“A long time ago, there were no humans here on this land we call North America.” As Nana spoke she very quickly got a faraway look in her eye and an almost-musical tone to her voice. Jack found the look on her face a little disconcerting, so he focused his eyes on the cone of light and the dancing snowflakes. The ballet of flakes combined with Nana’s resonant voice to put Jack in a spell and he didn’t move---hardly even blinked—for the entire length of her story.
“In fact, a long time ago there were no creatures at all in North America or anywhere else on the Earth or in the seas. Manitou, the Creator, was alone up in Sky Country and for a long time, He enjoyed just looking at the play of sunlight and shadows, dark and light, as the Earth rotated and revolved through the Heavens. There was land and there was water and after much experimentation, Manitou decided he liked a 25/75 split between the two best.
“Manitou had been around forever, so to Him millions of years were like a day to you and me. But then, one day, Manitou was watching the shadow of night make its way across the face of the Earth and He realized He wanted more. He didn’t know exactly WHAT He wanted; He just knew He wanted MORE. He found a spot beneath His favorite oak tree, made Himself comfortable, and fairly soon—just a few thousand years later—He drifted off. And He began to dream.
“Now, you know how in a dream weird things can happen yet they don’t seem weird to you at all until you wake up and look back at them?” The tone Nana used for this question somehow yanked Jack right out of his spell and made him realize she really was expecting an answer to her question.
“Yeah—I once had a dream that I had a horse, only the horse had wheels instead of legs and it rolled instead of ran,” said Jack.
“Exactly!” said Nana, “That is exactly what I mean.” Quickly her voice changed back to the story voice and Jack understood that he was free to disengage his mind once again and just be in the story she was telling.
“Well, what Manitou dreamed about was a planet very much like Earth, only it was covered with all sorts of interesting things. Some of them were tall and green and stiff. Some were soft and low to the ground and they Had colorful parts facing the sun. Some could actually move from place to place. It was such an incredible dream that when Manitou awoke, He decided to make much of it come true.
“He liked the idea of things that could live on Earth. Earth felt more alive to him when it was home to so much creativity. So, He set about making all the plants and animals and bacteria and virus and fungi and everything else that lives in or on or under the Earth..
“And as I said, Manitou is patient. He certainly took his time. For each living thing, Manitou sat under His oak and he gave His full attention to picturing every detail of a life before He would give it a name and bring it to life outside of His head and on the Earth. Each life had His full focus and the benefit of His boundless imagination. Manitou thought about how each creature would need to take in nourishment, would need to protect itself, would need to meet others of its kind, and would need to produce more creatures like it.
“ And to meet each of these needs He gave each life a set of gifts. These gifts came from Manitou and they were given free of charge. The only thing Manitou asked was that each creature be aware of the gifts and use them the way He had intended. After a billion years of our time, Manitou felt like He was just about done. He was running out of ideas.
“As Manitou put the finishing touches on a creature, He would close His eyes, picture the creature whole in His mind, see where it lived and imagine it in its place in the web of creation he was weaving on the Earth, and then slowly open His eyes again. And as He did so, that creature would appear on the Earth. Not just one of that creature, but an entire population of them. They would be there, newborn and blinking in the sun if they were daytime animals, or peering around them in the dark if they were nocturnal, feeling nothing but joy at their situations.
“Each felt blessed to have everything it needed to survive. Are you still awake, Jack?” Nana asked, because Jack’s eyes were closed and his breathing had become pretty deep and regular.
Jack peeled his eyes open slowly. “I’m awake, Nana.”
“Okay. You just started to look pretty comfortable, that’s all.”
Jack answered, “I was trying it myself.”
“Trying what,” asked Nana, though she had a pretty good idea what Jack had been doing in that head of his.
“Trying to do what Manitou did. Trying to think of a new animal and give it everything it needs.”
“What did your new animal look like?” asked Nana, truly curious.