Long ago, in the land of gold and fog, there lived a young girl named Tamalpais. She was the daughter of the chief of her tribe, and she was so beautiful that warriors from up and down the coast would travel for miles and miles to try to win her hand in marriage.
Every month, the chief would hold a contest for the suitors, and every month, they would leave empty-handed, for no mortal could accomplish the impossible tasks he had set for these men. The chief did these things because he knew that she did not love any of the warriors who strode into camp. He heard his daughter scoff at their swagger, with puffed-out chests and flashing eyes. He heard his daughter laugh, and he laughed along with her, because he loved his daughter too much to let her go with anyone who was not extraordinary.
Years passed, and Tamalpais grew older. She watched her friends marry, and she rejoiced when they bore children, new warriors for her tribe. Her father still doted on her, but there came fewer and fewer suitors for her hand, and he fretted that she would never marry and give him grandchildren. He began to press her to be more reasonable.
One day, a man appeared from the east, walking towards them with with the sun at his back so that nobody could see his face. The entire tribe paused in their work and gaped at the man with golden hair as he entered camp. Though they had no idea if he was friend or foe, not one warrior stopped him as he made his way directly towards the chief.
“Sir,” the man said with a warm smile and a bow, “I have come for your daughter.”
The chief kept his face straight, but inside he was humming a happy tune. This was the one he had been waiting for, he was sure of it. “I see you have heard of my daughter’s beauty. However, you are not the first to seek her hand in marriage. There are tests you must pass.”
“Unnecessary,” the stranger interrupted. He settled his gaze on Tamalpais.
“Who is this man, that he dares speak to the chief, my father, this way?” Her heart was racing, and every part of her was becoming warm, but she maintained a haughty look as she spoke to him.
The stranger bowed again, this time more deeply. “Forgive me, my heart. I have loved you from afar and watched every day as you have become more and more beautiful. I see how you yearn for something more, some adventure and excitement, and I know you deserve more than what any man could give you. But I cannot take you away from the people you love without your consent. If your consent is contingent upon the completion of these tasks,” he took a step closer and she could feel his breath on her cheek, “I shall do whatever you ask.”
Tamalpais nodded. “Sort that pile of seeds.” She pointed at a mountain of seeds, taller than two men, leftover from the last suitor’s task.
The stranger simply smiled, and the seeds began to move by themselves. Within minutes, the mountain became ten manageable piles, each a different kind of seed.
Tamalpais raised her eyebrows. “Make me a cloak that exactly matches the sky.”
The stranger reached into his pocket and drew out a bright blue cloth. He settled it around her shoulders, making adjustments here and there, until a hood emerged from the top. When he pulled the hood over her head, she seemed to disappear from sight, leaving only a deep, lingering fog around where her legs should be.
The medicine-woman approached the chief, saying, “This man is not mortal. I believe he is the Sun-God, who has smiled on your daughter every day of her life. If he wishes to marry your daughter, you cannot have a better son-in-law than him!”
Tamalpais took the cloak off, her icy demeanor melting. “One more task, and I am yours,” she said. “Bring me the finest jewel from the Hall of the Sun.”
Once more, the stranger bowed. “My heart, that is the easiest task of all, for you are the finest jewel, finer than any in the Hall of the Sun. And if you come with me, you shall live there as my queen and be able to watch over your people forever.”
Tamalpais reached out her arms to the golden-haired man, and the two were engaged that day.
When word spread that the beautiful chief’s daughter was to be married to the Sun-God, the hearts of all her rejected suitors were filled with envy and hate. “Let us build a mountain for her,” they said to each other, “One that rivals any of the mountains of seeds she would have us sort.” And so the suitors used rocks and sand and clay to build the highest mountain they could imagine so that they could block her from visiting the Hall of the Sun.
One month later, the chief married his daughter to the Sun-God. The wedding festivities were filled with much drinking and singing and dancing. At the end of the day, the Sun-God picked up his bride in his arms as they both said farewell to the chief. He strode quickly to the Hall of the Sun in the west, for he wished to show her all the wonders of her new home before the sun set. So intent was he that he did not watch where he was going or how fast he was walking, and he tripped over the mountain that the suitors had built, falling face first into the ocean, and dropping Tamalpais on the edge of the coast, killing her instantly.
The Sun-God was inconsolable. He immediately laid her body to rest on the cliffs by the sea, so that she would be the last thing he would see before the Hall of the Sun disappeared into the ocean for the night. He clothed her in the sky-cloak, and every evening he would wrap her in fog to protect her from harm.
Even to this day, she lies there, at the edge of the sea and the earth, in the land of gold and fog. Even though her father and her tribes are gone, she still watches over the people who make their home in her shadow. She plays with the children who run up and down her side. And she whispers words of encouragement to all the young men and women who are just figuring out what love is.
I know. I’ve heard her.
This is my embellishment of one of many variations about the legend of Mount Tamalpais in the San Francisco Bay Area, where I grew up. Technically, this legend is not an authentic Indian legend, but it’s a good story. My dad used to work at a restaurant in Fairfax called The Sleeping Lady, which had a huge mural along one wall of the profile of Mount Tam as a sleeping woman. I’ve been fascinated with the story ever since.