The Ball Players in the Sky

From Native American Games and Stories

by James Bruchac and Joseph Bruchac.




Long ago there was an old sachem named Edge of the Sky. His wife had died, leaving him alone with their son, Morning Star. Although Edge of the Sky loved the boy very much, he seldom had time to spend with him and they were never able to play games together. So Morning Star often left his father's wigwam, not returning until the end of the day.

One evening, Morning Star remained away from his father's wigwam so late that the old man became worried. The stars were already out in the sky. He went to look for his son and found him walking back across the wide field at the edge of the village.

"Where have you been, son?" Edge of the Sky asked.

"I was playing ball," Morning Star said. "My friends wanted me to keep playing all night but I told them I had to return home."

Edge of the Sky was puzzled. He had seen none of the other boys in the village and he wondered who it was that his son was playing with. He decided that he would follow his son the next day to see who his playmates were.

When the next day came, however, Edge of the Sky found himself too busy to keep watch on his son. As the sachem of the village, Edge of the Sky had to help other people with their problems. Once again, the end of the day came and his son returned to their lodge, even later than before.

"My friends and I were playing ball again", the boy said. "They wanted me to come with them and play on their ballfield, but I told them I had to return home."

Now Edge of the Sky was a little worried. Perhaps, these were boys from another village. But when he asked if any boys from the nearby villages had visited his people everyone told him no. Again, he decided that he would follow his son the next day.

But that day and the day that followed were the same. People came to Edge of the Sky with their problems. Two brothers wanted to use the dugout canoe they had made together. One wanted to take it on the river, but the other wanted to take it on the lake. A mother and daughter had an argument - each one claiming that the other was not bringing her share of firewood. Such problems were common in the village and it was the sachem's job to listen and give advice so that the problems could be resolved. But because he was so busy helping others with their problems, Edge of the Sky continued to neglect his own son. He did not follow him to see who these strange ball players were.

On the forth night, Morning Star did not return home at all. Edge of the Sky was truly worried now. He took a torch of dried bark and went to the ballfield to look for his boy. There was no sign of his son at the ballfield, but there was something very strange there. Edge of the Sky had never seen anything like it before. There was a trail of glowing footprints on the ground. They shone like stars.

Edge of the Sky began to follow that trail. He was certain his son had gone that way with his new friends. The trail led north toward the mountains and then rose right up into the sky. Edge of the Sky stayed on the trail and found himself in the skyland.

In front of him was a great wigwam. in front of it stood a tall sachem. Upon the tall sachem's head was a bright light.

"I've come to find my son," Edge of Sky said.

"Ah", said the sky sachem, "your son was lonely. You were too busy to be with him. So our boys played ball with him. They asked him to come and play upon our field. He is there now, playing happily. Perhaps he will stay here forever."

The sky sachem looked toward the field where the sky people played ball. Edge of the Sky looked there, too. He could not see people there. All that he saw were numerous lights, dancing up and down as they played their game with a ball that was made of fire.

"Do you know which of those ball players is your son?" asked the sky sachem. "If you do, then he can return home with you. If not, he will remain here in the sky."

Edge of the Sky looked hard at the dancing lights. Then he smiled. He knew which one was his boy.

"My son is the brightest of all those lights," Edge of the Sky said.

The tall sky sachem smiled. "It is so", he said. "Call your son to you."

"Morning Star", Edge of the Sky called.

The brightest of the lights broke away from the others and came toward him. When that light was close, it became his son.

"Father", said Morning Star, "I am glad that you came to get me."

Then two great birds flew down. Morning Star climbed onto one and Edge of the Sky onto the other. Those two birds flew the father and son back to the earth. There they lived happily together. And even though he continued to help his people when they needed him, Edge of the Sky never again neglected his son. From that day on, they often played games together.

To this day, the people play the game that the sky people taught Morning Star. Some nights you can still see the children playing their game in the northern sky. Some call them the Northern Lights, but we know them as Wababanal, the Ball Players Made of Light.

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