Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Storytelling Starters ~ Mind as Hold-all

21993900-oriental-umbrella-isolated[1]Links have been a major theme in this blog over recent weeks. And by links I mean the kinds of associations that make themselves felt between stories  and things that crop up in real life. But as I settled to think about this week’s posting, I began feeling very aware that, so much of the time, we have to simultaneously hold in our minds all kinds of things which have no apparent connection. Maybe a small link pops up between some of them, maybe no link at all. Yet with or without threads to connect them, we still have to keep these diverse things in mind. Namely, mind as hold-all.

A 100th birthday:

This week, for instance, my mind was full of my friend Ella who, this Wednesday, reached the grand age of 100. On her actual birthday, she hosted a party for about 60 friends and I know we all felt full of admiration as she stayed standing to receive her guests and when it came time to cut her cake, walked across to it without any help of a stick. Ella’s memory and pleasure in life are intact. What Paul and I had made to give her was a Dear Ella book, a small recognition of the many memories of times past and present which she has shared with us. 


But meantime I’d  also had to get serious about umbrellas. This was because, this coming Monday I’ll be doing a storytelling day in a London school where their  Arts Week is going to centre on the painting by Renoir known as The Umbrellas. My only regret about the booking is that, since I’ll be there at the very start of the week, I won’t learn what the children will have made of the theme by the end of it. But never mind. What stories to tell has made an interesting challenge.

Parasols are one thing that has come to my mind. I have some tiny ones and between now and Monday, I’ll look them out because one tale I might tell is about a parasol which gets blown out of the hands of a Japanese girl who’s just been given it as a present.  Eventually after adventures that carry it right round the world, and to her great surprise, she gets the very same parasol back. 

Rain has also come to my mind – and not only because rain is a good reason for umbrellas. Indeed, so much did it rain in Wales last week that the fields were like mud-baths, the sides of the roads like small rivers. Another good reason for thinking about rain as a subject to go with umbrellas is a strange instrument I have that I call a bull-roarer. It isn’t the genuine article but it does the same job.  I bought it on a beach in Tenerife and it makes a very believable sound of thunder, which is of course one of the heralds of rain.

So as I thought about rain and my so-called bull-roarer, I realised that a possible story for Monday could be one I’d selected years ago to go into  Time for Telling, the book of storytellers’ stories for children I published  in 1991. The story was entitled, The Great Rain and contributed by Linda Cotterill. it’s a Native American tale and, as I’m sure you’ll agree, it has a wholly unexpected twist at the end. What follows is a brief retelling of it:

The Great Rain:

One day, Nokomis the Great Earth Spirit became aware that something was wrong. As she looked towards the mountains, she saw Kaa the Thunderbird, great wings outstretched, looking very angry at the top of the mountains. When she asked him what was wrong, he at first wouldn’t say. But when his anger finally exploded, he said it was because the people of the world loved her more than him.

P1080548When Nokomis saw that Kaa’s anger was so deep it would bring terrible trouble to the world around, she set out to spread a warning among the earth’s creatures. To be safe, she said, they must go quickly up into the mountains. The animals paid heed to her warnings.

But when Nokomis tried to do the same with humans, it didn’t work. The first person she tried to talk to, a boy called Blue Jay, was too preoccupied with awaiting the right moment to shoot a rabbit. The same thing happened with Little Otter. Spear raised, she was poised to catch a fish. Nokomis had spoken to both but they didn’t hear. And it was then that she realised that human beings only hear their own language.

That’s when Nokomis transformed herself. When she appeared as an old woman in the village where Blue Jay and Little Otter lived, people paid attention to her. Speaking their language, she told them they must go up into the mountains at once to be safe from the floods that were coming. In other villages she visited, she said the same thing and people attended to her did as she’d told them. But then she came to the final village. Here people were wholly engaged in dancing and singing. Shaking their rattles to make rhythms, they simply would not listen to her. Instead they mocked her. Finally revealing who she really was, Nokomis said that, as their Earth Mother, she must look after them. Whether they wanted to go or not, she was going to take them to the mountains.

That’s when the people of that village changed. As Nokomis reached out her hands, they began shrinking to the ground and curling until they’d finally turned into snakes though still with the rattles they’d been shaking before. The change complete, Nokomis gathered them into her basket and carried them into the mountains. She got there just in time before Kaa the Thunderbird released his anger. Emptying her basket onto the driest part of the mountains, she told the snakes that from now on, the rattles they carried in their tails would make them the heralds of rain. So it was and so it is. 

So my friends, if at any time you are wondering whether to take your umbrella when you’re going out, open your ears and listen well. If you can hear a rattle-snake rattling, then you definitely must.

PS: The pretty parasol is a stock photo. The bottom photo is of what I call my bull-roarer. Cardboard tube, circle of plastic in the bottom, wire tail: it’s not only children that get fascinated.




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2 Responses to “Storytelling Starters ~ Mind as Hold-all”

  1. Swati Kakodkar Says:

    Thanks Mary for sharing this lovely Native American story of Nokomis and Kaa. It not only got my group of children introduced to history but has also inspired them to learn more about natives and tribes. They are now excited to create their own script set against a tribal background. I wish them luck and hope to see some creative work from my very enthusiastic children.

  2. Mary Medlicott Says:

    Dear Swati, only yesterday I was wondering how you and your storytelling group are getting on. Then today here’s your lovely report of the children enjoying the story of Nokomis and Kaa. It’s such a pleasure to have this connection with you. Best of luck with all you are doing. Mary

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