The Rainstick

Runs-As-Wind walked towards the remnants of last night's fire. There were three rings of large stones around the fire site. With the recent lack of rain, the entire tribe had concerns that the fire would spread to the fields. Runs-As-Wind knew that the adults were worried about the lack of rain. It had been 38 days since the last downfall. Runs-As-Wind thought that the spirits that control the rain weren't paying much attention to their tribe or to the tribe's needs.

But the adults didn't want to listen to his opinion. Oh, Wolf-Fighter listens but he doesn't really pay much attention to Runs-As-Wind. Despite that, Runs-As-Wind still wanted to be like his older cousin. Wolf-Fighter is the best hunter of the tribe, he thought to himself, and people say he is mean and never laughs, but I've seen my older cousin laugh. I've also seen Wolf-Fighter help a baby eagle that was about to be eaten by a wolf.

Runs-As-Wind knew that Wolf-Fighter got his name from when he saved some of the children from a rabid wolf. The beast had entered the area where children often were playing. The wolf ran towards the children and then jumped towards them. Just as it was about to land on a child, Wolf-Fighter dove at the wolf, grabbed it in mid-air, and wrestled it to the ground.

Despite practically being a boy himself, Wolf-Fighter was able to stab the wolf with his knife while they were rolling around on the ground. No one mourned killing the once noble animal, because this wolf was sick. Bird-Caller, as he was known then, being only 10 years old (3 years older than Runs-As-Wind was), was given a new name. He was known from that point forward as Wolf-Fighter.

Remembering this story, Runs-As-Wind wished he could do something to be a hero to everyone. Wolf-Fighter often told him, "If you feel brave in your heart, when something happens, you'll be able to handle it. Don't go looking for it--that would show that you are uncertain if you are courageous or not and need to prove it to yourself and to others." But Runs-As-Wind still wished something, anything, would happen.


All day, Runs-As-Wind and some of the other boys patrolled the fields and gardens to make sure no fires were burning. After their last lap around the area, Runs-As-Wind was again challenged by some of the older boys. Every couple of days, someone would challenge Runs-As-Wind to a race. Today, it would be from the corn field to the center of the compound. Runs-As-Wind agreed.

They all began running. As always, Runs-As-Wind quickly opened up a lead and beat everyone by a few seconds. He was by far the fastest runner among all the children. To himself, Runs-As-Wind felt that he was probably faster than most adults but they would never race him, saying that he was "only a boy." But Runs-As-Wind knew he could do it. Only Wolf-Fighter among the adults would race him, and Runs-As-Wind hadn't beaten him yet.


Evening arrived and everyone was again careful in building the dinner fire. Runs-As-Wind ate the buffalo meat and dried cornmeal silently. He was thinking more and more about his hopefully upcoming heroic deed. He decided to keep his eye out for an opportunity.

After dinner, many of the adults went to the large council tent. Runs-As-Wind knew that this meant the leaders of the tribe would discuss something big. Since the biggest thing on everyone's mind was the lack of rain, Runs-As-Wind was sure that this is what they were going to discuss. He decided to listen in and snuck around to the opposite side of the tent where he wouldn't be seen.

Runs-As-Wind could here what was being said, but wasn't sure of all of the voices.

"We have not had rain for many days."

"In our history, there have been times when more days went by without rain."

"I respect your memory of the past. But the pond is drying up and the stream is just a trickle. We need rain."

"Yes, I think we need rain, too, now. It is time to use the rainstick."

Everyone became quiet. Even Runs-As-Wind knew that this meant that Cloud-Watcher was going to talk. As the oldest and wisest of the elders, he had earned everyone's respect. And he especially earned everyone's respect when it came to the weather.

"Those of you insisting on using the rainstick, I respect your passion and commitment to our people. But you are too young to know when the rainstick is truly needed. The rainstick is a last resort. The spirits probably know what is happening and we do not want to insist that we know otherwise. It is not yet time to remind them to water our land."

Runs-As-Wind heard whispers in the tent but couldn't make anything else out. He thought about what Cloud-Watcher had said. Runs-As-Wind knew that Cloud-Watcher got his name because he was always watching the sky and often predicted rain and other weather from movements of the clouds. All adults considered Cloud-Watcher an expert on rain. But some of the younger adults were scared and didn't feel comfortable trusting Could-Wathcer's opinion. And Runs-As-Wind, being quite confident in himself, agreed with the younger adults. The crops were suffering, and the animals had begun to die from lack of water. Runs-As-Wind then heard a familiar voice.

"I would risk my life for this tribe," Wolf-Fighter said, "and I don't think I know more than the spirits or than Cloud-Watcher, whose wisdom and experience is well-respected, but I also know what I've seen with my own eyes. The crops need watering and the animals are suffering."

That is what I believe, Runs-As-Wind thought to himself, and Wolf-Fighter agrees with me.

Runs-As-Wind had heard enough. Since no one would listen to Wolf-Fighter, he decided to remind the spirits himself. Runs-As-Wind went to Cloud-Watcher's tent to get the large rainstick.

Runs-As-Wind could barely hold it and run, but he did and started up the mountain.


After Runs-As-Wind had run for a little while, some of the older boys passed him on the mountain. They spoke to Runs-As-Wind and asked him where he was going, but Runs-As-Wind didn't stop to talk with them.

"Wasn't that the rainstick he was carrying?" one boy asked another.

"I think so. Runs-As-Wind isn't old enough to use that. I wonder what he was doing with it," another boy responded.

"Maybe we should tell someone."

Runs-As-Wind's cousin, Thinks-A-Lot, spoke up, "I don't want to get him in trouble. Let's wait and see what is happening in camp."

The rest of the boys agreed.


The boys arrived at camp just as the meeting ended. When Thinks-A-Lot asked Wolf-Fighter what had happened at the discussion, Wolf-Fighter told him that they had debated about whether it was time to use the rainstick. The tribe had decided to wait. When Thinks-A-Lot heard this, he told Wolf-Fighter that he saw Runs-As-Wind heading up the mountain with the large rainstick.

Wolf-Fighter told him to tell this to Cloud-Watcher and then began running after Runs-As-Wind.


Runs-As-Wind, despite being one of the fastest in the tribe, began to tire. With the large rainstick in his hands, running was harder than ever before for Runs-As-Wind.

The sun was beginning to settle behind the mountain. But Runs-As-Wind knew that the rainstick was best used at the top; despite the arriving darkness, he kept going.

After only another moment, Runs-As-Wind had to stop and rest. He sat down on a rock, gently laid the rainstick down on the ground, and rested his face in his hands. After finally catching his wind, Runs-As-Wind took a deep breadth, began to raise his head up, and was startled by a sharp sound.


His body jumped; and Runs-As-Wind's heart jumped, and kept jumping. He looked at Wolf-Fighter. Wolf-Fighter stared back at him.

"Runs-As-Wind, why did you take the rainstick?"

"The crops are dying. Animals are dying. I thought that---" Runs-As-Wind began pleading.

"Yes, you thought," Wolf-Fighter interrupted, "but in our tribe, everyone thinks, and everyone contributes; contributes to farming, to hunting, to gathering, to protection, and especially to decisions. One person cannot, and does not, make the decisions alone, not when they affect the entire group. Not me, not Cloud-Watcher, and not you, Cousin."

"Yes, but, the---"

"No," Wolf-Fighter snapped, "never!"

Wolf-Fighter took a deep breadth and sat down next to Runs-As-Wind. He sat silently for a moment. Wolf-Fighter began to speak again, but gentler than before.

"Runs-As-Wind, I agree with you. But I don't know everything and I'm older. Cloud-Watcher doesn't know everything though he is even older than me. But together, all of us decided what to do. We each brought together our thoughts and our experiences. And together we made the decision. We might not all agree with it but we must respect it and abide by it. That is a tribe. That is our tribe."

Runs-As-Wind looked up at his cousin. Tears began to form.

"I don't . . . I mean I . . . I-" Runs-As-Wind stammered.

"It is all right, cousin. You are young and learning. This was a lesson. Learn from it but don't let it make you upset or embarrassed." Wolf-Fighter put his arm across the youth's shoulders.

"Let's go home. But first, we'll make you a smaller rainstick together; for when the tribe does decide to use it."

Runs-As-Wind's grin seemed as wide as the sky, and as bright as the sun.


They began looking for the right tree. After finding it and choosing a fallen branch, Wolf-Fighter began to prepare it while Runs-As-Wind collected the pebbles.

After plugging one end of the small branch, which Wolf-Fighter had made into a tube, he took the pebbles from Runs-As-Wind and slowly dropped them into the open end of the branch. With his large hand, Wolf-Fighter knew one handful would be enough. The pebbles fell against the small spikes on the inside of the tube, making the sound of raindrops hitting the ground. Once the entire handful was in the branch, Wolf-Fighter plugged the open end and handed the new rainstick to Runs-As-Wind.

"Remember, Runs-As-Wind, it is not the time to use the rainsticks. When you walk, you must hold it with the pebbles on the bottom. It must not make a sound."

Wolf-Fighter picked up the larger rainstick, being careful to keep the rocks on the bottom. He patted his young cousin on the back, and they began to walk home.


As they strolled around a curve in the path, both Wolf-Fighter and Runs-As-Wind knew they would be seeing the entire compound and most of the fields. They would be able to see "home." Many people came to this spot to gaze upon their land and feel proud of what they had all accomplished.

Both the man and the boy knew what they saw as soon as they turned the corner.

Black smoke rose from at least six places around the fields. The crops, being dry from lack of water, began to quickly burn.

Wolf-Fighter knew what to do. He turned back up the mountain and began to run. Over his shoulder Wolf-Fighter called out, "let's go, Runs-As-Wind. Both rainsticks will be needed to quickly call the spirits. Run!!!"

Runs-As-Wind took a deep breath and followed Wolf-Fighter. Because of the smaller weight, and a growing feeling of fear and excitement, Runs-As-Wind ran faster than ever. He was soon only a deer's length behind Wolf-Fighter.

Silently, the two heroes ran.


Wolf-Fighter had slowly gained some distance on his younger cousin. But as soon as Runs-As-Wind was almost at the top of the mountain, Wolf-Fighter called down to him.

"Hurry! Only both rainsticks will be enough to immediately alert the spirits. Here, stand on this rock."

Runs-As-Wind jumped up on the small boulder. He looked at Wolf-Fighter and saw confidence and fear--exactly what Runs-As-Wind was feeling himself. Wolf-Fighter smiled and nodded. His voice was only a whisper.


Slowly and steadily, the two cousins began to turn the rainsticks over and back, over and back. Despite one rainstick being larger than the other, they found a good rhythm together and it sounded to Runs-As-Wind like the rain had already begun to fall.

Although they couldn't see the tribe's tents or fields from this height, they stood looking in the right direction of the compound, staring at the tops of the smoke columns. They never stopped their rhythm or paused in their effort. Over and back, over and back, over and back; the pebbles mimicking raindrops and calling out to the spirits.

Runs-As-Wind took in a breadth and held it. He could still see dark gray smoke rising up to the sky. It looked like a snake squirming its way home. The white clouds let the smoke enter but didn't respond.

Runs-As-Wind finally breathed out. He felt hopeless; the rainsticks weren't reminding the spirits of anything. The rainstick was supposed to remind the spirits to water the land but it wasn't working. His arm was tired and he wanted to stop.

"Patience," Wolf-Fighter whispered, "and remember that you are brave in your heart, courageous in your blood. You can handle it. Our tribe needs us."

Runs-As-Wind found himself nodding slightly. His arm all of a sudden felt strong; his heart slowed to the rhythm of the rainsticks. He knew that he had to call the spirits. Runs-As-Wind had to ask for the rain in his heart. Without his presence, everything and everyone important to him, his family and his tribe, would burn.

He looked up at Wolf-Fighter and smiled.

"The first drop hit the tip of Runs-As-Wind's nose as he smiled.

Then the sky let out a powerful roar and water poured down. In ten seconds, Runs-As-Wind and Wolf-Fighter were soaked. But they were too busy whooping and hollering to mind. Wolf-Fighter picked Runs-As-Wind up and spun him around.

"Without you, I don't know if I would have gotten the spirits' attention. You, Runs-As-Wind, are a hero!!!"


When the two cousins finally arrived at the bottom of the mountain and entered the compound, everyone crowded around them.

They all began to congratulate Wolf-Fighter. But he held up his hand until everyone grew silent.

"It is true that I turned the rainstick. But my sound alone wouldn't have been enough. Despite his youth, Runs-As-Wind was able to stay with me in my run to the top of the mountain. He also had the strength and courage to keep turning his rainstick. And Runs-As-Wind had the intelligence and focus to stay in rhythm with me--creating a louder and more powerful sound.

"Without him, there would have been no rain. He is the hero."

Everyone cheered and began to congratulate Runs-As-Wind. Then it became quiet again. The crowd of people parted and Cloud-Watcher walked up to Runs-As-Wind.

"Through your courage and strength," Cloud-Watcher began, "you have shown a commitment and loyalty to your tribe. You have also shown your place and your role in the tribe. For what you did today, you are indeed a hero. And for what you did today, from this point forward, you will be known as Rainstick.

"Thank you, Rainstick."

I am Rainstick, he thought to himself. Without realizing it, I became a hero. But then Rainstick paused for a second. And I am grateful that I could save my people, he thought to himself.

I am Rainstick.

For instructions on making a Rainstick at home, click here

Copyright © 1999 by Marc Osman