Why The Autumn Leaves Are Red
An Indian legend on why the leaves change colour in the Fall.
Long, long ago no one but animals lived upon the earth and sometimes they would hold great Councils. The Bear would be there,—the Bear, with his sharp claws, and his shiny coat, and his big, big growl; and the Deer, who was so proud of his antlers, for they came out of his head like trees; and all the animals, and all the birds would be present at the great Council. Little Turtle would go there, too. She was so small that she did not like to speak to anyone. But, she often wished:
“Oh, if only I could do some good deed! What could such a little creature as I do? Anyway,” she thought, “I’ll be on the watch,—and it may be that some time there will be a chance for me to do something for my people.”
Little Turtle never forgot about that good deed she had planned to perform. One day the opportunity came to her. She was at the Council, and the animals were saying:
“It is so dark here, we have only the Snowlight to see by. It is gloomy, too. Couldn’t we make a light and place it up in Skyland?” they asked.
Little Turtle said: “Please let me go up to Skyland? I am sure that I can make a light shine up there.”
They said that she might go, and they called Dark Cloud to carry Little Turtle there. Dark Cloud came.
Little Turtle saw that Thunder and Lightning were in Dark Cloud; and when she reached Skyland, she made the Sun from Lightning, and placed him in the Sky.
The Sun could not move, because he had no life, and all the world underneath was too hot to live upon.
“What shall we do?” the animals asked one another. Someone said:
“We must give the Sun life and spirit, and then he will move about in the sky.”
So they gave him life and spirit, and he moved about in the sky. Mud Turtle dug a hole through the earth for the Sun to travel through. Little Turtle made a wife for him out of some of the Lightning from Dark Cloud. She was the Moon. Their little children were the stars that played all over Skyland.
All this time, Little Turtle was taking care of Skyland. The animals below called her, She Who Takes Care of Skyland. And she was very happy, because she was doing her good deed.
Some of the animals became jealous of Little Turtle,—especially the Deer, who was so proud of his antlers. One day, Deer said to Rainbow:
“Rainbow, please take me up to Skyland where Little Turtle lives.”
Rainbow did not know whether it would be quite right to take Deer up to Little Turtle’s house, but he said:
“In the winter, when I rest upon the big mountain by the lake, then I will take you.”
This made the Deer glad. He did not tell anyone about the promise of Rainbow. All winter long, he waited and watched near the big mountain for Rainbow to come; but Rainbow did not come to him. In the spring, one day, Deer saw Rainbow beside the lake.
“Rainbow,” he asked, “why did you not keep your promise to me?” Rainbow made him another promise.
“Come to me by the lake, when you see me in the thick fog,” he said.
The Deer kept this promise a secret, too; because he hoped to go to Skyland alone. Day after day, he waited beside the lake. One day, when the thick fog was rising from the lake,—Deer saw the beautiful Rainbow.
Rainbow made an arch from the lake to the big mountain. Then a shining light fell about the Deer, and he saw a straight path shining with all the colours of the Rainbow. It led through a great forest.
“Follow the beautiful path through the great forest,” Rainbow said.
The Deer entered the shining pathway, and it led him straight to the house of Little Turtle in Skyland. And the Deer went about Skyland everywhere.
When the great Council met, Deer was not there. “The Deer is not come to the Council, where is the Deer?” they asked.
Hawk flew about the air everywhere, and could not find Deer in the air. Wolf searched the deep woods, and could not find Deer in the forests.
When Dark Cloud brought Little Turtle to the Council, Little Turtle told them how Rainbow had made a path for Deer to climb to Skyland. “There it is now,” said Little Turtle.
The animals looked over the lake, and they saw, there, the beautiful pathway. They had never seen it before.
“Why did not Deer wait for us? All of us should have gone to Skyland together,” they said.
Now, Brown Bear determined to follow that pathway the very next time he should see it.
One day when he was all alone, near the lake, he saw the shining path that led through the great forest. Soon he found himself in Skyland. The first person he met was the Deer.
“Why did you leave us? Why did you go to the land of Little Turtle without us? Why did you not wait for us?” he asked the Deer.
The Deer shook his antlers angrily. “What right have you to question me? No one but the Wolf may question why I came. I will kill you for your impertinence.”
The Deer arched his neck; he poised his antlered head; his eyes blazed with fury.
The Bear was not afraid. He stood up; his claws were sharp and strong; his hoarse growls sounded all over Skyland.
The battle of the Deer and the Bear shook Skyland. The animals looked up from the earth.
“Who will go? Who will go to Skyland and forbid the Deer to fight?”
“I will go,” said the Wolf. “I can run faster than anyone.” So Wolf ran along the shining pathway, and in a little while he had reached the place of the battle. Wolf made Deer stop fighting. Deer’s antlers were covered with blood, and when he shook them, great drops fell down, down through the air, and splashed against all the leaves of the forest. And the leaves became a beautiful red.
So, in the autumn, when you see the leaves turning red, you may know that it is because in the long ago, the Deer and the Bear fought a great battle in Skyland, in the land of Little Turtle who was doing her good deed.
Co-operation, Independent Thinking, Anger
1. Do you think there was any reason for the deer and bear to fight? What is another way that they might have sorted out their differences?
2. The Deer reacted with anger to the Bear’s questioning. Can you think of why Deer might have felt so angry when Bear questioned him?
3. In what kinds of situations do we often get most angry? Is it useful?