Tell Me a Story

The Spirit of Bear (A Micmac Legend)

Long ago in Sky World, just as the sun awakened the world, Bear lumbered out of his den, and at the same time, the birds awoke, too, and began a great chattering.

"Time to hunt," Chickadee called to Robin. "I'm ready to hunt Bear," Robin answered. He called to the others, to Moosebird and Owl, Heron and Hawk.

The birds began to follow Bear as he ambled. They were hungry. Everyone was, after the long winter.

All that season they followed Bear as he fattened himself on summer's abundant food, and at long last, when autumn came, Robin, coming close enough, aimed an arrow at Bear's chest. He let it fly, and it struck Bear in the heart. Bear fell to the ground.

Robin ran to his side, and Chickadee arrived just in time to see the bear fall. "We will prepare a marvelous feast," Robin said, and Chickadee agreed, but suddenly Robin looked down at his feathers, which were covered with Bear's blood.

Frantic, he began to fly around, flapping his wings, shivering, shaking his feathers. A few drops of blood fell to the Earth, where it dappled the leaves.

Chickadee looked down. "Everyone on Earth will know that whatever happens in the sky governs what happens on Earth," he said, and they saw the people down on Earth staring in amazement at the way their leaves suddenly had turned dazzling red.

"But look at your breast," Chickadee cried, and Robin looked down. Sure enough, his breast was as red as the maple leaves, as red as the red earth, as red as Bear's blood.

"I believe your breast will always be that color so long as your name is Robin," Heron cried when he arrived, and Hawk and Chickadee agreed, and so did Owl. And everyone knows that they were right.

"Time to cook our feast," the birds declared, and together they began to work, for in the Sky World, as on Earth, everyone helps everyone else.

But Moosebird, meanwhile, had earlier lost the trail, and while the others worked, he flew this way and that, following one trail and then another. "I'm late, I'm late," he fretted. "I'm sure to be late." He hurried on.

Moosebird stopped for a moment to rest and was struck by a thought. "If I take my time, I won't have to kill Bear but I will be in time for a meal," and so he slowed his pace, taking his time to look at the sky, inhaling the autumn scents, gazing below at the colorful Earth beneath him.

Moosebird finally discovered the right trail and flew on to meet up with his friends. "I'm here," he cried to the others who were busily preparing the feast.

"You're just in time to eat," Chickadee said.

"But you've missed all the work," Hawk complained.

"You'll always be late," Owl grumbled, and so he is, and the Micmac people call him "He Who Comes In at the Last Moment."

Naturally, though, the others shared their food, for everyone knows that that is tradition. The creatures of the sky, like those on Earth, take care of each other, for no one can survive all alone.

And while Chickadee prepared the food, the others began to dance the dance of thanksgiving. In a circle they danced, looking down on Earth, thanking the Great Spirit for all of creation, thanking Bear for his offering, thanking their friends for their help. And when they had given thanks, they joined in the marvelous feast.

But this was not the end of Bear, as some might think. His skeleton lay on its back, it is true, and the birds danced around that skeleton, but while they danced, Bear's spirit rose and entered another Bear who lay in his den, preparing for a long winter's sleep.

And when spring came again, this Bear too left his den, and the others again hunted him, and when he lay still, his spirit moved to the next bear sleeping in his den. And so the cycle of life continued forever.

The ancient people understood this well, and they understood that they must look to the stories of the sky to help guide their journeys on Earth.

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