Long ago, the world was harsh with jagged peaks and steep hills. Nothing could grow among the rocks. But hidden between the cliffs was a beautiful valley where it was always summer.
The valley was a deathless paradise: animals didn’t hurt each other because the abundant trees and berries of all kinds were all they needed, and no one aged.
Once the Great Spirit created the valley, he fashioned something new. He made this new being similar to himself: two legs, dark hair and eyes. He gave her a dress made of galax leaves.
He placed her in the valley, saying, “You are First Woman. Welcome to your new home. Here you will have everything you need to live and rule.” And then he disappeared, leaving her to live as she wanted.
For a long time, First Woman was content in her valley. When she needed shelter from the shimmery summer rains, she hunkered in caves. When she was hungry, she ate her fill of yellow pawpaws, persimmons, tart gooseberries, and honey. When she was bored, she raced with beavers in the river. But humans need their own kind; First Woman’s boredom became loneliness.
One day, as First Woman sat in her cave, she saw a butterfly floating on the breeze. Its wings were like rubies. She had never seen such a creature before. Struck by its beauty, she followed it.
The butterfly led her across the valley, deep into a ravine, and up a steep cliff. She struggled to keep up with it. But the butterfly vanished in a field of white yarrow flowers. First Woman strained her eyes to find the shining red wings. Disappointed, she almost gave up – but she spotted it again at the edge of the field near a roaring waterfall.
She dashed to her quarry only to have it disappear again. Nighttime cascaded over the valley and with it, a skin-numbing cold. She decided to turn around, but nothing looked familiar; she had taken the wrong path. The trail evanescenced into brambles and thorns. Weary and frightened, First Woman curled up on the ground and tried to sleep.
She awoke at dawn. Something stood over her. It wasn’t a panther or any kind of creature she knew. It looked like her, but bigger, fiercer, with leggings made of cloud. But she was the only human in the world.
“Wh-What are you?” she asked.
“I’m Sky Man,” he said, one hand outstretched to help her up. “I was on my way from the evening star to the morning star. When I looked down, I saw you here, lost in the valley. I came down to your world to help you find your way…but the Great Spirit will be angry.”
“Oh no,” said First Woman. “Why?”
“He has ordered the People Above to stay out of this world. But I would rather stay down here with you.”
First Woman smiled. “I finally have someone to share the valley with!” She took his hand and showed him around her home.
They lived peacefully in the comfort of the valley and in time First Woman birthed a child. Only then did they begin to worry about the future. The valley provided for them now, but what would happen when their children and their children’s children began to overflow the valley?
“The world beyond the valley is harsh,” said First Woman. “How can we protect our descendants?”
“I’m not sure,” said Sky Man, “and I’m afraid of the Great Spirit’s wrath. This must have been why he forbid the People Above from coming into the valley.”
Together they prayed to the Great Spirit for forgiveness and guidance. In the World Above, the Great Spirit heard and knew that their hearts were good. With his hands he churned the wind to move the mountains, forming new valleys and new prairies. In this way, the Great Spirit made the whole planet beautiful.
The Great Spirit leaned down from the World Above and said, “All the world is now yours. But you have disobeyed me, so now you must work for your food. The valley won’t be summer forever anymore. It will die in the winter and be reborn in the spring. In the same way, you too will eventually grow old and die.”
Holding each other’s hands, First Woman and Sky Man looked out at the world, at their child, and still they were glad.