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Native American Legends

How Partridge built the birds' canoes

A Passamaquoddy Legend

In ancient days Partridge was the canoe-builder for the other birds. And after he had finished all the canoes, he called the birds together and each got into its bark and paddled off.

Oh, it was a great sight! First of all came the Eagle, in his big shell, paddling with the ends of his wings. Then came the Owl dipping his wings in the water, like the Eagle. Then the Crane, the Bluebird, the Robin, the Blackbird, and the Snipe went sailing proudly after, uttering shrill cries or whistling and singing. And last of all came the tiny Hummingbird in a very small canoe; and for him good Partridge had made a pretty little paddle.

And the Fish-Hawk, who lives on the wing, skimmed over their heads, crying with amazement, as he saw the proud little fleet of canoes put out to sea.

"Why, O Partridge," cried the Fish-Hawk, "have you made no canoe for yourself?"

But Partridge gave no answer, only looked mysterious, and drummed; and the noise of his drumming sounded like an Indian at work on a canoe.

Then the birds sailed back to land, and all cried out, "Why, O Partridge, have you made no canoe for yourself?"

But Partridge shook his head, and said that when he built a canoe for himself, it should be a wonder such as no bird's eye had ever beheld.

This went on for some time, until at last every bird knew that Partridge was making a wonderful canoe for himself.

Now Partridge thought, "If a boat with two ends sails two ways, why, then, a boat, that is round, will sail every way." So he built a canoe like a nest, perfectly round. And when it was finished, he called together all the birds to watch him put out to sea. And as they looked at the round canoe, they all cried out: "What a wonderful boat! We were not wise enough to think of such a thing!"

Then Partridge, swelling with pride, stepped into the canoe, and dipped his paddle. But the boat made no headway at all, only spun around and around. And the harder he worked, dipping his paddle, first on one side and then on the other, the faster spun the canoe.

And when the birds saw what was happening, they fell to laughing, and mocking Partridge. And he left his round canoe, and, flying inland, hid himself for very shame under the low bushes.

And to this day he flies close to the ground, and hides under leaves and bushes. And the noise of his drumming sounds far and near like an Indian making a canoe.

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