Native American Legends
Turtle and the Sky Bowl
An American Indian Legend - Nation Unknown
Darkness had lasted too long, and all the other forest animals
knew it was Turtle's fault. Long ago, before Turtle had her hard
shell, in order to prove her bravery to the others, Turtle had volunteered
for one of the most important and dangerous jobs of the forest.
Her duty was to bring the Sky Bowl, filled with yellow corn, up
to the cliff top each morning before Sun's first light turned the
hillside red. She would scatter the corn over the earth, and Sun,
knowing he was needed, would rise.
This morning, though, as Turtle discovered when she awoke, the
Sky Bowl had disappeared.
In its place lay a single feather, long curved, and smoky gray.
Vulture lived in the crags far to the west where Sun set. He always
complained about how bright the days were and how short the nights.
Vulture had taken the bowl.
Since the Sky Bowl was her responsibility, Turtle set off through
the forest toward the west. She worried about how she would get
the bowl back because the crags were too high and steep for her
As she emerged into a shadowy clearing, Turtle saw Grizzly, grumbling
and rolling as she slept.
"Grizzly," she called to the bear, "I've seen how
fast and strong you are and how well you climb. Come help me get
the Sky Bowl back from Vulture so Sun can rise."
"No," Grizzly grumbled, her eyelids heavy. "I have
to protect my cubs in the dark." Turtle heard the little barks
and pants of the cubs behind her. Turtle left Grizzly and continued
on. Finally, she broke through the trees. At the edge of the wilderness,
Moon's cool, hard light fell on Turtle and she shivered. She saw
the crags now, their chalky faces rising slowly off the valley floor.
Just then Eagle glided down over the foothills above Turtle. "Eagle!
Help me!" Turtle yelled.
Eagle turned his hard, steel-gray eyes on Turtle. "What do
you want?!" Eagle's voice whistled down like an arrow shooting
through the air. "You can fly. Soar up to Vulture's nook and
get the Sky Bowl back so Sun can rise."
"I'm too hungry," said Eagle. "I've been flying
for hours, trying to catch something. I can't see well in the dark."
Turtle turned away, knowing the job was hers alone.
She went to the crag, looking up, up, up the chalky stone awash
in Moon's cold light. Vulture's nook sat up there, where the rock
brushed against the sky.
Turtle tried to climb the steep slope, but slipped back down.
Turtle felt thirsty and needed to think, so she went and sat by
the cool mountain stream flowing down out of the crags.
Moon's roundness floated above, reflected in the water, making
the stream's bubbles and waves gleam.
As Turtle sipped the water she stared at Moon, noticing how beautiful
she was. She'd never seen Moon for so long before, and she no longer
Suddenly, from deep within the darkness came Moon's voice, whispering
softly, "You have shown your bravery well, Turtle. Now go to
Vulture and tell him you want the sky bowl back."
And as Moon spoke, moonbeams fell to earth like night rain, and
cascaded silently across Turtle's back, forming a hard shell around
Turtle wasn't certain how her new shell could help her get the
Sky Bowl back, but she would try.
Turtle went to Vulture's crag, and called up to him.
"Hey, Vulture! Give back the Sky Bowl!"
"Or what?" Vulture asked, laughing. "Go home before
I rip you apart with my talons." He flew from the nook down
toward Turtle, carrying the bowl in his beak and teasing her with
Turtle stood firm.
Vulture descended suddenly, trying to claw Turtle with his sharp
talons. He hit the hard shell instead, barely making a scratch.
Angry, he pecked at Turtle, forgetting he held the bowl. His beak
struck the shell hard and bent at an angle, making him drop the
Turtle, still unhurt, grabbed it, and retreated back into her shell.
Vulture scratched at the shell for a while, then gave up and flew
That was how Turtle earned her shell and Vulture got his crooked
beak. Sun came back the next morning, but from then on he would
shine only half the day, leaving the night to Moon and darkness
so that we might never again forget him.
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