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Copyright: Adam Shumaker, This American Land

CATCHING FIRE: The Karuk indigenous tradition of burning forests is culturally and ecologically vital—and the Forest Service is starting to see the wisdom.

Theft brought Fire to the Karuk people.

Coyote, the cleverest of the Animal People, traveled to a high mountaintop where

Fire was hoarded by three yellow jacket wasps, sisters, who were old and vain. Using his considerable wiles, Coyote flattered the Yellow Jacket Sisters, extolling their beauty.

Distracted by Coyote’s sweet talk, the Sisters left Fire unattended. Coyote saw his chance. He stole Fire, fleeing with it down the mountainside and back to the other Animal People. The Yellow Jacket Sisters followed close on Coyote’s heels.

The Animal People exchanged Fire between one another as the Yellow Jacket Sisters buzzed angrily around them. Fire continued to pass between the Animal People, burning slowly down to a single ember. Frog, the last to hold Fire, held that dying ember in his mouth and dove into the Klamath River, not surfacing until he reached the opposite bank, when …

“He spat Fire into the roots of the willows growing there. This is why we use the willow to make the sticks to make our fire drills,” says Leaf Hillman, rubbing his hands vigorously back and forth in a pantomime of making fire.

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