- Paul Bunyan (1958) A Disney short in which Thurl Ravenscroft voices the big man. You may have noticed my story has very little in the way of a climax, which is why the Disney storymen created a contest between Paul and an electric saw (similar to the contest John Henry won in his own story). The difference, of course, is that Paul lost his contest and retired up North where, the story tells, the Northern Lights are created by Paul and Babe roughhousing.
Monday, September 24, 2012
It has been said that America was built by big men. Generally speaking, that’s a figure of speech meaning that they had big spirits or big ambitions. Sometimes, however, they meant “big” quite literally. And they don’t come much bigger than the subject of today’s story: Paul Bunyan.
As I’m sure you all know, babies are delivered by storks. Ordinarily, one stork can bring sevearl babies at once. In Paul’s case, however, it took about ten storks just to get him to his parents’ doorstep. As a baby, he was bigger than most full grown men! Obviously, this made taking care of the boy into quite a task, and the whole town had to pitch in. Two whole herds of cattle were milked to exhaustion just to feed him. An entire forest had to be cut down to build his cradle. And it took every voice in the community singing in perfect harmony to lull him to sleep.
As he grew up, so did his problems. Being too big to fit in the schoolhouse, he had to sit outside and look in through the window. He loved playing with the other boys, but it wasn’t always easy. For one thing, you never wanted to be playing catcher when Paul came sliding into home! But even though he was (to use the term loosely) a handful, Paul’s friends, family and neighbors loved him and were more than happy to take care of him.
Now, in those days it was customary for boys to take up their fathers’ professions. In Paul’s case, his father was a lumberjack. So, every day since Paul’s birth, his father had the town save up all the scrap metal they could, so that by the time Paul was old enough, they had enough to melt down and make into a giant, double-bladed axe. Paul was a natural lumberjack and could cut down a whole forest with just a few swings of his axe.
Of course, Paul couldn’t stay in that little town all his life, and on his eighteenth birthday he decided it was time to go out into the wilderness where there were plenty of trees (and elbow room) for a big man to cut down. He traveled all over the Americas, joining logging crews and then moving on. That’s how the legends about him grew. For instance, he spent a lot of time in Minnesota right before the rainy season. It’s said that his water-filled bootprints are the reason that state is known as the “Land of Ten Thousand Lakes.”
But poor Paul could never stay in one place for very long. Once all the trees were down, cities started to spring up and he started to feel crowded by civilization. It was ironic that his great skill as a lumberjack, so integral to the forming of the country, was the very thing that kept him from being able to settle down. Paul didn’t really mind, of course. He liked traveling and everywhere he went, he always made a lot of good friends. The sad part was that, because he was so much bigger than everyone else, he never had any friendships that lasted…
Until he met Babe.
At the time, Paul was staying up north where it was so cold, even the snow was blue. The blue snow was so thick he could barely see, so it’s not surprising that Paul tripped over something which was just as blue as the snow. In falling, he caused the earth around him to rise into what, to him, were small mounds of dirt and rock. To the rest of us, however, they became known as the Canadian Rockies! In any case, Paul looked back to see what he had tripped over and was amazed to see a giant blue ox! Frozen solid in the snow. Being an outdoorsman, Paul had compassion for all living creatures and quickly started a campfire to warm the beast up. After being rescued from freezing to death, the ox became very affectionate toward Paul and snuggled him the way a babe snuggles with its mother, which is why Paul named the ox “Babe.” From then on, Paul Bunyan and Babe the Big Blue Ox were inseperable.
Just about everywhere you go in North America, you’ll see Paul’s work. One day he and Babe dug the Mississippi river so that they could float logs down from the north. They built Pike’s Peak to survey their work. And, when he felt like he needed a shower, he created what today we call Niagara Falls.
And whatever happened to Paul and his trusty blue ox, Babe? Well, no one knows for sure. Some say that when they ran out of wilderness, they just took two big steps and left the whole world. Some say they went up to Alaska, and their playful wrestling is what causes the Northern Lights in the night sky. But even though they’re gone, they’re not forgotten nor are the many marks they left on this continent.
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