Jack London.

The acorn-planter; a California forest play online

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Produced by David Widger


A California Forest Play
Planned To Be Sung By Efficient Singers
Accompanied By A Capable Orchestra

By Jack London



In the morning of the world, while his tribe
makes its camp for the night in a grove, Red
Cloud, the first man of men, and the first man
of the Nishinam, save in war, sings of the duty
of life, which duty is to make life more abundant.
The Shaman, or medicine man, sings of
foreboding and prophecy. The War Chief, who
commands in war, sings that war is the only
way to life. This Red Cloud denies, affirming
that the way of life is the way of the acorn-
planter, and that whoso slays one man slays
the planter of many acorns. Red Cloud wins
the Shaman and the people to his contention.

After the passage of thousands of years, again
in the grove appear the Nishinam. In Red
Cloud, the War Chief, the Shaman, and the
Dew-Woman are repeated the eternal figures
of the philosopher, the soldier, the priest, and
the woman - types ever realizing themselves
afresh in the social adventures of man. Red
Cloud recognizes the wrecked explorers as
planters and life-makers, and is for treating
them with kindness. But the War Chief and
the idea of war are dominant The Shaman
joins with the war party, and is privy to the
massacre of the explorers.

A hundred years pass, when, on their seasonal
migration, the Nishinam camp for the night in
the grove. They still live, and the war formula
for life seems vindicated, despite the imminence
of the superior life-makers, the whites, who are
flooding into California from north, south, east,
and west - the English, the Americans, the
Spaniards, and the Russians. The massacre by
the white men follows, and Red Cloud, dying,
recognizes the white men as brother acorn-planters,
the possessors of the superior life-formula
of which he had always been a protagonist.

In the Epilogue, or Apotheosis, occur the
celebration of the death of war and the triumph
of the acorn-planters.


Time. _In the morning of the world._

Scene. _A forest hillside where great trees stand with wide
spaces between. A stream flows from a spring that bursts
out of the hillside. It is a place of lush ferns and brakes,
also, of thickets of such shrubs as inhabit a redwood forest
floor. At the left, in the open level space at the foot of the
hillside, extending out of sight among the trees, is visible a
portion of a Nishinam Indian camp. It is a temporary
camp for the night. Small cooking fires smoulder. Standing
about are withe-woven baskets for the carrying of supplies
and dunnage. Spears and bows and quivers of arrows lie
about. Boys drag in dry branches for firewood. Young
women fill gourds with water from the stream and proceed
about their camp tasks. A number of older women are
pounding acorns in stone mortars with stone pestles. An
old man and a Shaman, or priest, look expectantly up the
hillside. All wear moccasins and are skin-clad, primitive,
in their garmenting. Neither iron nor woven cloth occurs
in the weapons and gear._

_(Looking up hillside.)_
Red Cloud is late.

{Old Man}
_(After inspection of hillside.)_
He has chased the deer far. He is patient.
In the chase he is patient like an old man.

His feet are as fleet as the deer's.

{Old Man}
And he is more patient than the deer.

_(Assertively, as if inculcating a lesson.)_
He is a mighty chief.

{Old Man}
His father was a mighty chief. He is like to
his father.

_(More assertively.)_
He is his father. It is so spoken. He is
his father's father. He is the first man, the
first Red Cloud, ever born, and born again, to
chiefship of his people.

{Old Man}
It is so spoken.

His father was the Coyote. His mother was
the Moon. And he was the first man.

{Old Man}
His father was the Coyote. His mother was
the Moon. And he was the first man.

He planted the first acorns, and he is very

{Old Man}
He planted the first acorns, and he is very

_(Cries from the women and a turning of
faces. Red Cloud appears among his
hunters descending the hillside. All
carry spears, and bows and arrows.
Some carry rabbits and other small
game. Several carry deer)_


Red Cloud, the meat-bringer!
Red Cloud, the acorn-planter!
Red Cloud, first man of the Nishinam!
Thy people hunger.
Far have they fared.
Hard has the way been.
Day long they sought,
High in the mountains,
Deep in the pools,
Wide 'mong the grasses,
In the bushes, and tree-tops,
Under the earth and flat stones.
Few are the acorns,
Past is the time for berries,
Fled are the fishes, the prawns and the grasshoppers,
Blown far are the grass-seeds,
Flown far are the young birds,
Old are the roots and withered.
Built are the fires for the meat.
Laid are the boughs for sleep,
Yet thy people cannot sleep.
Red Cloud, thy people hunger.

{Red Cloud}
_(Still descending.)_
Good hunting! Good hunting!

Good hunting! Good hunting!

_(Completing the descent, Red Cloud
motions to the meat-bearers. They throw
down their burdens before the women,
who greedily inspect the spoils.)_


Meat that is good to eat,
Tender for old teeth,
Gristle for young teeth,
Big deer and fat deer,
Lean meat and fat meat,
Haunch-meat and knuckle-bone,
Liver and heart.
Food for the old men,
Life for all men,
For women and babes.
Easement of hunger-pangs,
Sorrow destroying,
Laughter provoking,
Joy invoking,
In the smell of its smoking
And its sweet in the mouth.

_(The younger women take charge of the meat,
and the older women resume their acorn-pounding.)_

_(Red Cloud approaches the acorn-pounders
and watches them with pleasure.
All group about him, the Shaman to the
fore, and hang upon his every action, his
every utterance.)_

{Red Cloud}
The heart of the acorn is good?

{First Old Woman}
It is good food.

{Red Cloud}
When you have pounded and winnowed and
washed away the bitter.

{Second Old Woman}
As thou taught'st us, Red Cloud, when the
world was very young and thou wast the first man.

{Red Cloud}
It is a fat food. It makes life, and life is good.

It was thou, Red Cloud, gathering the acorns
and teaching the storing, who gavest life to the
Nishinam in the lean years aforetime, when the
tribes not of the Nishinam passed like the dew
of the morning.

_(He nods a signal to the Old Man.)_

{Old Man}
In the famine in the old time,
When the old man was a young man,
When the heavens ceased from raining,
When the grasslands parched and withered,
When the fishes left the river,
And the wild meat died of sickness,
In the tribes that knew not acorns,
All their women went dry-breasted,
All their younglings chewed the deer-hides,
All their old men sighed and perished,
And the young men died beside them,
Till they died by tribe and totem,
And o'er all was death upon them.
Yet the Nishinam unvanquished,
Did not perish by the famine.
Oh, the acorns Red Cloud gave them!
Oh, the acorns Red Cloud taught them
How to store in willow baskets
'Gainst the time and need of famine!

_(Who, throughout the Old Man's recital, has
nodded approbation, turning to Red

Sing to thy people, Red Cloud, the song of
life which is the song of the acorn.

{Red Cloud}
_(Making ready to begin)_
And which is the song of woman, O Shaman.

_(Hushing the people to listen, solemnly)_
He sings with his father's lips, and with the
lips of his father's fathers to the beginning of time
and men.


{Red Cloud}
I am Red Cloud,
The first man of the Nishinam.
My father was the Coyote.
My mother was the Moon.
The Coyote danced with the stars,
And wedded the Moon on a mid-summer night
The Coyote is very wise,
The Moon is very old,
Mine is his wisdom,
Mine is her age.
I am the first man.
I am the life-maker and the father of life.
I am the fire-bringer.
The Nishinam were the first men,
And they were without fire,
And knew the bite of the frost of bitter nights.
The panther stole the fire from the East,
The fox stole the fire from the panther,
The ground squirrel stole the fire from the fox,
And I, Red Cloud, stole the fire from the ground squirrel.
I, Red Cloud, stole the fire for the Nishinam,
And hid it in the heart of the wood.
To this day is the fire there in the heart of the wood.
I am the Acorn-Planter.
I brought down the acorns from heaven.
I planted the short acorns in the valley.
I planted the long acorns in the valley.
I planted the black-oak acorns that sprout, that sprout!
I planted the _sho-kum_ and all the roots of the ground.
I planted the oat and the barley, the beaver-tail grass-nut,
The tar-weed and crow-foot, rock lettuce and ground lettuce,
And I taught the virtue of clover in the season of blossom,
The yellow-flowered clover, ball-rolled in its yellow dust.
I taught the cooking in baskets by hot stones from the fire,
Took the bite from the buckeye and soap-root
By ground-roasting and washing in the sweetness of water,
And of the manzanita the berry I made into flour,
Taught the way of its cooking with hot stones in sand pools,
And the way of its eating with the knobbed tail of the deer.
Taught I likewise the gathering and storing,
The parching and pounding
Of the seeds from the grasses and grass-roots;
And taught I the planting of seeds in the Nishinam home-camps,
In the Nishinam hills and their valleys,
In the due times and seasons,
To sprout in the spring rains and grow ripe in the sun.

Hail, Red Cloud, the first man!

{The People}
Hail, Red Cloud, the first man!

Who showedst us the way of our feet in the world!

{The People}
Who showedst us the way of our feet in the world!

Who showedst us the way of our food in the world!

{The People}
Who showedst us the way of our food in the world!

Who showedst us the way of our hearts in the world!

{The People}
Who showedst us the way of our hearts in the world!

Who gavest us the law of family!

{The People}
Who gavest us the law of family!

The law of tribe!

{The People}
The law of tribe!

The law of totem!

{The People}
The law of totem!

And madest us strong in the world among men!

{The People}
And madest us strong in the world among men!

{Red Cloud}
Life is good, O Shaman, and I have sung but
half its song. Acorns are good. So is woman
good. Strength is good. Beauty is good. So is
kindness good. Yet are all these things without
power except for woman. And by these things
woman makes strong men, and strong men make
for life, ever for more life.

{War Chief}
_(With gesture of interruption that causes
remonstrance from the Shaman but which
Red Cloud acknowledges.)_

I care not for beauty. I desire strength in
battle and wind in the chase that I may kill my
enemy and run down my meat.

{Red Cloud}
Well spoken, O War Chief. By voices in
council we learn our minds, and that, too, is
strength. Also, is it kindness. For kindness
and strength and beauty are one. The eagle in
the high blue of the sky is beautiful. The salmon
leaping the white water in the sunlight is beautiful.
The young man fastest of foot in the race
is beautiful. And because they fly well, and leap
well, and run well, are they beautiful. Beauty
must beget beauty. The ring-tail cat begets
the ring-tail cat, the dove the dove. Never
does the dove beget the ring-tail cat. Hearts
must be kind. The little turtle is not kind.
That is why it is the little turtle. It lays its
eggs in the sun-warm sand and forgets its young
forever. And the little turtle is forever the
Kttle turtle. But we are not little turtles,
because we are kind. We do not leave our young
to the sun in the sand. Our women keep our
young warm under their hearts, and, after, they
keep them warm with deer-skin and campfire.
Because we are kind we are men and not little
turtles, and that is why we eat the little turtle
that is not strong because it is not kind.

{War Chief}
_(Gesturing to be heard.)_
The Modoc come against us in their strength.
Often the Modoc come against us. We cannot
be kind to the Modoc.

{Red Cloud}
That will come after. Kindness grows. First
must we be kind to our own. After, long after,
all men will be kind to all men, and all men will
be very strong. The strength of the Nishinam
is not the strength of its strongest fighter. It is
the strength of all the Nishinam added together
that makes the Nishinam strong. We talk, you
and I, War Chief and First Man, because we are
kind one to the other, and thus we add together
our wisdom, and all the Nishinam are stronger
because we have talked.

_(A voice is heard singing. Red Cloud
holds up his hand for silence.)_


In the morning by the river,
In the evening at the fire,
In the night when all lay sleeping,
Torn was I with life's desire.
There were stirrings 'neath my heart-beats
Of the dreams that came to me;
In my ears were whispers, voices,
Of the children yet to be.

{Red Cloud}
_(As Red Cloud sings, Dew-Woman
steals from behind a tree and approaches

In the morning by the river
Saw I first my maid of dew,
Daughter of the dew and dawnlight,
Of the dawn and honey-dew.
She was laughter, she was sunlight,
Woman, maid, and mate, and wife;
She was sparkle, she was gladness,
She was all the song of life.

In the night I built my fire,
Fire that maidens foster when
In the ripe of mating season
Each builds for her man of men.

{Red Cloud}
In the night I sought her, proved her,
Found her ease, content, and rest,
After day of toil and struggle
Man's reward on woman's breast.

Came to me my mate and lover;
Kind the hands he laid on me;
Wooed me gently as a man may,
Father of the race to be.

{Red Cloud}
Soft her arms about me bound me,
First man of the Nishinam,
Arms as soft as dew and dawnlight,
Daughter of the Nishinam.

{Red Cloud}
She was life and she was woman!

He was life and he was man!

{Red Cloud} and Dew-Woman

_(Arms about each other.)_
In the dusk-time of our love-night,
There beside the marriage fire,
Proved we all the sweets of living,
In the arms of our desire.

{War Chief}
The councils of men are not the place for

{Red Cloud}
As men grow kind and wise there will be
women in the councils of men. As men grow
their women must grow with them if they would
continue to be the mothers of men.

{War Chief}
It is told of old time that there are women in
the councils of the Sim. And is it not told that
the Sun Man will destroy us?

{Red Cloud}
Then is the Sun Man the stronger; it may be
because of his kindness and wiseness, and because
of his women.

{Young Brave}
Is it told that the women of the Sun are good
to the eye, soft to the arm, and a fire in the heart
of man?

_(Holding up hand solemnly.)_
It were well, lest the young do not forget, to
repeat the old word again.

{War Chief}
_(Nodding confirmation.)_
Here, where the tale is told.

_(Pointing to the spring.)_
Here, where the water burst from under the heel
of the Sun Man mounting into the sky.

_(War Chief leads the way up the hillside
to the spring, and signals to the Old Man
to begin)_

{Old Man}
When the world was in the making,
Here within the mighty forest,
Came the Sun Man every morning.
White and shining was the Sun Man,
Blue his eyes were as the sky-blue,
Bright his hair was as dry grass is,
Warm his eyes were as the sun is,
Fruit and flower were in his glances;
All he looked on grew and sprouted,
As these trees we see about us,
Mightiest trees in all the forest,
For the Sun Man looked upon them.

Where his glance fell grasses seeded,
Where his feet fell sprang upstarting -
Buckeye woods and hazel thickets,
Berry bushes, manzanita,
Till his pathway was a garden,
Flowing after like a river,
Laughing into bud and blossom.
There was never frost nor famine
And the Nishinam were happy,
Singing, dancing through the seasons,
Never cold and never hungered,
When the Sun Man lived among us.

But the foxes mean and cunning,
Hating Nishinam and all men,
Laid their snares within this forest,
Caught the Sun Man in the morning,
With their ropes of sinew caught him,
Bound him down to steal his wisdom
And become themselves bright Sun Men,
Warm of glance and fruitful-footed,
Masters of the frost and famine.

Swiftly the Coyote running
Came to aid the fallen Sun Man,
Swiftly killed the cunning foxes,
Swiftly cut the ropes of sinew,
Swiftly the Coyote freed him.

But the Sun Man in his anger,
Lightning flashing, thunder-throwing,
Loosed the frost and fanged the famine,
Thorned the bushes, pinched the berries,
Put the bitter in the buckeye,
Rocked the mountains to their summits,
Flung the hills into the valleys,
Sank the lakes and shoaled the rivers,
Poured the fresh sea in the salt sea,
Stamped his foot here in the forest,
Where the water burst from under
Heel that raised him into heaven -
Angry with the world forever
Rose the Sun Man into heaven.

I am the Shaman. I know what has gone
before and what will come after. I have passed
down through the gateway of death and talked
with the dead. My eyes have looked upon the
unseen things. My ears have heard the
unspoken words. And now I shall tell you of
the Sun Man in the days to come.

_(Shaman stiffens suddenly with hideous
facial distortions, with inturned eye-balls
and loosened jaw. He waves his arms
about, writhes and twists in torment, as
if in epilepsy.)_

_(The Women break into a wailing, inarticulate
chant, swaying their bodies to the
accent. The men join them somewhat
reluctantly, all save Red Cloud, who
betrays vexation, and War Chief, who
betrays truculence.)_

_(Shaman, leading the rising frenzy, with
convulsive shiverings and tremblings tears
of his skin garments so that he is quite
naked save for a girdle of eagle-claws
about his thighs. His long black hair
flies about his face. With an abruptness
that is startling, he ceases all movement
and stands erect, rigid. This is greeted
with a low moaning that slowly dies


The Sun never grows cold.
The Sun Man is like the Sun.
His anger never grows cold.
The Sun Man will return.
The Sun Man will come back from the Sun.

The Sun Man will return.
The Sun Man will come back from the Sun.

There is a sign.
As the water burst forth when he rose into the sky,
So will the water cease to flow when he returns from the sky.
The Sun Man is mighty.
In his eyes is blue fire.
In his hands he bears the thunder.
The lightnings are in his hair.

In his hands he bears the thunder.
The lightnings are in his hair.

There is a sign.
The Sun Man is white.
His skin is white like the sun.
His hair is bright like the sunlight.'
His eyes are blue like the sky.

There is a sign.
The Sun Man is white.

The Sun Man is mighty.
He is the enemy of the Nishinam.
He will destroy the Nishinam.

He is the enemy of the Nishinam.
He will destroy the Nishinam.

There is a sign.
The Sun Man will bear the thunder in his hand.

There is a sign.
The Sun Man will bear the thunder in his hand.

In the day the Sun Man comes
The water from the spring will no longer flow.
And in that day he will destroy the Nishinam.
With the thunder will he destroy the Nishinam.
The Nishinam will be like last year's grasses.
The Nishinam will be like the smoke of last year's campfires.
The Nishinam will be less than the dreams that trouble the sleeper.
The Nishinam will be like the days no man remembers.
I am the Shaman.
I have spoken.

_(The People set up a sad wailing.)_

{War Chief}
_(Striking his chest with his fist.)_
Hoh! Hoh! Hoh!

_(The People cease from their wailing and
look to the War Chief with hopeful

{War Chief}
I am the War Chief. In war I command.
Nor the Shaman nor Red Cloud may say me nay
when in war I command. Let the Sun Man
come back. I am not afraid. If the foxes snared
him with ropes, then can I slay him with spear-
thrust and war-club. I am the War Chief. In
war I command.

_(The People greet War Chief's pronouncement
with warlike cries of approval.)_

{Red Cloud}
The foxes are cunning. If they snared the Sun Man
With ropes of sinew, then let us be cunning
And snare him with ropes of kindness.
In kindness, O War Chief, is strength, much strength.

Red Cloud speaks true. In kindness is strength.

{War Chief}
I am the War Chief.

You cannot slay the Sun Man.

{War Chief}
I am the War Chief.

The Sun Man fights with the thunder in his hand.

{War Chief}
I am the War Chief.

{Red Cloud}
_(As he speaks the People are visibly wan by
his argument.)_

You speak true, O War Chief. In war you
command. You are strong, most strong. You
have slain the Modoc. You have slain the Napa.
You have slain the Clam-Eaters of the big water
till the last one is not. Yet you have not slain
all the foxes. The foxes cannot fight, yet are
they stronger than you because you cannot slay
them. The foxes are foxes, but we are men.

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Online LibraryJack LondonThe acorn-planter; a California forest play → online text (page 1 of 3)