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Bear and Brown Squirrel

Source: Abenaki legend

Read this and other stories in the book, Noticing Nature, by Chuck Bonner. Also available in e-book format for Amazon Kindle.

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This is the story of Bear and Brown Squirrel.

Prologue: This story occurs in many Algonquian and Iroquoian cultures, but I know it best from the Abenaki.

Long time ago, Bear used to like to boast. He would go through the forest saying to anyone and to no-one, "I am Bear! I am the biggest, I am the strongest animal in the forest. I can do anything!"

One day as Bear was walking through the forest and boasting to nobody in particular, he heard laughter coming from high up in a tree. He stopped his boasting and listened. It was Brown Squirrel.

"Are you sure you can do anything?" laughed Brown Squirrel.

"Yes!" Bear replied, "I can do anything. I am Bear!"

"Can you make it so that the sun does not rise in the morning?" asked Brown Squirrel.

Bear wasn't very sure of that, but he did not want to admit that Brown Squirrel had thought of something that he could not do. His boastful nature got the better of him. "Yes," he answered, "I can do that. I can do anything. I am Bear!"

"Then make it so," Brown Squirrel challenged. "Make it so that tomorrow morning, the sun does not come up."

Bear turned toward the sun, which was just above the western horizon, and said, "Sun, listen to me. Tomorrow morning, you will not come up."

As the sun slipped below the horizon, Bear said to Brown Squirrel, "You see! The sun is afraid of me. Tomorrow morning, the sun will not come up."

"We shall see," said Brown Squirrel.

All through the night, Bear and Brown Squirrel kept watch. And as they watched, they each sang their separate songs.

Note: Here is fun opportunity for audience participation. Invite all the girls to chant Brown Squirrel's song, and all the boys to chant Bear's song, all together.

Bear chanted in his deep, growling voice:

The sun will not come up!

The sun will not come up!

And Brown Squirrel sang in his chirping, twittering voice:

The sun is going to rise!

The sun is going to rise!

The night dragged on and on, and still they sang:

The sun will not come up!
The sun is going to rise!
The sun will not come up!
The sun is going to rise!

As the time approached when the sun usually rises, the eastern sky began to grow lighter. Bear and Brown Squirrel sang stronger and stronger:

The sun will not come up!
The sun is going to rise!
The sun will not come up!
The sun is going to rise!

At last, the time came for the sun to rise. ... And the sun rose!

Brown Squirrel began to laugh and laugh, "Bear, you said you could make it so that the sun would not come up. You commanded the sun not to come up, but the sun came up anyway. You said you could do anything!"

"Yes, it is true," Bear admitted, "The sun did come up. But you are not going to tell anyone about it, because I am going to eat you!"

With that, Bear brought his great paw down on top of Brown Squirrel. Brown Squirrel was caught!

"I'm sorry I laughed at you," said Brown Squirrel. "Please let me get up and apologize to you properly, and then you can eat me."

Bear thought, "It will be good to have an apology from that insolent little Brown Squirrel." He lifted his paw.

Quick as he could, Brown Squirrel ran for his burrow. Brown Squirrel was fast, but Bear was fast, too! Just as Brown Squirrel got to his door, Bear sank his claws into Brown Squirrel's back. But Brown Squirrel kept going.

Brown Squirrel had deep, deep scratches from Bear's claws in his back and sides, but he was safe in his burrow under the tree roots.

Bear was furious! He roared and dug at the ground, but he could not dig through the roots to get at Brown Squirrel.

Now, it happened to be the time of year when Brown Squirrel goes into his burrow to sleep through the winter. Brown Squirrel's burrow was stocked with enough nuts to last for months, so he just stayed there. Eventually, Bear had to leave to find his own den for the winter.

When Brown Squirrel emerged from his burrow the next spring, his wounds had healed. But the fur grew in different colors over the scars, leaving five black and white stripes where Bear had scratched his back and sides. And so, Brown Squirrel became the animal we know today as Chipmunk.

To this day, the sun still comes up every morning. And every morning, the first animal awake in the forest is Chipmunk. And as he runs around the forest in the light of dawn, he sings his little song:

The sun still comes up!

The sun still comes up!

And every morning, the last animal awake in the forest is Bear. He does not boast as he used to, but he still does not like to see the sun come up in the morning.




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