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How Turtle Flew South for the Winter

THE SYMBOLIC LIFE (Winter 2020)


It was the time of year when the leaves start to fall from the aspens. Turtle was walking around when he saw many birds gathering together in the trees. They were making a lot of noise and Turtle was curious.

“Hey,” Turtle said, “What is happening?”

“Don’t you know?” the birds said. “We’re getting ready to fly to the south for the winter.”

“Why are you going to do that?” Turtle said.

“Don’t you know anything?” the birds said. “Soon it’s going to be very cold here and the snow will fall. There won’t be much food to eat. Down south it will be warm. Summer lives there all of the time and there’s plenty of food.”

As soon as they mentioned the food, Turtle became even more interested. “Can I come with you?” He said.

“You have to fly to go south,” said the birds. “You are a turtle and you can’t fly.”

But turtle would not give up. “Isn’t there some way you could take me along?” He begged and pleaded. Finally the birds agreed just to get him to stop asking.

“Look here,” the birds said, “can you hold onto a stick hard with your mouth?”

“That’s no problem at all,” Turtle said. “Once I grab onto something no one can make me let go until I am ready.”

“Good,” said the birds. “Then you hold on hard to this stick. These two birds here will each grab one end of it in their claws. That way they can carry you along. But remember, you have to keep your mouth shut!”

“That’s easy,“ said turtle. “Now let’s go south where Summer keeps all that food.” Turtle grabbed onto the middle of the stick and two big birds came and grabbed each end. They flapped their wings hard and lifted turtle off the ground. Soon they were high in the sky and headed toward the south.

Turtle had never been so high off the ground before, but he liked it. He could look down and see how small everything looked. But before they had gone too far, he began to wonder where they were. He wondered what the lake was down below him and what those hills were. He wondered how far they had come and how far they would have to go to get to the south where Summer lived. He wanted to ask the two birds who were carrying him, but he couldn’t talk with his mouth closed.

Turtle rolled his eyes. But the two birds just kept on flying.

Then Turtle tried waving his legs at them, but they acted as if they didn’t even notice. Now Turtle was getting upset. If they were going to take him south, then the least they could do was tell him where they were now!

“Mmmph,” Turtle said, trying to get their attention. It didn’t work. Finally turtle lost his temper.

“Why don’t you listen to . . .” but that was all he said, for as soon as he opened his mouth to speak, he had to let go of the stick and he started to fall. Down and down he fell, a long long way. He was so frightened that he pulled his legs and his head in to protect himself! When he hit the ground he hit so hard that his shell cracked. He was lucky that he hadn’t been killed, but he ached all over. He ached so much that he crawled into a nearby pond, swam down to the bottom and dug into the mud to get as far away from the sky as he possibly could. Then he fell asleep and he slept all through the winter and didn’t wake up until the spring.

So it is that today only the birds fly south to the land where summer lives while turtles, who all have cracked shells now, sleep through winter.


This Dakota story is found in Keepers of the Earth by Michael J. Caduto and Joseph Bruchac, Chapter 19.

In reading this tale revealing Turtle’s effort to get through the winter it struck me how much we all share his fate this year. The birds we could say suggest an extraverted approach to the coming of winter, while Turtle is destined to find an introverted one. With the pandemic now more rampant than it has been all year, we are learning that it is best not to “fly off” to do many of the things we usually do during the holidays, the more extraverted activities, but to turn inward to be at home with ourselves and those we regularly live with.

The winter solstice has traditionally been a more reflective time of year, a time of nestling in and taking in stories––many of which I’ve shared in past Winter Solstice newsletters. We slow down awaiting nature’s renewal in the Spring after its wind down in the Fall into Winter. Or in our case awaiting the arrival of vaccines that would stem the tide of this highly infectious and deadly virus.

Others have noted this as well and I’d like to share a link to a Los Angeles Times feature by Arielle Paul. She writes “A 2020 Confessional from an Exhausted, Unapologetic Introvert” about Thanksgiving, but it equally applies to the upcoming holidays as well.

http://enewspaper.latimes.com/infinity/article_share.aspx?guid=cf8dc469-627e-405d-b765-329e1d95a9d4

Editor: Steve Galipeau

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