River Songs

River Songs
Many years ago two small children lived along the great river, near the bay, where oysters were plentiful, where whales and dolphins played freely in the salty waters, and great ships with mighty sails traveled in a new found world.

Laura and Peter romped freely in the meadows of the bay with the children Native of the Manhattoes, listening intently to the legends passed down of the Opalescent River waters, learning about the lands and the goodness of all that had been bestowed upon these magical lands.

The Native children told their tales of lands beyond the bay where mountainous peaks jutted into the waters, where mystique of grand Blue Mountains emerged from the lands, standing ominously on the side of the river in various colors and forms. They told legends of the mysterious mounds to the west known as the Katterskills, intriguing Laura and Peter with a longing to journey beyond their home land.

Both Peter and Laura had been forewarned by their parents not to venture near the ship ports, for the inhabitants of the mighty vessels might steal them away, into the darkness of the river, foreboding and deep beyond understanding, with mountains yet unspoiled. Yet, the children found excitement in the ships, the unseen lands, and the changing appearance of steep hills beyond their vision. Songs from the waters, and chants from the Native spirits seemed to lure them both in their dreams, and during daytime play.

With their minds set to journey into the unknown world, they stowed upon a ship one night, among the barrels of oysters and wampum used for trade with the Natives further up the river. The ship mates were stout and jolly, breeches and wide hats, smoking long copper pipes, drinking from flasks, which made them more the jolly. They watched through a small hole in the boards of the ship as the ship set sail, unprepared for the scenes their eyes would behold.

Strange sounds echoed from the passing shores in the night, men on horseback road like spirits in the wind along the lands, beheaded and bellowing into the misty air. Land masses took odd forms, jutting into the water’s edge like an old mans nose and towering high above until their form had been lost to the heavy fog moving about the river. They made a game of the sights before them, composing stories of each shape and apparition, thinking back to the tales told to them by the Native children in the bay.

As dawn began to rise and the colors of the sky turned into flames of fire, turbulent waters tossed the ship to and fro. The vessel seemed angry, and the men aboard were frenzied, stomping and commanding orders to each other. Alas, it was of no use, the mighty river devoured the sails, masts, and all who were aboard. Broken apart in the water, all was lost; the children were separated in the force that had capsized the ship.

It is said that in this very area of the river, the voices of young children can be heard calling to each other on a stormy night. Indeed, the children had called desperately, in pleading voices of youth, searching for the safety they had found in their friendship.

Some days later, an Indian maiden walked the shores of the great Katterskills, singing softly, calling to the birds as she passed. On a log washed ashore in the storm, two small birds lay limp and lifeless, a robin and a purple finch. The maiden, gently picked the two small birds up, preparing to bury them rightfully near the trees which had at one time been their home. As she laid them to her breast to say goodbye, she thought she felt a faint patter of a heartbeat in both. They were alive, though stunned by the storm which had thrown them on the shore. Wrapping them in a small cloth of hide, she held them dearly to her bosom, breathing life back to them through her spirit.

Returning to her home, the maiden nourished and nurtured the spirit of the two small birds, keeping them close to her body for heat and conveyance of living spirit. She awoke early the next morn to a fluttering sensation upon her bare breasts. The birds were stretching their wings, and chirping loudly in their need for food. The maiden prepared ground gruel and fed it to the birds through the straw of a reed from the marshes at the base of the old mountains in her land.

It is well know that the Native Americans are reverent of life, that all living things shall live freely without restriction. The two birds were alive and well, ready to be returned to the woodlands from which they came. And so the Indian maiden journeyed with the two birds to the forests that are to this day forever free and wild, and released them in a moment of prayer. The birds flew off to a nearby branch, singing songs the maiden had often heard while walking the shores of the mighty river. Her heart sang with them as she bid them farewell, wishing them life and laughter.

Not long after the birds were released, the maiden married ceremoniously. Months later she prepared to give birth to her first child. During the days her unborn child was being nurtured in the womb, the maiden walked through the forests singing gentle songs of the many birds she encountered, often thinking back to the robin and the finch.

The day came for her child to emerge from the darkness of her body, into a world of love, compassion, and memories of past life, which the child would remember only in part as the legends of their tribe were passed down. The maiden suffered unto her unborn child in silence as her stomach heaved, much like the river waters in a great storm.

The moment came, when not one, but two infants were born to the fair maiden, aglow with the force of new life in duplicate bestowed upon her. At the moment of birth, the first vision is decidedly the name of the child for the Native American. At that moment the purple finch and the robin lit upon a balsam branch above, bringing tears to the maiden’s eyes. Hence the twin kindred spirits gained the names of “Robin” and “Finch”, to grow in health, love and spiritual connection always within the realm of the great Katterskill Mountains.

The moral of the story is that life is never truly lost, for it is once again found in new worlds, of new faces, where the spirit of love and connection carries on eternally. So, the next time you travel mighty waters, listen carefully for the songs of the river, for they shall whisper in your dreams of things yet to come.

River Songs

Pamela Phelps

Phillipsport, United States

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Artist's Description

This was a dream after many nights of endless reading of stories written of the Katterskills and Hudson Valley by Irving Washington.
Enjoy!

Artwork Comments

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