May 22nd is National Strawberry and Cream day. Many of the food writers that I enjoy reading had written about how they were using strawberries. I have always loved strawberries. When I was a little girl, I used to call them heart berries because to me they were shaped like little hearts. We used to grow them in our backyard and my mom would send me out to pick a basket of love. When I began dating, I used to find it incredibly romantic when my partner at the time would feed me strawberries. I have always had a passion for my “heart berries” because they always reminded me of love. Being able to share strawberries with someone special was about sharing my “heart” with them. Little did I know my theology of strawberries had a history that “stemmed” back to an early creation story from the Cherokee Indians called The Strawberry Legend. So this week, I thought I would just share this legend with you. When you are done, you may feel the need to feed strawberries to the ones you love.
In the Beginning of the Cherokee World In the beginning, there were two worlds: The heavenly world called ga-lun-la-ti, which was placed high in the heavens, and the lower, dark world where the forces of evil lived. Ga-lun-la-ti was populated with beings in animal, human and plant forms. All creatures spoke the Cherokee language and lived together in harmony. The Earth was but a ball of water on which gigantic fish and reptiles lived. The universe of the Cherokees depended on harmony and balance. Light was balanced by dark; things of goodness balanced by things that hid from the light of day in the shadows of the darkness.
In the beginning there was no sun, but a Great Tree of Life grew in the center of Ga-lun-la-ti. It lit the world so all could see and cast its light down on the dark waters below. So it was that the Creator lived by the Tree of Life where he tended the plants and cared for the animals. Sometimes, the waterfowl, the hawks, and eagles flew down in the darkness below; giant turtles and muskrats swam on the water's surface and bathed in the pale light of the heavenly tree. The Creator led a solitary existence. When his work was done, he sat by the Tree, admiring his world around him and below. Sometimes he became lonely and longed for a companion, perhaps a daughter who would sit beside him in the evening, watching his creation live and grow.
Then, the Creator made a young lady whose beauty and grace touched his soul. He knew that she, too, would long for someone to run and play with so he created a man in his likeness and taught his children the things that he knew.
The Creator found that his daughter laughed and sang too much; and she talked constantly. She asked too many questions. Why do the leaves of the Tree of Life shine? Who created the Upper World? Who named the plants? Creator still loved her, for this was his daughter, but this constant laughter and questions, what could he do? The Creator had told them many times to stay away from the Tree of Life and not to play around its trunk. But like all curious children she had to see why her father said these things. First Man would insist that she not go to the tree but every day First Woman would climb the tree to its highest limbs. One day she found a hole in the bottom of the trunk and started to go in. First Man was again insistent that she stay away from the tree but to no avail. She went in and fell out of the bottom of Ga-lun-la-ti.
Creator returned home to find First Woman was missing. He asked First Man "where is my daughter?" to which the young man replied "I told her not to go into the hole in the bottom of the tree, but she would not listen." Creator did not know what to do as he peered over the side of Ga-lun-la-ti and saw his daughter falling toward the awesome ball of water.
Creator summoned the birds of the sky, to catch his daughter that she might not drown. They created a great blanket with their wings on which they caught her. But, where should they put her? As they flew above the deep waters, the grandfather of all turtles surfaced. "Here, place her on my back," he said. The birds descended with the young woman, henceforth known as "Sky-Woman," and placed her on the surface of her new home. But it was not large enough, the Muskrat volunteered to find land and dove to the bottom of the waters and brought up mud, which he placed on the turtle's back. When she touched the Earth that Muskrat had brought, it grew in all directions, becoming the Earth that we know today as Turtle Island. The Creator knew that she would need more and so he sent down the plants and animals to take care of his daughter. He sent down the deer, buffalo, bear, rabbits, and squirrels to provide food and clothing. He sent the medicines of the plant people; cedar, sage, bloodroot, oak, and most importantly tobacco. Along with many others things, to provide for his future generation the Kituwah, the Cherokee.
When the First Woman, or Sky Woman, was happy with this world Creator sent First Man down to help take care of his creation. First man and First Woman were now husband and wife. They were happy and all things were good, but as in all good things bad will come and First Woman and First Man began to fight and argue.
Harsh words were said on both sides, and finally the wife said that she was leaving. Grabbing a few belongings, she began walking away from First Man. "I am going to find another place to live," she told her husband, "You are lazy and pay no attention to me." In a short time, the husband regretted his harsh words and tried to find his wife so he could apologize. Eventually, he realized that she was too far ahead, and he prayed to the Creator to help him. "Slow her down, Creator, so that I might tell her how much she means to me," he asked. "Is her soul one with yours?" Creator asked. First Man replied "We have been one since the beginning of our time. We have been one since you have breathed life into our souls and we shall remain one until the end of time itself."
Touched by the man's anguish, the Great Spirit intervened. Seeing the way First Woman was walking he began to make plants grow at her feet to slow her down. To one side grew the blackberries and to the other grew huckleberries, but still she walked on. Again he made the plants grow and to one side grew the gooseberries and to the other grew the service berries, but still she walked on. The Creator knew that this would have to slow her down and so he went to his garden and grabbed a handful of strawberry plants and threw them to the Earth.
When they landed at First Woman's feet they began to bloom and ripen, First Woman looked down to see the beautiful leaves and berries of the strawberry plant and stopped to taste just one small berry. As she plucked and ate the berries she forgot her anger. Finding a basket among her belongings, she quickly filled it, and longed for her husband once more. First Man, hurrying on his way, was surprised to see his wife returning, and oh! How his heart did soar. She was smiling! She dipped her hand into her basket, and got a berry and placed it in his mouth. He smiled foolishly, and gave thanks to the Creator. Taking his hand, his wife led him back down the path to their home, feeding him strawberries on the way.