by Janet Kagan

Long before you dreamed your first dream, before the rain fancied to snow, before the oldest tree grew higher than the top of your head, y dreamed....

She dreamed that First Woman lived in those small forests with her people. It was a new time, and special, for nothing that happened had ever happened before.

But the crags along the sea were deep, for the sea had not yet polished them, and hidden among the sea-crags, y dreamed tuli-tuli the beast. Tuli-tuli the beast had a most powerful magic called language. She knew everything by its name and when she named the thing, it belonged to her.

She was often hungry, and more often wicked.

For many years, she called First Woman's people. One by one, she called them down to the crags and the raging new sea. One by one, she devoured them and let the sea chew their bones.

First Woman was angry. First Woman was sad. At last, one day when she was more angry than she was sad, First Woman crept down to the crags by the sea and hid herself beneath the many greens of the seaweed that the waves had tossed onto the land.

She listened. For twenty-three days, she listened to tuli-tuli the beast and her callings. In the bright moonlight, when tuli-tuli slept, First Woman crept out of her hiding place and looked for the little tracks the birds made to lead her to their nests. She stole their eggs for food and hid again and listened again.

Each thing tuli-tuli called by a different name, and she called the birds, too

On the twelfth day, First Woman saw that tuli-tuli called all the white birds by one name and all the gray birds by another. She saw that if she followed the little hopping track, she would find the nest of a white bird, and if she followed the great deep track, she would find the nest of a gray bird.

The sea, who loved First Woman because her life-blood pulsed with the same salt rhythm, threw First Woman a stick and, with it, First Woman made marks in the sand---the two hopping marks of a white bird. The white bird came and whistled its name to her.
She caught the bird, as she had seen tuli-tuli the beast do. Then she let it go, for it had taught her something and she repaid the debt.

The moon, who loved First Woman for her honor, gleamed off a shell so whitely that First Woman picked the shell up. On a dark rock, she drew the great deep track of the gray bird---and the gray bird came and squawked its name to her. She washed the name away and freed that bird as well.

On the thirteenth night, First Woman heard that tuli-tuli the beast called each color of bird by a different name, but the name was also the same. When tuli-tuli the beast called First Woman's people, she had a name for each.

First Woman did not know what tuli-tuli the beast would call her. She would only know it when she heard it, and that would be the last time.

On the twenty-first night, tuli-tuli the beast could no longer call the gray birds or the white birds. She raged mightily, and the sea roared as if to mock her.

On the twenty-second night, the sky clouded. Tuli-tuli the beast went down to the shore to call a sea creature to be eaten. After tuli-tuli the beast had gone back to her crag to sleep off her full belly, First Woman dared to come out.

She crept down to the beach, and the elder moon, who loved First Woman for her daring, pushed through the clouds and showed her the tracks of tuli-tuli the beast. The moon showed First Woman her own swift footprints in the sand.

First Woman, daring anything in her anger against tuli-tuli the beast, drew the secret swiftness of her own feet. She felt a great joy and the elder moon laughed with her.
That was how tuli-tuli the beast found First Woman---dancing on the beach with the moonlight and laughing.

Tuli-tuli the beast had never seen anything like this before. She called to it to stop, but she had no name for it and her calling had no effect.

First Woman, seeing that tuli-tuli the beast could not call her, danced on in the moonlight, in the very face of tuli-tuli the beast. In one hand, she held the moon-white shell; in the other, the night-sea rock, and she danced on, laughing as she danced.

Tuli-tuli the beast was not hungry, for she had just eaten. But she was often wicked, you will remember. And First Woman had disturbed her sleep with dance and laughter.

Tuli-tuli the beast had no need of her language magic, for she had sharp claws. She caught First Woman in her wicked claws, but First Woman swung the night-sea rock. It was sharp, and cut tuli-tuli the beast deeply. Tuli-tuli the beast howled, and the sea howled mockingly and the little moon shone mockingly and the big moon peered over the horizon for a look.

And First Woman took her night-sea rock and her moon-white shell and drew. She drew the wicked claw-studded tracks of tuli-tuli the beast. She climbed the jagged rocks and crags toward tuli-tuli the beast's lair, and tuli-tuli the beast, raging, climbed after her.

First Woman drew the pattern of the sea-waves as they climbed and broke against the crags, and the sea rose behind her and caught both her and tuli-tuli the beast. And First Woman drew the breaking-shape of small dead things on the rocks and, in it, the pattern of tuli-tuli the beast.

The sea beat tuli-tuli the beast against the sharp rocks and broke her. First Woman, the sea dropped safely into a pool nearby.

First Woman, tired and battered by the sea (the sea is often cruel even to those it loves), crawled to tuli-tuli the beast where she lay dying. First Woman cried for tuli-tuli the beast, because tuli-tuli the beast was dying in pain. First Woman understood that her cruelty was like tuli-tuli the beast's. Remembering their kinship, she wept for them both.

She took up the night-sea rock and raised it to tuli-tuli's throat. As she brought the rock down, she heard a roaring in her head, like thunder.

Tuli-tuli the beast spoke to First Woman and she said, "You have stolen my magic. For that I will punish you. But you will end my pain, and for that I give you a warning. Take care, First Woman, that you do not share my magic. When more than one speaks, you will lose control of the magic."

First Woman ended tuli-tuli the beast's pain. At that moment tuli-tuli's claws struck First Woman's face and left two scars there forever. They are tuli-tuli the beast's punishment---for they gave First Woman the power to tell a lie---thereafter language needed never to be true.

That is how First Woman stole language from tuli-tuli the beast. And that is why language is no longer the same from year to year.

And who's to say if tuli-tuli the beast's heart was in her punishment---for it is only the ability to lie that makes possible the telling of a tale or the dreaming of a dream.

---But that is why, even today, no one knows the name of First Woman. Because, should tuli-tuli's silent children ever learn it, they would go straight to the land of no-time and regain their rightful heritage.

The name of the first man is known, but that is another story.


  Dandelions now!

  Real Janet Kagan

Standing in the Spirit



1st Woman

 James H. Schmitz

 opinionated '04

 Love Our Lockwood

John Randolph, the Actor

JJ1, JJ2, JJ3, JJ4, JJ5, catstuff

 The Goblination of the Runt

Unless otherwise noted, all photos & text on these pages are © 1992-2005 Janet Kagan