February 17, 2003

Why birds go south in winter


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AUTHOR: Ojibwe Oral Legend

Long ago there was only summer. The days were always warm and sunny. Winter and snow were unknown.

For the young it was a time of happiness. They played all the time. Animals played with animals. Fish played with fish. Insects played with insects. Birds played with birds. They had many games — hide-and-seek, blind-man’s buff, and tag. They ran races, they wrestled, and they played lacrosse. The lakes, the meadows, and the skies rang with their laughter.

From dawn to dusk the young played. No sooner had they finished one game than they began another. They ate little and rested even less. For the parents it was a time of worry. All they could do was try to keep their offspring from harming themselves. Only nighttime brought rest.

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American Indian Baskets II

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Mong, the loon, was no different dorm any of the other young birds. He played all their games. But most of all he liked to play lacrosse. If he had his way, he would never have played anything else. The trouble was that his friends did not always want to play lacrosse.

Sometimes Mong had to beg them to share his game. When they agreed, and that was not often enough, he was happy. When they refused, he was sad. Mong simply had to find a way to make his friends play lacrosse with him whenever he wanted.

Finally Mong decided that the only thing to do was to challenge the other birds to a match. Off he went to look for someone to challenge. He did not have to go far.

Almost at once he met the raven. Boldly Mong dared him; “My team can beat the feathers off your team any time.” The raven cackled and croaked and then flew off without bothering to answer Mong.

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Smoke Dancers (S)

Kathy Cooney

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Mong watched the raven disappear. He was very upset that the raven had paid no attention to his dare. Oh well, he thought to himself, there are better players than the raven. Besides, the raven cheats. Deep in thought, Mong almost bumped into Benae, the grouse.

Once again Mong tried a bold challenge. Looking Benae in the eye, he snarled, “Get out of my way, runt, or I’ll rub your beak in the ground–just as I would on the lacrosse field.

Benae puffed up his feathers in anger. Then just as quickly he relaxed and a smile spread slowly over his face. “I know what your up to, Benae said, “but you can’t trick me. I don’t fell like playing lacrosse. Get someone else.” And Benae turned and strutted off into the bush.

Mong was stunned. Twice he had been refused- Very rudely. Well, he would just have to try again.

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Sitting Bull

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Before long Mong spied Kaikak the hawk sitting on a dead tree cleaning his beak. Mong was just about to dare Kaikaik when he remembered his meaning with Benae. This time he spoke very pleasantly.

“Do you want to play lacrosse, Kaikaik?” Mong asked.

“I don’t think so,” “it’s too hot.”

Mong answered very quickly, for he realized that Kaikaik had said no. “We can play tomorrow,”he said, “but lets choose our teams now. You can have first choice.”

Kaikaik stretched his wings out and shook his tail. Lacrosse is now fun when it is so easy to win,” he said. To show his strength Kaikaik squeezed the dead tree with his talons- so hard that he broke off some chips.

Frank Wilkin - Indian Boy 1835

Indian Boy 1835

Frank Wilkin

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“Let’s make a bet then,” Mong answered. “If you win, I’ll do whatever you want. If I win, you’ll have to play lacrosse with me whenever I want.”

“Yes, yes!” Mong replied eagerly. He knew that he would win. “Let’s choose teams now.”

First Kaikaik picked the raven, and Mong picked the Canada goose. Then Kaikaik chose the owl and Mong the robin. By the end of the afternoon the teams were made up. On his side Kaikaik had the raven, the owl, the chickadee, the snowbird, the cardinal, the woodpecker, the grouse, the junco, the pheasant, the partridge, the magpie, and the ptarmigan.

Mong had the Canada goose, the kingbird, the robin, the sparrow, the bluebird, the oriole, the scarlet tanager, the plover, the thrasher, the swallow, the catbird, and the kingfisher.

Kaikaik’s team was strong and included a few cheaters like the raven, but Mong was not worried. He had the kingbird on his side. The kingbird could handle anyone on Kaikaik’s team.

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Indian Corn

Del Gish

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“We’ll meet tomorrow morning as soon as the sun comes up,” Mong said. “And the team that scores the first goal wins the game.”

“Agreed,” answered Kaikaik.

The next morning at sunrise all the birds gathered to watch the two teams play. Kaikaik’s fans were on one side of the field and Mong’s were on the other.

The game started. The woodpecker was keeping goal for Kaikaik’s team and the oriole for Mong’s. From the beginning Mong’s team went on the attack. Their fans cheered loudly.

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Indian Trapper

Frederic Remington

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Mong’s players were very quick, but they could not seem to score. Still, Kaikaik’s fans were quiet. Their team was slow. It seemed to be just a matter of time before Mong’s team slipped a goal past the woodpecker.

Soon the grouse was injured and had to leave the field. Mong’s supporters cheered. Then the raven was knocked down. He lay on the field rolling in pain and croaking for help. No one paid any attention to him. The rule was the play would not stop until the first goal was scored.

Then the swallow got the ball. He threw it with all his might towards Kaikaik’s goal. As the ball went flying past the raven, he jumped to his feet and caught it. Off he raced towards Mong’s goal. With a quick flip, he scored on oriole.

From Mong’s fans came a mighty groan. From Kaikaik’s fans came an even mightier cheer. Kaikaik led his team to the middle of the field to meet Mong and his players. The fans crowded in to hear what Kaikaik would demand of Mong.

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Oglala Sioux Girls

Charles Sabatino

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“Mong,” Kaikaik said, “this is your penalty for losing. From now on, whenever the east wind blows, it will bring clouds and rain and thunderstorms, and you won’t be able to play lacrosse.”

The birds gasped. They had never heard of such a thing. But Mong did not pay much attention. “You only won because the raven cheated,” he shouted. “We were winning until the raven pretended that he was hurt.”

Kaikaik bristled and his eyes blazed. Mong went right on, “Let’s have another game tomorrow. I know you can’t win without cheating.”

“What’s the bet?” asked Kaikaik.

“The same bet,” said Mong. “If I win, you must play lacrosse whenever I ask you. If I lose, I must do what ever you want. This time, though, I’d like the raven on my team.”

Deborah Hiatt - Sacred Mountain

Sacred Mountain

Deborah Hiatt

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“Agreed,” said Kaikaik. “We can do without him.”

At daybreak the next day a huge crowd gathered at the field. Even the animals came to watch. Who would win the second game? What penalty would Kaikaik demand if he won the second time?

Once again Mong’s team carried the play to the end of Kaikaik’s field so quickly Kaikaik’s team couldn’t touch it. Still, they could not get is past the woodpecker. He darted this way and that, blocking the ball with his feet, his wing, and his tail. The game went on and on.

Late in the afternoon Mong’s team began to tire. One of Kaikaik’s got the ball and threw it down the field towards Mong’s goal. The raven, who was playing just as hard for Mong’s team as he did on Kaikaik’s team, caught the ball. He raced towards Kaikaik’s goal.

As he ran, the grouse came up behind him and tripped him. The grouse grabbed the ball and slipped it in Mong’s goal and brought the long game to an end.

“Foul, Foul!” screamed Mong and his teammates, amid the thundering cheers of Kaikaik’s fans. “Foul!” Mong screamed again to Bonsae the vulture, who was the referee. But Bonsae had not seen the grouse trip the raven. He declared that the score would stay.

Everyone rushed to the center of the field. What penalty would Mong and his friends have to pay this time?

Kaikaik looked sternly at Mong. “From now on,” he said, “whenever the north winds blows, it will bring snow and bitter cold. You and your friends will have to leave this land.”

That very night the north wind did begin to blow. Mong and his friends shivered in the snow. They could not stand the cold. Just as Kaikaik had said, they had to leave the land they loved.

Every year after that the north wind brought the cold winter and Mong and his friends had to fly to the south. If Mong had not been so eager to play lacrosse, if he hadn’t made that foolish bet, winter would never have come.

Ojibwe / Chippewa Legends
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