In which I share a story for the season: a winter kind of tale

Here's a nice little "pourquoi" story from the First Nations Slavey tribe of Canada.

The Living Water - a tale from the nomadic Tofalar people of Russia

This happened a long, long time ago, when the cedar, the fir, and the pine still had needles that yellowed and dropped in the fall instead of staying green all winter. Once day in late winter, a man went out into the woods to hunt. He walked and walked, and he came farther than any hunter had ever dared to go. He saw a bog so vast that no beast could have crossed it, no bird could have flown across. And the Tofalar said to himself: If our animals can't run across this bog, and our birds cannot fly across it, what kinds of animals and birds live on the other side?

The more he thought about it, the more curious he became. "I must find out," he said to himself. "Whatever happens, I must see what is over there."

And so he took a good running start, and leaped right clear across the bog. He looked around: the same earth, the same grass, the same trees….but there, in a little clearing stood seven rabbits wearing little tiny saddles on their backs. The rabbits stood quietly, waiting. Then seven people came out of seven burrows in the earth, exactly like people, only tiny. When the rabbits flattened their ears, the people were taller than the rabbits. When the rabbits' ears stood up, the people were smaller than the rabbits.

The hunter remembered the stories of his grandparents, and he knew that these must be the immortal people. He bowed down before them, and introduced himself.

“If you are a hunter, would you hunt for us?” asked the tiny people. The man bowed again, and said that he would.

They told him that a huge, terrible beast had come into the land of the immortals, and had caught and killed one of the people. The immortal people do not die, but they can be killed, you know.

The man agreed to hunt and kill the terrible beast, but he didn’t know how he could do such a thing. He went out to track the beast, but could find nothing except rabbit footprints. Suddenly, among the rabbit prints, he saw the tracks of a black sable.

"Oh, that's too fine a quarry to miss" he said. "First I will get the sable, and then I'll go on looking for the terrible, huge beast." He found the sable and killed it. Then he skinned it and went on with his search. He walked the length and breadth of the little people's land, but could not find any trace of the beast. So he came back to the little people and said to them: "I could not find your terrible, huge beast. All I have found was this sable." And he showed them the little sable skin.

"That's it, that's it! "they cried. "Oo-h, what a huge skin, what thick paws, what terrible, sharp claws" And the eldest of the little men said to the Tofalar: "You have saved us and our people! And we shall pay for your kindness with kindness. Wait for us. We'll come to visit you and bring you living water. You'll wash in it and will become immortal too."

The hunter jumped back across the bog and went back to his valley and told his people about the little men. And the people began to wait for their guests, the immortal little men. They waited one day, two days, three days, many, many days, and many many months. But the guests did not come, and the Tofalars forgot about them.

Winter came. On the coldest day of the year, everything around was frozen, and even the bog was covered with a coat of ice.

One day the village women went to the woods to gather firewood. Suddenly they saw a little herd of rabbits galloping their way. They looked again, and saw that every rabbit was saddled, and in every saddle sat a tiny man with a little pitcher in his hands. The women burst out laughing at the sight

"Look!" they cried to one another. "They are riding on rabbits! Look how funny how they are!”

Now, the immortal people were a proud race. They were insulted by the laughter. The one in front, with white hair and a long beard, shouted something to the others, and all of them spilled out the contents of their pitchers onto the ground. Then the rabbits turned and hopped away so fast that you could only see their white tails flicker.

And so the people never got the living water. It went instead to the pine, the cedar, and the fir. And this is why they are fresh and green all through the year. Their needles never die.


  1. Hahah, I liked this one!

    I had to look up what a sable actually is. I knew they were smallish beasts with nice fur, but that's about it!


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