Oral history interview with an anonymous retired logger (Interviewee #15) for the Forest Solar System Logging Corp. Interview conducted by Tess Dalgleish on stardate 99938 on Planet Minnesota. Topic of the interview is the legend of Paul Bunyan. This version includes Babe the Big Blue Ox.
- Monsters – Animals – Folklore
- Mythology, Emerging
- Solar Systems – Forest
Dalgleish: A lot of the people I’ve interviewed have mentioned Paul Bunyan. Do you know anything about him?
Interviewee #15: Sure do.
Dalgleish: Can you tell me?
Interviewee #15: Hooo, there’s lotsa stories ’bout him.
Dalgleish: Why don’t we start with your favorite?
Interviewee #15: Well, alright. Settle in fer a spell.
Back in those days, we’d just found this here solar system. Ev’ryone was all excited cuz, well, we was basically out of trees down on Earth and no place else we’d found yet could grow ’em. But here was all these planets o’ giant trees growin’ at quadruple the rate o’ any we’d ever seen. Named them all after the places trees used to grow back on Earth like Planet Oregon. Planet Michigan. Ain’t nobody wanted wood much when we couldn’t get it but when we found this here star system? All o’ a sudden all them there rich folks decided they did. My pop tole me the rich folks used ta wear rings made o’ iron, not wood. Can you imagine? Anyways.
Maybe the ships full o’ work crews an’ their families shoulda ’spected strange things ta happen in a new solar system. But they didn’t. So baby Paul, he was a big ole surprise – pun intended. Came out pretty normal, his mama birthed him in the hospital wing o’ the ship, but then…well, he grew. Three times the weight of a reg’lar baby. Overnight! Still looked jus’ like a baby though.
By the time Paul was old ’nuff fer work, he’d been big ’nuff fer years, He had ta duck an’ turn sideways jus’ ta get through them ship doors. Couldn’t fit in the livin’ quarters. Had ta sleep in the ship’s cargo hold. If’n you lined up his axe next ta him, it took sixty-three o’ them to reach the top o’ his head.
The first crew the logging corp put him on – on Planet Warshington – soon learnt he’d fell 200 trees in one day all by hisself. Jus’ him was like havin’ a whole crew. Trouble was, he et that much too. The cook made durn near three hundred hotcakes fer that crew, and Paul et ’em all in under five minutes.
So the logging corp thought, if’n he could do the work of a whole crew by hisself, then the only thing was ta send him… where do you think it was?
Dalgleish: Hmm, since he was by himself, maybe the smallest planet in the system, so Planet Vermont?
Interviewee #15: Well, that’s a right fine guess. But no. They done figured the biggest feller b’longed on the biggest planet – Wisconsin.
Dalgleish: Oh wow.
Interviewee #15: Yer durn tootin’. An all be hisself too! They done tole him they’d come back fer him in a year. Now, I’m not sayin’ I disagree with the corp – they do their best takin’ care o’ ev’ryone ’n’ all. But I am sayin’, maybe they shoulda at least sent a cook too. Stead o’ teachin’ him ta cook fer hisself. People get lonely. Even fellers like Paul.
Planet Wisconsin was rare even in this here Forest Solar System. Didn’t have much water. A whole planet o’ mostly cedar an’ fir an’ ash quadruple the height o’ those types o’ trees on Earth, mind you. Well, they warn’t those ’xact trees. We just call ’em whatever Earth trees their wood is most like, y’know.
Now even though the trees was special, even fer here, the critters was about the same. It had the giant bugs we got here on Minnesota – bee-like creatures. Reminded me of those, whatcha call ’em, carpenter bees. Giant ’n’ scary lookin’. Always pokin’ their heads in where they don’t belong. Ya seen any?
Dalgleish: Not yet.
Interviewee #15: Don’t you worry if’n you do. Harmless. Jus’ big. An’ Wisconsin had some o’ those giant bird-like things too. We don’t got them here. They’s a lot like corvids – ravens, blue jays ‘n’ those – cep’n they got two heads! We used ta joke – ya gotta know yer birds ’n’ bees ta be planetside. But there warn’t no creatures bigger than them. Or so ev’ryone thought.
Paul spent the first few weeks buildin’ hisself a cabin ’n’ larnin’ some bird-like creature songs. When he warn’t loggin’ fer the corp o’ course. He’d whistle ’em an’ play the spoons. But a feller can only do them things fer so many hours. An’ Paul, a few months inta it, well, he started ta get lonesome.
So one Sunday, Paul decided ta hike ta the other side o’ the planet. He hiked ’n’ he hiked, wishin’ there was lakes er oceans er somethin’ ta break it all up. By midday he warn’t tired but he was feelin’ a rumble in his belly, so he done set hisself down ta eat some sandwiches. An’ that’s when he heard it. The rumble o’ what sounded like somethin’ walkin’.
The trees shook. The bird-like creatures squawked. The bee-like creatures buzzed off ta ’vestigate. Paul, tho, he just done kept settin’ there. Cain’t be nothin’ out there, he thought ta hisself. I’da known by now.
Then, a low-pitched rumble came. Like thunder in the distance. But warn’t no clouds in the sky. Paul done stood up. Then, an ash tree came crashin’ down. Like someone’d pushed it over. Some say Paul was a brave man, runnin’ right at the crashin’. I say Paul was a lotta things – strong, big, speedy, hard worker – but I think it was loneliness an’ curios’ty that put that get up in his britches. Paul’d never met somethin’ big ’nuff ta skeer him. Why should he be ’fraid o’ whatever it was that day?
So. In jus’ a few quick steps, Paul climbed the hill an’ there at the top, layin’ in a right purty spot o’ sun he’d just made hisself was a giant blue ox. When I say giant I mean that ox was just the right size for Paul. So big ’nuff ta crush any o’ us reg’lar sized folk with one wrong-put hoof. If’n you want ’specifics, he was forty-two o’ Paul’s axe handles wide.
Now this ox was jus’ like Earth’s ’cep’ ’n’ fer two things – his size an’ his color. He was blue. Not jus’ any blue. He was the blue o’ summertime sports drinks. The blue o’ them big bowls o’ cocktails tourists share with them there umbrellas. A blue not anywhere in nat’ral Earth, but, it appeared, a blue nat’ral ta Planet Wisconsin! An’ comin’ outta his big blue head was two bone-white horns. The trees crashin’ over was that ox tryin’ ta make a path through the forest an’ gettin’ those durn horns stuck on ev’rythin’.
Paul, well, he jus’ walked right on up ta that ox an’ reached out a hand, pattin’ him on the nose. “Well hey there, big fella,” he done said to him. “You all by yerself?” He fed him a piece o’ apple pie he was gonna have fer dessert. I know you never done heard ’bout no ox eatin’ pie ’fore, but that big blue ox always did.
Well, that big blue ox done followed Paul home. Now, whether he invited him or he jus’ tagged along, that’s debated. Me, I think Paul invited him. What we do know fer sure is the next day Paul looked fer more ox, but he ain’t found none. So that night he came home an’ said, “Well, Babe, I guess it’s jus’ you an’ me.” An’ that ox was so happy he done gall-a-vanted ’round in a circle, an’ his runnin’s what made the big ole lakes on Planet Wisconsin. An’ that’s how Paul Bunyan got hisself his buddy fer life – Babe, the Big Blue Ox.
Dalgleish: Wow, that’s a great story. And you told it so well. Thank you for sharing.
Interviewee #15: T’weren’t no problem.
Dalgleish: Why is it your favorite?
Interviewee #15: Oh… got me a sof’ spot fer critters I guess.
Dalgleish: Well, we’re almost out of time today but perhaps we could schedule another session so you can tell me another story about Paul and Babe?
Interviewee #15: Sure ’nuff.
Dalgleish: Wonderful. Let me turn off this recorder, and we can do that.
See Interviews 30, 36, 40, and 43 in this collection for the rest of the legends as recalled by Interviewee #15.
Amanda McNeil (she/her) is a queer woman who writes scifi, fantasy, nonfiction, and poetry. Her work has been featured in Decoded Pride, Solarpunk Magazine, and Just Femme & Dandy (as Amanda Nevius). She has a new space fantasy novelette releasing this month – Bloemetje: a speculative retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s Thumbelina fairy tale. She currently lives in New England in the United States with her husband and their talkative tortie. You may find her online at opinionsofawolf.com/publications.
photo by Niklas Bischop (via unsplash)