Native American Legends
How the conifers show the promise of spring
A Seneca Legend
In the mysterious days of long ago, when Ra-wen-io was fixing the
Earth so that mankind might have a happy place to live, all the
trees had tongues and they talked.
There was much to talk about, for terrible monsters roamed the
world. None was so terrible as the stern warriors of Winter: Hadui,
the storm wind, Hatoe, the frost God, and Gwenny-Oyent, the whirlwind.
These monsters fought the trees and tried to tear them to bits
because the trees loved Sun and his friends, Zephyr and Thaw, the
kind chiefs of Spring.
The first rumblings of Winter's storms brought the command that
all the trees should drop their leaves so that there might remain
no track, trace, or remembrance. Spring once ruled the year.
To make obedience more difficult, Frost made Autumn paint the leaves
with handsome colors so that the trees would hate to drop them.
Hadui would come then and pluck every leaf from every tree.
"No friend of Spring shall remain to flaunt his green robes
in my face," shrieked Winter, as he drove Hadui against the
forest. And Hadui always did his duty.
Winter roared when he saw all the trees bleak and bare. "Ho,
ho," he bellowed, "the world obeys me and sleeps at my
command. Sun has no friends to greet him. Spring is banished, and
no sign remains to promise his return.
Ho, ho, Spring has no friends!"
"I am the friend of Spring," spoke up White Pine. "That
may be," answered Winter, " but when I give the order,
away will go your green leaves, and I shall cover them with snow."
"We'll see," said White Pine.
White Pine called a council of all of his tribe, the wonderful
tribe of Onetta, the tribe with beautiful green hair." Who
will stand with me as Winter comes?" called out Pine. "Who
will defy Winter and stand his blasts? Who as a friend of Spring
will stand as an eternal promise that Spring will return?"
"I will," said Red Pine.
"I will," said Red Cedar.
"I will," said Cypress.
"I will," said Juniper.
"I will," said Hemlock.
"I will," said Spruce.
"I will," said Balsam.
"Where is Tamarack ?" shouted Pine.From a distant hill
came a shout, and Tamarack called out, "Oak wants to come to
our council, but he is not of our tribe. He wants the hill, and
I want the hill also."
"Will you defy the Winter God ?" called out Pine. "Yes,
I will," answered Tamarack, "but I must finish my argument
with Oak first."
Then spoke Oak: "O Pine, I am not of your tribe, for I have
broad leaves, but I am a friend of the Sun, of Zephyr, and of Spring.
I will stand on the hill and defy the Winter's blasts, and I will
rattle my leaves in his face."
Well did all the trees know that Winter hated the sound of rustling
leaves, and well did they know the friendship of Oak for Pine.
Whenever Pine went away from a hill, up sprang Oak. And when Oak
went away, up sprang Pine. Now Oak would be an ally of the Onetta
tribe. Pine said it should be so, but Tamarack was jealous.
"Oak cannot endure," sneered Tamarack. "Oak will
yield to Hadui at the first demand."
"I promise to hold my leaves, come what may," answered
Oak with a sturdy tone in his voice. "I shall hold them, brown
and torn though they may be, until new buds appear." "Fine,"
said Tamarack. "Watch me."
Autumn came and at the first demand of Frost, Oak turned a brilliant
scarlet. The Onetta tribe refused to obey. Hadui brought rain and
then cold,but none faltered save Tamarack, who, because he had been
envious, had forgotten to drink deep of the magic oil that kept
green the rest of the tribe.
Tamarack began to shed his hair and then shed more, for Hadui was
cruel and insisted with his lash of storm whips. Oak, however, held
onto his leaves, now dry and sere.
"Off with those leaves !" shouted Hadui as Frost swooped
down. But Oak only rattled his leaves in the very face of Frost.
Frost grew angry indeed and spent his fury on Pine and his friends,
Hemlock and the rest.
Frost chilled the air. He chilled the ground. He chilled the water,
and he chilled the trunks of the trees until they resounded to the
strokes of his war club when he struck them --hock, hock!
"Off with the promise of Spring, " shrieked Frost. But
only Tamarack of all the Onetta obeyed and lifted his head and body
bare to the wind.
Like the drop-leaf trees, he was stripped and naked, which made
Frost laugh long and loud. "Have courage, be strong,"
called out old Pine. "Let us endure, though Tamarack has yielded."
And the trees all called out, "We are brave and we are strong.
Frost shall not blight the promise of Spring's return."
The gods of Winter ruled long and harshly, holding the Earth in
a cold embrace.But they could not overcome Pine and his friends.
Oak rattled in the face of Frost, and his rustling leaves made Frost
wild with rage. And so all endured, except Tamarack.
Round and round went the Moon. It grew full and waned five times
before Spring conquered Winter and sent Frost and his evil allies
back to the Northland.
The warmth of Sun returned, and with this came Zephyr, who fanned
the weary branches of the Onetta tribe back into the glow of growth.
Sun warmed Oak and, rustling his leaves, though all dry and frayed,
he prepared his new buds.
At length Tamarack awoke and blossomed forth. The tall old Pine
looked down at Tamarack and said, "Tamarack, you weakened in
the storm, you obeyed the Frost. You are a vain braggart and have
lost the hill. The hill is for Oak, our friend who held onto his
leaves and rustled them in the face of the storm."
Tamarack begged for the hill, where he might be admired by all
for his long plumes and graceful wave when Zephyr tossed his branches,
but old Pine would not hear.
And so, forever afterward, the kinsmen of Pine hold forth the promise
of Spring's return, and their green robes are the despair of Winter
and all his furious hosts.
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