Wyandot (Huron) Legend- Why the Leaves Have Many Colors in Autumn
(North American Folktale)
Long time ago in North America (well before the human settlements) in the animal kingdom they talked and worked much like men. Every year after midsummer they held a great council at which all the species were obligatorily present. It so happened that the summer before the council met, in the casual gathering of the animals many had shared their deep curiosity about the vast sky overhead and the subsequent secret desire to go to the land of the sky and see what the country up there was like. None however could find a way to get there. The oldest and the wisest creature on earth back then was the Turtle. He too shared their desire and so he prayed long and hard to the Thunder God to show him the way. The Thunder God was appeased by his due diligence and so granted the Turtle his wish.
There was great clamor as though the earth had been split asunder, and when the other animals next looked for the Turtle, he was nowhere to be found. They searched everywhere without success. However that evening when they looked upwards, they saw him in the sky, moving about like a big black cloud.
The turtle liked the sky so well that he decided to live there permanently and later send his descendants, to the earth. He approached the sky people with this request and his wish was once more granted.
“But where do you wish to dwell?” They asked him and his answer was, “I should like to dwell in the Black Cloud, wherein are the ponds and streams and lakes and springs of water, for I always loved being near these places when I was young.” He was permitted to have this wish also and so he resided there happily.
Then came the time of harvest-moon where all the animals met on earth at the Great Council meeting. He’d always been present at the Council meeting, and so would not dream of missing it. He did arrive in the Black Cloud but went back to the sky after the Council meeting concluded. His good fortune gave rise to certain resentment and envy from the rest who all wished that they could go with him. In time it fostered certain anger and animosity, particularly in the wake of the rumour that a new race of creatures was coming from far over the ocean to inhabit their earthly domain. They discussed their options and expressed view that it would be fortunate indeed if they too could all go and reside in the sky with the old Turtle, live like him, free from fear and care and this impending trouble. The Turtle however had never divulged the secret and they were at a loss as to how to get there.
It so happened that one day the inquisitive Deer, wandering about alone in the forest, as was his custom, came across Rainbow, who typically built a path of many colours to the sky.
Addressing the Rainbow the Dear asked, “Carry me up to the sky, for I want to see Turtle.”
However the Rainbow appeared reticent and put Deer off, wishing first to ask the Thunder God for his permission. “Come to me in winter, when I stay for a time on the mountain near the lake.” He nevertheless responded amicably, in effort to buy time. “Then I will gladly carry you to the place where Turtle dwells.”
Throughout the long winter months Deer looked up to the sky, his eyes longingly searching for any sign of the Rainbow, but Rainbow did not manifest.
Meanwhile life was becoming increasingly difficult on the earth, and all the animals existed in anticipated terror of the new race that was soon to invade their land. The Deer kept mostly to himself, timid and impatient. Then finally, one day in the early summer, Rainbow manifested and the elated Deer hastened to greet him. “Why were you false to me?” he irately asked; “I waited and waited for you all winter long on the mountain by the lake, but you failed to keep your promise. I want to go to the sky now and without delay, for I must see Turtle.”
“To my dismay, I cannot take you now. But soon, when there is a Fog over the lake, I shall come back to drive it away. Come to me then, and I shall take you to the sky and to the place where Turtle dwells. This time, I promise, I shall keep my word.” Rainbow apologetically answered.
Shortly after the Rainbow consulted the Thunder God, and received permission to do as Deer wished.
Seeing that the Fog one day rolled in a thick bank across the lake, the anxious Deer hastened to the spot to wait for the Rainbow.
Sure enough, Rainbow manifested as promised this time and begun driving the Fog away. Rainbow threw his arch of many colours from the lake to the blue hills far away, and the Fog at once disappeared from the place. Then he said to Deer, who stood patiently watching him, “Now I will keep my promise. Follow my many-colored path over the hills and the forests and the streams, and be not afraid, and you will soon reach Turtle’s home in the sky.” Deer joyfully did as he was told, and soon he reached the sky.
Turtle was pleased to see him, and Deer liked the sky country so well that he too decided to stay there ever more. Subsequently the Dear roamed over the sky, going here, there and everywhere, all the while moving like the wind from place to place.
Seasons on Earth do change and when the midsummer had passed and the harvest-moon had come and the Great Council again met together, Deer’s first time ever absence came to light. The animals in disbelief at first had waited long for him to appear, for his advice was invaluable and well sought after. After a time when he still failed to show up, they sent the Birds out to find him. Black Hawk and Woodpecker and Blue jay all sought him in the forest, but they could not find any trace of him.
Then Wolf and Fox scoured the woods far and near, but they too came back empty handed.
At last Turtle arrived at the meeting of the Great Council, as was his custom, coming in his Black Cloud, in which were the ponds and lakes and streams and springs of water. He was at once accosted by the indignant Bear who said, “Deer is absent from the Council meeting. Where is Deer? We cannot meet without him, for we need his advice.”
“Oh that!” The Turtle replied, “Deer has been residing in the sky. Have you not heard? Rainbow made a wonderful pathway for him of many varied colors, and by that he came to the sky. He’s late but there he is now,” and he pointed to a golden cloud scurrying across the sky overhead.
There was a disgruntled murmur among the gathered crowd. Understanding their displeasure, the Turtle advised that all the animals should all go to the sky to live until they could be sure that the new race of creatures would bring them no harm. Having previously obtained Thunder God’s permission, for he anticipated this requisite, he then showed the animals the secret pathway that Rainbow had made, stretching from the earth in wonderful colours. The animals all agreed at the Great Council to take Turtle’s advice. But they harbored a deep seated anger at the Deer’s selfishness and for leaving them without warning. For it was, a given concept that all the animals should either stay together faithfully, whether it be on the earth or more recently, go all together to reside in the sky.
Bear showed the greatest antagonism and annoyance. Because of his great strength, he had no fear of the new race that was said soon to be coming, and he had always been inclined to look down with scorn on Deer and his annoyingly timid and impatient, faulty traits that were now further crowned with selfishness and disloyalty.
“Deer has forsaken us,” he said irately; “he deserted us in the hour of our grave danger, and that is contrary to our code of honour and forest laws that ensure everyone a stable and peaceful coexistence.” The Bear then turning away grumbled under his breath, “Oh but I will not let him get away with it. I shall punish him and punish him good, for this outrage when the time comes.”
All the animals had agreed upon a suitable time, at late autumn, for their departure of earth. When the time for departure came, the Rainbow once more made his bright path to provide for the transport to the sky. Bear was the first to go up, one because he was the leader and two, because he needed to test the durability of the bridge of burning colors to ensure the safety of the rest of the animals. When he had almost reached the sky, he met Deer on the other end of the path waiting to welcome the animals to their new home.
His smug, seemingly sincere welcome infuriated the Bear and old wounds rehashed, he growled at the Deer in unrestrained fury: “Stand aside and let me pass…you have the gall to be so smug…welcoming visitors as though to your own home. You have forfeited that right when you left us behind, without warning for the land of the Turtle and when you deserted the Great Council! Why did you not wait until all could come together? Your selfishness bespeaks falsity to our faith and for that you will always be viewed as the traitor that you are! “
Deer had grown very proud since he had gone to live in the sky, and he was no longer timid as he had once been on earth. The Bear’s haughty manner of address infuriated him to the boiling point. “Who are you to doubt me or my faith?” He barked at the Bear. “None but the Wolf may ask me why I came or question my fidelity. I will kill you for your insolence.” In his fury the Deer’s eyes flashed as if a fire burned in them. He tossed his head to show his long sharp horns. The hair along his back stood up. Next instant he’d arched his neck and lowered his antlered head as he rushed madly at the Bear to slay him by pushing him from the path.
But Bear was not afraid, for he had often tested his strength with Deer upon the earth. He only glanced momentarily at his claws that were deadly, before he let out an impressive growl that shook the sky like rolling thunder. After which he’d charged in deadly retaliation. They came together with a shock. The long battle was fierce, all the while the bridge of burning colours trembled and the heavens shook from the force of the conflict. The animals waiting by the lake at the end of the path looked up and saw the battle above them. They feared for the result, for they wanted neither Bear nor Deer to perish. So they sent Wolf up to the sky to intercede and to put an end to this deadly contest.
When Wolf reached the combatants, Bear was bleeding profusely, for Deer with his antlers had pierced his neck and side. Deer, too, was bleeding copiously where Bear’s lethal claws had torn a great big gash in his head.
Back then all the animals had to obey the Wolf and Wolf soon put a stop to this horrific battle.
The gravely injured pair begrudgingly withdrew from the combat zone and ran away, presumably to dress their wounds.
Now as the Bear and the Deer had ran away, the Blood cascaded from them and fell on earth. It fell freely upon the leaves of the trees beneath them, and changed them into varied colours: some became Red, some Yellow; some were Brown, some Scarlet, and some Crimson.
And from that time on every year when autumn comes in the North Country the forests transform with splendour of soft and glowing beauty for the leaves take on these multitudes of bright and wondrous colors given to them by the blood of Bear and Deer when they fought on the Rainbow path eons ago.
In case you are wondering, the other animals did also go up to the sky over Rainbow’s flaming path. Seeing how wonderful it was, they all decided to live in the sky and to send their descendants back to earth when the new race of creatures came. To date, they can still at times be seen, like clouds scurrying across the sky, in the shape they had on earth.
Unfortunately the Bear and Deer never resolved their differences. Their animosity, passed onto their decedents, persisted to date, forcing them to dwell apart.
What’s more the changing of the colors are attributed by the Wyandots, to the continued hostility between ardent foes, deeming it to be the fresh blood from the incurred injuries of the Bear and the Deer cascading down from the sky upon the trees on Earth.