Windigo Winter Rolls On by Sara Wright

  Preface: Yesterday someone asked me to contribute an academic article that had to be cited to be included in a book. I said no because my academic years are over. My life experience has taught me that education is simply not enough to shift perception, and that Story may be equally/ or more important because story taps into the creative side of us, moving us through our childhood senses which include our feelings. Although not specifically feminist in content, I believe the underlying messages belong to feminism. The first highlights the destructive greedy ‘head’ without a body. The second addresses the complicated situation we find ourselves in – offering us a way through. The second story also highlights the primary difference between an exchange economy and a gift giving one.


This year in the North country, Windigo stole March, normally a month of subtle change when rain begins, snow recedes and the first tentative walks in the woods become possibility, if not reality.  My turkeys must still swim through white sludge to feed if they come at all. On a morning like this one not one gobble. Only the cardinals visit at dawn, yet migrants like the Sandhill cranes, woodcock, winter wren, and phoebe, flew over our county last night along with many ducks … 3 billion extinct, 10,000 migrating – Is hope to be found on the wing?

 It snowed again yesterday with more to come. After 5 months of black on white, bowed and wind whipped trees, shattered trunks and boughs, ongoing freeze thaw and ice, Windigo continues to stalk the landscape. Uneasy, I tell myself that I must expect more extreme weather, floods, and droughts, even while acknowledging that the weather is not really the problem – at least not now. No shoveling is necessary, the earth is thawing, and afternoon sun will soften the monstrous drifts and strip the trees of ice before the day is over. Increasingly extreme weather is only one symptom of more disastrous changes that are occurring.

Windigo is a mythological monster so named by the Northern Indigenous tribes of the Iroquois Confederacy (template for the Constitution – minus rights for women) because this figure used to the haunt the lives of Northern peoples who often starved to death when winter refused to let go. Always hungry, he had to have more and yet nothing ever filled him up. In many images he is depicted as a head, usually with antlers. The bones of the dead.

 In the Indigenous First Nations tale Windigo is finally vanquished because the season shifts into spring. Nature set limits on the damage Windigo can do at least for Northern peoples. Across the plains it is understood that humans become windigos because of their greed and avarice. It should be noted that every Indigenous tribe has a figure like this one; Windigo goes by many names.

 Today Windigo has become a more threatening monster assuming any form he wishes, and his presence is felt among all peoples, not just those with Indigenous roots. Recall this figure is always starving…As human populations skyrocket from eight billion to ten, Windigo is at the helm. Our Collective Greed and Overpopulation increase his power with each passing day… “More, More, More” His sultry voice is insistent, even haunting our dreams.  

Windigo is stealing souls. I will not give him mine.

  I think of another tale I loved as a child. Little Black Sambo was an Indian* boy who was chased by ferocious tigers who wanted to kill him. The boy gave the tigers all he had to escape being murdered by his predators. Outwitted, the furious tigers then turned on each other in a jealous rage, racing round and round in a circle so fast that they changed physical form transforming into butter!

 Little Black Sambo knew when to let go of everything but himself and got away. And, indirectly, he did away with the tigers too! There’s a lesson here for me and perhaps for all humans about breakdown.

With our current political ‘identity’ crisis, many black and white folks still revile this latter tale insisting it is a story of discrimination and misogyny – totally missing its message. Like Windigo in his current guise as insatiable monster who is with us all year long, predatory tigers stalk the vulnerable as we speak. We have become a nation so starved for meaning that we can’t feel the Windigo expanding within us with the ferocity of a wild cat. Consumers consuming themselves while Windigo whispers ‘more’. We are tigers chasing our tails into oblivion; There is a huge difference between knowing what we want and what we need.

If a story – child understood the difference, why can’t we?

Listening to tale like this with open minds and feeling hearts might help shift perspectives – we might yet begin to change the ending – but will we?

This morning I read an article about Maine legislators angrily fighting over leasing hundreds of ocean miles for fish farming.

 Just when did we decide we owned the ocean that birthed us?  With this kind of greed …

I leave the reader with an open ending.

  • I have Indigenous roots and have been discriminated against for being ‘different’ all of my life… so it’s not that I don’t have compassion – it’s just that I believe it’s time to move through our differences.
  • I just finished this story and published it when I learned that indeed the Sandhills are in Maine. As of March 25th, they have been spotted in Winthrop – considering that this is the date of the first Mother’s Day I am including this wondrous sighting. Our Avian Ancestors in flight…

Author: Sara Wright

I am a writer and naturalist who lives in a little log cabin by a brook with my two dogs and a ring necked dove named Lily B. I write a naturalist column for a local paper and also publish essays, poems and prose in a number of other publications.

4 thoughts on “Windigo Winter Rolls On by Sara Wright”

  1. Thank you for this important post. Greed is indeed devastating to both our souls and our planet. Lately, whenever I hear a new economic report I think about how we are tracking the wrong things, or at least celebrating the wrong things. Instead of thinking that constant growth is a good thing, we really need to be tracking how those of us who have more than we need can cut down on our consumption, not increase it. And, in consideration of those who don’t have enough, track our progress towards income equality and making sure that everyone’s basic needs are met. One of the advantages of old age, I’m finding, is that I finally know what I really need to meet my basic needs (microwave and dishwasher, no; reliable soup pot, yes) and I find that my buying has come down to mostly just replacing necessities that wear out, food, and books I can’t get from the library. Thanks for giving me some new ways to think about all this!


    1. Carolyn, like you I live so simply – don’t even own a dryer! have no gimmicks and buy nothing unless something wears out – I have so little need for stuff in general except good books! I do think old age contributes to this needless ness when it comes to stuff – Except for clothes when I was young – the kinds of things I gathered were free and I am still collecting – birds nests, lichens fill empty bowls – plants root happily – and outdoors with so many weather extremes I have let my perennial garden go… for one thing it needs watering! If we lived in a culture that privileged ‘old” we might be in a position to guide the young towards less is more – but we don’t – so greed continues to overtake us – I have no answers – just do my best to help when I can and write about nature… it’s all I have.


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