Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Storytelling Starters ~ Duck Confit

P1070169Ducks in Brockwell Park this week made me laugh. I love it when they go tail up, head down, orange legs flapping like mad. Then when the eclipse was occurring this Friday morning, I thought about Earth’s dependence on the Sun. Although only a small darkening happened, the birds in the garden went quiet and it felt strangely cold.

After the eclipse, I found myself plunged – this upcoming Blog in mind, no doubt –  into the characteristic mode of the storyteller. Down inside, you start digesting and sorting all kinds of stuff that may have gone into your mind in the past. Then suddenly up come findings – stories, poems, odd bits of memory. And the magic is that, somehow, the findings are all linked in some way.

So here are three items from my cosmic soup of yesterday morning accompanied by two photos of those Brockwell Park ducks. I hope you enjoy the mixture and see the links between the items. For me as a storyteller, they bring the additional pleasure of realising that, between them, they have something to offer for all ages.  

1. Five Little Ducks 

Five Little Ducks went out one day
Over the hills and far away
Mother Duck said Quack Quack Quack Quack
But only four little ducks came back.

So it goes  – five little ducks down to no little ducks. It’s ideal for Nursery children and over the years, it’s proved very useful to me, all the more so since ages ago, I bought a Five Little Ducks kit – one big soft Mummy Duck, five little ducklets that fit on the fingers and an accompanying book of the well-known song. But when I do it, I make a meal of it, so to speak. I bring out a blue cloth to make a pond where the ducks can have their home. Mother Duck goes into mega-mother-worry modewhen each little duck goes missing. At the end when she finds them all – as of course she must in my opinion – there’s a great deal of clucking and gladness. And then we do the song all over again.

So when I include this item in a training session for Nursery staff, I have to explain that, while Nursery songs like this one can be excellent without all the accompanying drama, you can also make them into a bigger story. If you need reminding of it, you can find numerous animated versions on YouTube.

2. The Prayer of the Little Ducks

Dear God,
         Give us a flood of water.
         Let it rain tomorrow and always.
         Give us plenty of little slugs
         and other luscious things to eat.
         Protect all folk who quack
         and everyone who knows how to swim.

This is one of the delightful poems in a collection I’ve mentioned before – Prayers from the Ark. It’s a set of poems by a French writer,  Carmen Bernos de Gasztold, who suffered a mental breakdown during the war and was taken care of by nuns at an Abbey south of Paris. The poems were translated into English by Rumer Godden.

What I love about the poems – they include the prayers of the cock, the dog, the goldfish, the pig, the donkey, the bee, the monkey and so on – is that some essential character of each creature as we humans see them is so beautifully established. I think they are ideal fare for children and adults too.

3. Wolf and Lucky-Man Create Land: The Arikara Creation Myth

Two ducks were swimming around on a big lake. They saw Wolf coming from the south-west, then Lucky-Man coming from the North.

Wolf challenged Lucky-Man as to who could endure the rain the longest. Wolf hung up his skin above him. Lucky-Man held up all kind of feathers. It rained and Wolf was beaten. He said: ‘I am beaten but now I want you to create with me. I want you to make land and whatever things should live on it.’

Wolf said: ‘I will take the north side and I will make land.’ He called a duck. ‘Now Duck,’ he said, ‘can you dive down under the lake and fetch some dirt from the bottom?’

The duck said yes, dived down to the bottom and brought up mud. Wolf threw the mud to the north and said, ‘Form into land, let the land be prairie and let the buffalo roam there.’ And it was done.

Wolf told Lucky-Man it was now his turn. Lucky-Man called Duck and told it to go down into the lake and bring up mud. The duck brought up even more than before. Lucky-Man took it and threw it to the south of where Wolf had made his land. Hills and mountains were formed, buffalo were seen on the land.

Then Lucky-Man said: ‘When the people come, they shall choose to live on the south side because it is more suitable for them. There are hills and valleys so that their ponies, dogs and buffalo can find shelter. You, Wolf, made your country level and in the winter, the buffalo will be driven away from there by the storm.’

Between the lands that Wolf and Lucky-Man made was a channel. The first thing they knew, the Missouri River began to flow along that channel. It made the dividing line between the two countries they had created.

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I love this story. It is a North American Indian myth and it’s to be found in Traditions of the Arikara, a book published in 1904 by George A. Dorsey who was a great collector of North American Indian traditions.

The story has all the grandeur and strangeness characteristic of Creation myths from around the world. Whether you tell it or whether you read it, it resonates. It has stayed in my mind since I came across it some twenty-five years ago while preparing a series of sessions on Creation for the Drill Hall workshops I used to run with Karen Tovell. I can’t remember now what we did with it there – perhaps some visualisation work.

Or perhaps we just let it speak for itself.  

That’s it for this week. See you next week when I hope to report on a visit I’m planning to make next Wednesday to the Oxford Story Museum.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

    

 

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