their camp for the night. She went in search of the Elders and when she found them she went to the Eldest of the Elders. She held up the sack to him. He took it and, weighing it in his hands, he said, "Kotciminyako, what did you do?"

Kotciminyako, looked at the ground and said, "well.... I.... I... I... wanted to know.... what was in the sack, so... I... I... ...what was in the sack?" And the Eldest of the Elders said, "Kotciminyako, look up at the sky." Kotciminyako looked up, and there, where before the night sky had been pitch black, now there were points of light scattered across the sky, glistening and twinkling. And the Eldest of the Elders said, "Kotciminyako, the stars that you see in the sky were in the sack. Our Mother gave you the sack to give to us so that we might take the stars and place them in patterns in the sky, so that by the rising and setting of the patterns the People would know when to plant and when to harvest. And by these patterns people would remember the stories of old.

So the Elders took what stars were left in the sack and they made what patterns they could with them. And so it is that when you go out on a dark, clear night, far away from the city lights, and you look up at the sky, you see many of the stars scattered across the sky, but you do see some stars in patterns. And by the rising and the setting of these patterns the People know when to plant and when to harvest. And by these patterns people remember the stories."

-- adapted from a collection by Jean Monroe and Ray Williamson