It happened before the Moon was first eaten by mice, before the lands in the west were swallowed by the ocean, before the stars in the night sky were given names. This was a long time ago.
Old lady Raven was hopping and muttering on the gravel beach where a small river emptied into the ocean. "Where are the dying salmon, pink and angry?" she said to herself. She picked up a pebble and flung it into the water. "Where are the blubber-rich scraps of walrus?" She lifted a raft of seaweed and said, "Where is the fat carcass of a goose that has died?"
Then, hopping to the smooth silver trunk of a driftwood log, old lady Raven shook her shining black wings and shouted in frustration. "Where? Where?"
Deep within the alder bushes that grew along the river, just on the other side of the gravel beach, a pair of sparrows were keeping their heads down. They did not know the old lady, but they did not like the look of her strong beak or the sound of her peevish muttering. You never knew with people, but then again, you kind of did.
They fluffed their grey feathers against the wind coming over the ocean and then tried not to catch one another's eye as old lady Raven yelled so loud that she nearly tipped herself from the driftwood log. The one sparrow spoke as softly as he could, leaning in to the soft nape of his mate's neck, "Who is she talking to?"
His mate sidled a little closer to him and said nothing.
"Wouldn't it be funny if we were to pretend to be the god of ravens and answer her?"
His mate chuckled, low in her throat.
"Wouldn't it be funny if we told Raven that the food she wants can be found under water?"
His mate gave him an indulgent look.
"The god of ravens would croak, 'Dark lady, I hear you! I have prepared a feast and you, my beautiful daughter, will be the first to the table! I have every kind of meat set aside for you there!'"
The sparrow stopped to wipe his beak on a twig, because it was difficult to imitate a god of ravens quietly and his voice was a little sore. He continued, "Then the god would say, 'Take up a large pebble in your mouth, my daughter, and swim with your fine shining wings to the bottom of my ocean!' And overtaken by awe and greed, the silly creature would abandon the open air. She would dive under the waves and swim with her strong wings until the moment came when she drowned."
Whether his mate would have chuckled again or not, the sparrow was never to know, for old lady Raven was suddenly perched with them in the alder bush.
The sparrows could each see their reflection in the glittering black eyes of old lady Raven. One fat sparrow in either eye and Raven's beak like a fine obsidian hatchet in the middle. The first sparrow blinked at his reflection. His mate made a tiny, indelicate noise by accident.
The raven laughed. Then she raised her shining black wings and shouted, "Fly!"
The sparrows flew.
Old lady Raven shook her feathers back and preened for a moment. She croaked a musical note and said, " 'And that moment,' the sparrows will tell each other, 'with a single word, the goddess Lady Raven first brought sparrows into the world.' "
*As a tourist, I saw only the outermost level of Tlingit culture: the totem poles, the wooden buildings, story-telling at the visitors' centres, and the occasional petroglyph. My rift on the tradition of Raven is a pale copy of the real stories, but meant respectfully.