Turtle's race with Bear
An Iroquois Legend
It was an early winter, cold enough so that the ice had frozen on all the ponds and Bear, who had not yet learned in those days that it was wiser to sleep through the White Season, grumbled as he walked through the woods.
Perhaps he was remembering a trick another animal had played on him, perhaps he was just not in a good mood. It happened that he came to the edge of a great pond and saw Turtle there with his head sticking out of the ice.
"Hah," shouted Bear, not even giving his old friend a greeting. "What are you looking at, Slow One?"
Turtle looked at Bear. "Why do you call me slow?"
Bear snorted. "You are the slowest of the animals. If I were to race you, I would leave you far behind." Perhaps Bear never heard of Turtle's big race with Beaver and perhaps Bear did not remember that Turtle, like Coyote, is an animal whose greatest speed is in his wits.
"My friend," Turtle said, "let us have a race to see who is the swiftest."
"All right," said Bear. "Where will we race?"
"We will race here at this pond and the race will be tomorrow morning when the sun is the width of one hand above the horizon. You will run along the banks of the pond and I will swim in the water."
"How can that be?" Bear said. "There is ice all over the pond."
"We will do it this way," said Turtle. "I will make holes in the ice along the side of the pond and swim under the water to each hole and stick my head out when I reach it."
"I agree," said Bear. "Tomorrow we will race."
When the next day came, many of the other animals had gathered to watch. They lined the banks of the great pond and watched Bear as he rolled in the snow and jumped up and down making himself ready.
Finally, just as the sun was a hand's width in the sky, Turtle's head popped out of the hole in the ice at the starting line. "Bear," he called, "I am ready."
Bear walked quickly to the starting place and as soon as the signal was given, he rushed forward, snow flying from his feet and his breath making great white clouds above his head. Turtle's head disappeared in the first hole and then in almost no time at all reappeared from the next hole, far ahead of Bear.
"Here I am Bear," Turtle called. "Catch up to me!" And then he was gone again. Bear was astonished and ran even faster. But before he could reach the next hole, he saw Turtle's green head pop out of it.
"Here I am, Bear," Turtle called again. "Catch up to me!" Now bear began to run in earnest. His sides were puffing in and out as he ran and his eyes were becoming bloodshot, but it was no use. Each time, long before he would reach each of the holes, the ugly green head of Turtle would be there ahead of him calling out to him to catch up!
When Bear finally reached the finish line, he was barely able to crawl. Turtle was waiting there for him, surrounded by all the other animals. Bear had lost the race. He dragged himself home in disgrace, so tired that he fell asleep as soon as he reached his home. He was so tired that he slept until the warm breath of the Spring came to the woods again.
It was not long after Bear and all to other animals had left the pond that Turtle tapped on the ice with one long claw. At his sign it a dozen ugly heads like his popped up from the holes all along the edge of the pond. It was Turtle's cousins and brothers, all of whom looked just like him!
"My relatives," Turtle said, "I wish to thank you. Today we have shown Bear that it does not pay to call other people names. We have taught him a good lesson."
Turtle smiled and a dozen other turtles, all just like him, smiled back. "And we have shown the other animals," Turtle said, "that Turtles are not the slowest of the animals."
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