Nanuq and the Okpik

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

It was another day when Anjij (Ann-ghee) was born the daughter of Tug (Tuk), a fisherman for a community of Northern people with a lasting connection to nature.

It was another day when Anjij (Ann-ghee) was born the daughter of Tug (Tuk), a fisherman for a community of Northern People with a lasting connection to nature.

Together, Anjij’s father and the Elders had encouraged Anjij to respect every living thing and to have regard for a land that is their home. Amid cultural customs and lessons illustrated by nature, these same values were imparted to all the children. “If you follow these directives,” the Elders would say, “nature will always provide.”

Anjij indeed grew to appreciate all that lives on the land and in the sea, as well as every bird in the sky, but among all, young Anjij came to love the okpik (ook-pik). Okpik is the name given to the snowy owl in the language of Anjij’s people, but the snowy owl is special to many Peoples of the Far North and numerous tales have been shared regarding this majestic bird.

Anjij liked to speak these traditional stories, including how the okpik’s eyes became forever the sun’s golden hue after watching the returning sun for hours on end, day after day. Another favorite of Anjij’s was the ancient story of how the raven peppered the okpik with tar sand, creating the patterned markings on the young owl’s wings and back.

Once, nearing the end of a Winter’s darkness when everyone awaited the sun’s return, Anjij appeared before a flame and spoke in a low haunting voice, "It is said that if we fail to respect the okpik, Spring will be lost for many cycles." Watching for reaction, she paused for just long enough and then… “Boo,” which she yelled very loudly, thereby extinguishing the stone lamp with her breath. This, of course, added to the drama and the laughter thereafter.

As Anjij entered her teenage years, she had amassed much knowledge regarding the flora of the land. The people generally believed she would one day become a healer. 

It was a Spring afternoon when Anjij asked her father to help her retrieve a healing herb that grew further from the village than she could safely walk alone. Anjij was very excited as their journey began and they soon set a steady pace. Laughing and talking along the way, she stopped several times to show her father unique associations found among the flora. On one such stop Anjij explained how two different plants they found growing side-by-side, better attract a mutual pollinator when paired. Later she revealed a tiny moss that can only be discovered where a certain lichen thrives.

Not far from the herb they sought, Anjij smiled at her father and then laughed as she spread her arms like the wings of an owl. As they walked, Anjij had creatively posed a ‘who’ question in verse, as her favorite childhood song required, and now began to sing the WHO-WHO Song as she danced in flight about her father:

“WHO sees the trend of many flowers

That seemingly bloom as one

On this frozen land, with flora brief,

On these days of midnight sun?”

Anjij’s father smiled as he traditionally joined Anjij in chorus:

“Me, I do

And okpik too

WHO-WHO? You too,

if you so choose!”

Finishing the chorus in laughter, Anjij’s father was about to start reciting his ‘who’ question when he noticed the Elder Nanuq (nan-nook) standing some distance away. He pointed him out to Anjij, whose heart jumped when she realized okpik was perched on a rock, wings spread, face-to-face with the Elder.

Now understand, among Anjij’s people there stood a common belief that should okpik spread his wings before you while looking you in the eyes, you were both special among the okpik and admired by the people. Overwhelmed, Anjij ran towards them, causing okpik to take flight.

Anjij struggled to catch her breath as she approached the Elder, panting and unable to speak when she first arrived. Nanuq considered Anjij and said, “You have seen today what others before have not.”

Nanuq waited for Anjij to respond. Anjij finally gasped, “You are saying … that you have met … with okpik before!” In wonderment, she drew a deep breath and asked, “Why have you not told anyone?”

“For many cycles,” the Elder replied, “I have been without a reason or a need for telling others of Nanuq and the okpik.”

Anjij questioned this, “But others would respect and honour you.”

Nanuq turned to leave and said, “I have no need for that which I already have.”

As Nanuq walked away Anjij boasted “I will catch a lemming and offer it to okpik and he will land before me and meet me eye-to-eye.”

Nanuq turned back and said, “Anjij, you can see your path before you. It would be unwise of you to wander, through foolery and trickery, in effort to be that you are not. In time, okpik may choose Anjij but the okpik must never be persuaded.  Tradition tells us to respect the okpik. You would do well to remember the stories a younger Anjij spoke and recall what you may have learned from them.”

Anjij felt ashamed for what she had said but at heart knew she would never do such a thing.

As Nanuq went his way, Anjij returned to her waiting father and they continued their quest to locate and collect the herb they sought. Anjij spoke often of that day and the journey, but she quietly carried with her the lesson learned, for out of respect, the meeting of okpik and Nanuq remained unspoken outside of themselves.

Sometime after Anjij had become a great healer and after the time of Nanuq, an unfrequent visitor named nattak (nau-tauk), the great grey owl, landed before Anjij for the first time.

During the time of Anjij, of this, few would come to know.

Submitted: January 04, 2019

© Copyright 2023 Sedgehopper. All rights reserved.

Add Your Comments:


Ryan K. Mallegni

A very well written and told story, Sedge. I feel compelled to look further into the lore and culture behind this tale.

Fri, February 22nd, 2019 4:11pm


Nicely done

Tue, April 19th, 2022 5:05pm


Excellent and well crafted story.
Freezing my derierre off while hunting deer from a tree stand in Northern Ohio years ago I had the amazing experience of having one of these noble creatures fly within several feet of me. Absolutely gorgeous, huge, absolutely silent wings. Worth the freezing.

Sun, July 10th, 2022 10:03pm

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