Fall 1999
story description

Turtle Island

10 to 20 thousand years ago, about the time when the Jomon people came to Japan, the first people were entering North America.  Thousands of years passed and these people made stories to describe the land and animals where they lived.  Many of these people saw the land of North America as a great land turtle, rounded from horizon to horizon and surrounded by water, like a Turtle Island. 

This story is adapted from a Cherokee Indian story.  The Cherokees lived in the Southern Appalachian region of North America and their people mixed with the Europeans who moved to the land in the 18th and 19th centuries.  My great grandmother was a Cherokee.  As I tell the story, let's try drawing a picture for the story together.   First, let's write "Turtle Island" across the top of the paper.  O.K., now let's begin the story:

Long long ago, there was no land to live on, so the animals and plants had to live in the water and above the rainbow.  Let's draw a rainbow now with all the colors: red, green, blue, yellow, purple, orange, and more if you can.  Now let's draw a few of our favorite animals above the rainbow.  What animal do you like?  Ask your friends, "What animal do you like?," and draw their animals too. 

Some of the animals got tired of living over the rainbow, and they decided that they needed some land of their own.  The water-beetle, could swim on water and underwater, so they asked him to search for some land. 
  "Please, Mr. waterbeetle, find us some land of our own," they asked. 
  " I'll try!" said Mr. Water-beetle. 
He searched and he searched and dove deep down under the water, but all he could find was some mud.  But mud better than nothing, so he brought more and more of it up from under the water and the mud spread out far and wide.

The animals over the rainbow knew that they needed dry land, so they asked the buzzard to fly all over the mud to find some.  Mr. Buzzard flew over the muddy land.  He searched and searched far and wide and he slowly got tired and could barely keep flying.  His wings began to touch the mud and this made the mud rise into mountains.  The animals called Mr. Buzzard back because he was making too many mountains and the mud was already dry from all the flapping of his wings.  

That's how Turtle Island was born.  Let's draw a land turtle with mountains surrounded by the oceans.

The plants and animals above the rainbow could now move to their new mountain home.  But life in the mountains wasn't so easy at first.  The plants and animals were not yet strong enough for the new way of life in the mountains, so they prayed t0 God to make them stronger and more wise.  God told them that he could help them, but only if they showed that they were serious by staying awake for seven days.   All the plants and animals said, "We'll try!";  but only a few of the animals managed to stay awake for seven days.  What plants and animals do you think stayed awake?

Here's a hint:  The plants that stayed awake received the strength to keep their leaves even in the winter.  The animals gained the power to see at night.

The pine tree, the holly tree, and the laurel tree received the power to keep their leaves in the winter.  The mountain cat, the owl, and the flying squirrel received the power to see at night.

The other plants and animals were sad because they fell asleep.  So they asked their priests to try to bring the sun closer to the earth to make it warmer.  On their first try, the priests pulled the sun too close.  The sun was so hot that the backs of the crawfish even turned red; and they're still red to this day!  On the priests' second try, they got the sun in the position that it remains today. 

Seven days was important for to the first plants and animals on Turtle Island, and they are still important today.  To become stronger, young Cherokee men, still try to stay awake and concentrate for seven days.  Do you think you could stay awake for seven days?

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