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Bear's Race with Turtle

A Seneca Legend

One fine snowy day. Bear was walking through the snow in the forest. When he walked up on a little hill and stood up on his hind legs, he was so much taller than anything else he could see that he was very proud. Bear loved to brag about how splendid he was, so he thumped himself on the chest and roared,"I'm the biggest animal in the forest!" And nobody made a sound, because Bear really was awfully big.

Bear got an itchy spot on his back, so he walked through the snow to a little tree, leaned against it and wriggled around. While he was scratching, the whole tree broke with a snap! Bear was so impressed with how strong he was, once more he roared out, "I'm the strongest animal in the forest!" And nobody said anything, because Bear really was very strong.

Bear began to run down off that little hill. Now, every human child learns very early that you can run like the wind downhill. But Bear was so impressed with how fast he could run, he skidded to a halt by a little frozen lake and roared, "I'm the fastest animal in the forest!"

Then Bear heard a little voice pipe up from the edge of the lake, "No, you're not. Bear! I'm a lot faster than you!"

"What?!" Bear couldn't believe his ears. Then he couldn't believe his eyes! Because that voice came from a little green water turtle, who was sticking his head up through a hole in the ice.

Turtle said it again. "Really, Bear, I'm a lot faster than you are." Bear and Turtle began to disagree, then to argue, and then they began to make so much noise that the other animals came to see what was going on. A great argument was in the making when it was decided that the only way to settle the question was to have a race between Bear and Turtle. The animals reached a general agreement: the race would be around the lake. But then Turtle said, "I'm a water animal, so I'll have to race in the lake."

Bear objected, "You must think I'm pretty stupid! You can just dive under the ice, then come back up and say you won!" Though the animals did think he was pretty stupid, he had a point. So a solution was agreed upon. Bear, who was a land animal, would race around the lake, while Turtle would swim from one hole in the ice to another, put his head up and say something, then swim on. Fox, who had no reason to cheat in this case, was chosen to be the starter and judge, and the race was scheduled for the next day.

The next morning. Elk, who had the biggest feet, was chosen to punch holes in the ice every few feet. All the animals had heard about the race and had come to see it. Almost all the spectators were making bets, and because most of them were so tired of listening to Bear brag, the bets were heavily in favor of Turtle.

Fox called the racers to his side. "Are you ready, Bear?" Now Bear had been warming up, doing exercises, and getting in some last minute bragging, so he yawned and said, "Yeah, I'm ready." Fox asked, "Are you ready, Turtle?" And Turtle, at his first hole in the ice said, "I'm ready!"

"Alright," said Fox, "Once around the lake and back to me. Now ... RUN!"

Turtle dived under the water, and Bear began to just walk, waving casually to his friends, just to prove how easy this was going to be. But Bear had only taken a couple of steps when Turtle's head came up in the second hole in the ice.

Turtle said, "Come on Bear, catch up with me!" And Turtle dived under and went on. Bear was flabbergasted! This turtle was faster than he thought, so Bear began to jog a little faster. But only three steps farther. Turtle's head popped up at the next hole. He said, "Come on, Bear, catch up with me!" then dived under and went on.

Now, Bear knew he had to run! He dropped to all fours and began to run as fast as he could. But before Bear passed the third hole, Turtle came up at the fourth hole and said, "Come on. Bear, I'm way ahead of you!"

Bear ran and ran as fast as he could, his tongue drooping further and further out of his mouth, so out of breath he thought he would drop. But, that turtle just kept getting farther and farther ahead, each time popping out of a hole to say, "Come on, Bear, catch up with me!" Until finally, when Bear was only half way around the lake, Turtle finished the race!

A great cheer went up from the other animals, "Turtle is the fastest animal in the forest!" Even those that hadn't bet on Turtle came down to congratulate him and shake his clawed foot and pat his shell.

And Bear? Well, Bear was exhausted, and so humiliated that he didn't even finish the race. He turned and went to his house, which was a cave, and slept the rest of the winter. And to this day, bears sleep all winter so they don't have to remember losing that race to a turtle!

There was a big party and feast in Turtle's honor, and then, finally, everybody went home.

Now, Turtle looked around carefully, making sure everyone was gone. Then he crawled down to the edge of the ice, stuck out his clawed foot and rapped three times on the ice.

Suddenly, up through the holes in the ice came Turtle's brothers and sisters, his mom and dad, his aunts, uncles, cousins near and distant, even his grandma and grandpa turtles were there, and everyone of them looked exactly like Turtle! They nodded their heads at each other and said, "Yes, we are the fastest animals in the forest!"

Turtle said, "Thank you, my kinfolks. Today we have proved that though we turtles may be slow of foot, we are not slow of wit!"

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