The Long Winter Story
Illustrated By: Elizabeth Rocha
Listen while you read along! Thanks to Elderberry Tales
Before any humans walked the earth, when the world was the land of the animals, a very long winter set in. The sun did not come out for three years. The air was always dark. Thick clouds hung low and covered the sky. It snowed all the time. The animals were suffering very much from this long winter. The lack of food was alarming enough, and the lack of heat made it all absolutely unbearable. They became greatly frightened.
The animals called for a grand council to be held. All the beasts, birds, and fish of all sizes and shapes were invited. At the grand gathering, as the animals looked about, they realized that one creature in the animal world was missing: Bear. Then they realized that no one had seen Bear for three years.
“Come to think of it, all of Bear’s collections are gone, too,” said Fox.
“All those jars of honey!” said Mouse.
“And all those berries!” said Beaver.
The animals thought it was strange that Bear and all of Bear’s collections, too, had been gone for three years. They agreed that Bear must know what had happened to the lost heat. There was only one place Bear would be – the upper world. They must hurry to get there, for without the heat their sufferings would never end!
They decided that several quick and brave animals would go on a search mission to the upper world. These are the animals chosen for the mission: Fox, Wolf, Beaver, Mouse, Pike, and Dogfish.
To reach the doorway to the upper world, the Animals had to climb the tallest tree on top of the tallest mountain. Then each Animal had to climb on the other, stacking high, until the little Mouse at the very top could reach the doorway. At last, the door was opened to the upper world. Excited, they all climbed up and into the world above.
Looking around them, they saw the land they stood on was surrounded by water. “We must cross this water to get to land on the other side,” said Fox. Pike was first to dive into the water, then the next animal jumped in and held onto Pike. Then each one in turn with Dogfish at the end. Together they swam until they reached the land on the other side.
After exploring the upper world for some time, they saw a lake. By the lake burned a campfire with a teepee beside it. By the teepee were two young bear cubs. The animals asked the cubs where their mother was and were told she was off hunting. Inside the teepee a big, round bag was hanging up. The animal visitors pointed to the bag and asked the cubs, "What is in this bag?"
“Oh, we cannot tell you that!” said the cubs.
“Can we guess?’ said Beaver.
Everyone was delighted to have a guessing game.
Mouse took the first turn. “Does that bag hold all the honey?”
“No, it does not!” laughed one of the cubs. “The bag would be too drippy.”
“Does that bag hold all the berries?” said Beaver.
“No it does not!” laughed the other cub. “The bag would be too stained.”
The cubs giggled and said, “Do you give up?”
“One more try!” said Pike. Pike looked at all the Animals. Together they said, “Does the bag hold all the HEAT?”
The cubs stared at them, their mouths wide open.
Just then they heard footsteps coming up to the teepee.
“Mother is coming!” gasped the cubs.
A large bear’s paw threw open the door flap. Mother Bear stepped inside the teepee. She frowned, seeing the visitors. “Who are THEY?” she said to her cubs.
Beaver stepped forward. “If you please, Grandmother” said Beaver with a careful bow, “we know about your bag of heat.”
“What?!” said Mother Bear. “How do you know about THAT?” glaring at her two cubs, who shrank back in fear.
“If we may ask,” Fox also stepped forward. “Why is the heat in that bag?”
“I took it from the lower world,” said Mother Bear.
“But why?” said Fox.
“The Bear King told me to,” said Mother Bear.
“The Bear King?” said Fox. “Why did he tell you that?”
“I don’t know,” said Mother Bear. “He just said he wanted the heat, and I needed to get it for him.”
“Grandmother,” said Pike, “you know, with no heat in the lower world, it’s too cold for trees to turn green. There are no berries.”
“It’s too cold for the bees to come out,” said Mouse. “There is no honey.”
“No berries!” Mother Bear said in shock. “No honey!”
Beaver jumped up. “We can fix this! Let’s get this bag back to the lower world!”
Everyone clapped and cheered.
Mother Bear said, “We must move quickly! The Bear King comes regularly to check on the bag. If we’re to take it, we must hurry and move now!”
Quickly the animals rolled the bag of heat onto Mother Bear’s back, and the two cubs climbed on top of that. Everyone ran as fast as they could out of the teepee.
Just then, heavy footsteps came clomping toward the teepee.
“That’s him!” said Mother Bear, turning around. “He will see the bag is gone from the teepee. He will follow our footprints and catch us!”
“We must all hurry!” said Beaver.
Then the Bear King appeared in the distance, facing them and running fast.
“Quickly, everyone!” called Mother Bear.
At last, they came to the water that surrounded where the doorway was to the lower world. Pike jumped in the water, just as before. Each animal followed behind with Mother Bear, too, everyone holding tight to each other.
They all swam as hard and fast as they could until they reached the island.
As they jumped up on land they could see the Bear King at the other side, swinging his paws in rage and stomping his feet.
“Quick, open the door to the lower world!” said Wolf. “Before the Bear King finds a way to get across!”
They all pushed and rolled the bag until it tipped through the doorway to the lower world. Each one jumped in the hole after it to safety, just in time. As soon as the bag dropped to the world below, it broke and all the heat crammed inside the bag rushed out.
Warmth spread at once to all parts of the world and quickly thawed the ice and snow. The trees and bushes and flowers which had been covered by ice grew green leaves once more, and springtime bloomed anew. Berries ripened and bees buzzed about. And from that time till now, the world has always seen a warm season returning after a cold one, just as we see it today.
- Why were the animals sent in a group to find the lost heat?
- How did the animals cooperate to find the lost heat and bring it back?
"The Long Winter" is based on a story in an article called "Legends of the Slavey Indians of the MacKenzie River" from the Journal of American Folklore, Volume 14, 1901, pp.26-28.
Adapted by Elaine Lindy. © 1998. All rights reserved.
This story is sourced to the Slavey Native Americans, a tribe that still occupies harsh & cold northwestern Canada. This story comes from the area around the MacKenzie River.