Having a Voice in the World

A Dragon like a River

A Minnesota Dragon

Once, there was a mighty dragon. He wasn’t just mighty, he was helpful. He had a great reputation as a stump puller, and was always a welcome guest on those soggy camping trips when no one else could get the fire going. Basically, he liked to be with, and he liked to help.

There came a summer with no rain. Crops wouldn’t grow, animals were dying of thirst, and everyone worried that there wouldn’t be enough to eat, come winter.

Sometimes, to have a voice in the world, you need many voices. I wrote and performed this fable in 2014, as part of a concert with VocalPoint Chorus. Each year, they choose a beneficiary organization. The choristers (currently 70 singers) spend weeks learning about the partner organization and its work, becoming living amplifiers — a singing, publicity machine — along the way. The process culminates with a fundraising concert. This year’s beneficiary is Upstream Arts.

Wind in our Sails: The Creative Art of Packing our Boats for the Upstream Journey

VocalPoint Chorus

February 27th & 28th, 2016

Central Presbyterian Church
500 Cedar Street
Downtown Saint Paul

Tickets & Information

The dragon saw all this. He hated to see people suffering, and so he did what dragons do when they worry; he scratched and fretted and sat on his haunches and chewed his toenails. Then he had an idea.

In those days, like now, there was a Great Committee. They lived in a big castle up on the hill, and if you wanted to get anything done, you had to get their permission, first. So the dragon went to the Committee: “If you can make me a big bucket,” he told them, “I will bring water for everyone.”

The men and women of the Committee hemmed and hawed. “I don’t have time to make a bucket,” said one. “I’m not sure everyone deserves water,” said another. “You know, if people were smart, they would have seen this coming and saved up their water,” said yet another.

You have to know that dragons are, as a rule, very patient. But after hours of listening to the Committee dickering back and forth, our dragon lost hope. He slumped away, feeling very sad.

When the dragon’s camping buddies realized they hadn’t seen him for a few days, they went looking. They found him crying at the bottom of a dried-up lake. (Dragons don’t cry tears, you know — they just spark. Our dragon had gone to the lake bed to cry so he wouldn’t accidentally set anything on fire. Like I said, he was considerate.)

“What’s wrong, Dragon?” asked one of the campers, a boy everyone called Small Paul.

“I need a bucket,” replied the Dragon. “And I can’t make it myself.” He waved his unwieldy claw.

“Well, that’s an easy problem to fix,” said Small Paul. “We learned how to make buckets last year at camp.”

“It needs to be a really big bucket,” said the Dragon.

So the campers gathered their supplies. One girl got some nice hickory sticks and bent them over a frame to make bucket ribs. Several campers ran to fetch as many hides as they could find. And then they all sat together, leaning on their friend the dragon for warmth. They waxed their threads, and started to sew.

They sewed until the sun went down, and then they sewed as the stars came out. They pricked their fingers many times as they pushed their needles through the tough hides. As the night wore on, and everyone started to get a little sore and cranky, Small Paul said to the Dragon: “You know, you may not have the opposable thumbs needed for sewing, but you can still sing to us. It will make the work go faster.”

Well, the dragon was very flattered. You probably don’t know this, but dragons love to sing, and if you’ve never heard one, it’s just because they’re very bashful about it. Many’s the time our dragon had found himself a lonely hilltop where he could try out his favorite ditties without being heard. But now! The campers had asked for a song, and he was, after all, a helpful dragon. So he cleared his throat. He made a little comment about how he really wasn’t a very good singer… but after a few warbles, he started to feel more confident, and he sang into the night as around him his friends sewed the biggest bucket in the world.

In the morning, the bucket was finally finished. It was so big, even the dragon worried he wouldn’t be able to carry it, once filled with water. But singing all night had given him courage. So he grabbed the handle in his talons, and lept into the sky. He flew to the great lake in the north — the lake that is so vast it never dries, even after months with no rain — and he brought the water back to his people, and they rejoiced.

Well, most of them rejoiced. Remember the Committee? “We had plans for this drought!” They said. “We were going to build a desert theme park! We’ve already lined up the corporate sponsorship and ordered the camels!”

Never underestimate the power of a committee unified in anger. “You want to bring water to the people?” They cried. “So be it!” And they raised their arms and called out an incantation. A great rumbling filled the air, so loud that everyone crouched down and covered their heads. When all was finally quiet again, the people rose and discovered that, in an act of unprecedented bipartisanship, the Great Committee had turned their friend the dragon into a mighty river. Nothing was left of him but a single scapula. “People, you shall have your water,” said the Committee. “May it ever divide you!”

But remember Small Paul? He stood at the banks of the river and looked at the bucket, and then looked at the scapula of his friend the dragon. You know what a scapula is, right? It’s your shoulder blade. Dragons have them, too. It’s a big, flat bone, and a dragon scapula makes a perfect paddle.

Small Paul turned to the man beside him: “Hey,” he said. “You wanna cross the river? For two feathers and an apple, my friends and I will take you across in our boat.” So they hopped in the bucket and all the campers took turns paddling across to the other side. And when they got there, they built a big bonfire along the banks and spent the night singing and dancing for their friend the dragon.