The Adventures of Rabbit
retold by Ed Ahern
This is a retelling of a folk tale recorded by Charles Leland in The Algonquin Legends of New England , published in 1884.
Of the old times.
Some indian tribes called him Mahtiguess, the rabbit, but the Micmac called him Ableegumooch, master rabbit, and this part of rabbit’s tale was told by the Micmacs.
Rabbit lived in hard times in a wigwam with his grandmother, waiting for things to get better. It was a brittle cold winter, with ice on the river and snow on the plain, and rabbit could not find food.
One day, while running through the forest and leaving deep tracks in the snow he saw a solitary lodge. Inside was Keeoony the otter. Otter’s wigwam was on the banks of a river, with an ice slide from the door of the lodge to the edge of the river.
Otter welcomed rabbit into his wigwam, and offered to cook him food. Rabbit was skinny from hunger and quickly said yes.
“Wait here in the warmth of the lodge,” otter said, “while I catch dinner.”
Otter took down hooks he used to hold the fish he caught. Laying down on his belly at the top of the ice slide, he pushed off and slid down the slide and deep into the water. In a little while he came out of the water with three eels on hooks. They quickly cleaned, cooked and ate the eels.
My life, thought the rabbit, this is an easy way to live. Fishers do little work and eat well. I am cleverer than this otter, I must be able to do this.
And rabbit was so confident that that he asked otter to come visit and eat with him- adamadusk ketkewop- in three days time.
The next morning rabbit called to his grandmother. “Come, we will move our wigwam down to the lake.”
And they moved their wigwam down to a bank on the lake. Rabbit poured water to make an ice slide, just as otter had. When otter arrived, rabbit called to his grandmother,” prepare for dinner.”
“But what am I to cook, grandson?”
“I will see to that.”
Rabbit grabbed a nabogun, a stick for stringing eels, and hopped over to the ice slide.
But rabbit was not made for sliding, and as soon as he got onto the ice he swerved right, then left, then tumbled tail over head until he fell into the water.
And things got worse. Rabbit fur is not otter fur, and rabbit began to freeze in the cold water. Rabbit also is perhaps the worst swimmer of the animals. He lost his breath, struggled and began to sink.
Otter was looking down the bank at these thrashings. “What is wrong with this fellow?” He asked the grandmother.
“He has seen you do this,” said grandmother, “and is trying to do as you do.”
“Ho,” yelled otter,” come out of the water and hand me your nabogun.”
Rabbit crawled, shivering, out of the water and up the bank. He gave his nabogun to Otter and limped into his lodge to get warm.
Otter slid down the bank and plunged into the lake. He surfaced again in a few minutes with several fish held on the nabogun. Otter was angry at rabbit for attempting what he could not perform. He threw the fish down at the entrance to the wigwam and went back to his lodge without tasting a single fish.
Rabbit was embarrassed and disappointed, but not discouraged, for he never gave up. One day in spring he was wandering in the woods when he came to a wigwam filled with several pretty girls, all wearing red headdresses and looking just like birds. And no wonder, for they were woodpecker sisters.
Rabbit may have been rash and over confident, but he also had good manners. He and the girls talked together so happily that he was invited to dinner, which he immediately accepted, for rabbit was still very hungry.
One of the red-capped girls took at wooden dish, a woltes, and seemed to run right up a tree. She stopped here and there, tapping now at this spot, now at that, picking out insects called rice, apchel-moal-timpkawal, because the little bugs looked like rice grains.
These bugs, for those who like to eat them, are very tasty. The woodpecker sisters quickly boiled the insects and they all sat down to eat.
And rabbit thought, how easy it is for some people to live.
“Girls,” he said, “come over and eat with me the day after tomorrow.”
When the woodpecker sisters arrived rabbit took the pointed head of an eel spear and tied it to the front of his face. And rabbit started to climb up a spruce tree. But rabbit paws are not made for climbing and rabbit did not get very high. He began banging his head against the tree trunk, but rabbit did not know where the insects were hiding. And rabbit’s face began to get bruised and bleeding from the pounding of the eel spear head.
The pretty woodpecker sisters laughed loudly and asked rabbit’s grandmother what he was doing.
“Ah,” said grandmother,” I suppose he is trying to do what he has seen someone else do. It’s like him.”
One of the woodpecker girls stopped laughing and yelled up at rabbit,” Come down here and give me your bowl, your woltes.” She grabbed the bowl from rabbit and hopped right up the spruce. Pecking here and there she soon had a bowlful for them to eat.
But it was a long time after that before rabbit’s face healed and even longer before the tree tapping sisters quit reminding him of hitting his head against a tree with the tip of an eel spear.
Even after this, rabbit still thought about living as other animals do and not as a rabbit does. For rabbit was very strong of will, and once his strong mind was set he would almost have to die before he changed it.
One day, while wandering in the woods, rabbit came to a bear cave, and Mooin the bear invited him in.
And rabbit asked Mooin,” I have heard a story that you are able to live during the winter by sucking on your own paws. Is this so?”
Mooin did not explain, but only said, “Join us while we eat.”
The bear Mooin took a huge pot and put it over the fire. He filled the pot half full with water. Then he took a knife and cut a little slice from a pad under his foot. Mooin threw the slice into the pot and it boiled and grew into a huge chunk of meat which was served to rabbit and the bear family. And there was a large piece left over which was given to rabbit to take back to his lodge.
Truly, thought rabbit, this is a thing I can do. For it is told in wampum beads that whatever a bear can do a rabbit can do better.
Rabbit turned to Mooin the bear and asked him, ketekewopk, to dine with him the day after tomorrow.
After bear had arrived rabbit said to grandmother, “Noogume Kuesawal wohu, set your pot to boiling.” Rabbit whetted his knife and started slicing at his feet. But rabbit’s soles are small and thin and he got almost nothing despite all the cutting and pain.
“What is he trying to do?” growled Mooin.
“Ah,” sighed the grandmother, “something he has seen someone else do.”
“Ho! You! Rabbit!,” growled the bear, “ give me the knife.”
Bear took a small slice from his sole, which did him no harm. He threw the slice into the pot and they all ate. But rabbit was in considerable pain, and even after the pain went away he was embarrassed to remember trying to feed Mooin.
Rabbit began to understand that he was bad at imitating others, but good at persevering. He quit trying to do as others did and did as he was meant to do. Rabbit studied and gained magic power, m’teoulin. And it was good that he did, for he fell into great trouble with Lusifee, the wild cat. But that is a tale told by the Passamaquoddy, for another time.
We should just be what we are, yes?