THE SONG OF THE TURTLE'S FLUTE

Published: Sunday, March 10 1996 12:00 a.m. MST

Long ago, on the banks of the Amazon River in Brazil, Turtle played her flute. When Turtle played, all the creatures of the forest listened. Ants and butterflies, snakes and herons, egrets and monkeys all danced to Turtle's music.

One day a man passing through the jungle heard Turtle's tune. He stopped to listen. But instead of feeling joy at the sound, the man thought only of his growling stomach. "Ahh," he thought, "that must be Turtle making music. Turtle would taste very good right now."So he made his way to Turtle's home and called out to her, "Turtle, show me your beautiful flute."

Turtle, who did not trust people, ignored his call.

The man waited a while and called again. "Turtle, please show me that flute of yours. I must see the instrument that makes such glorious music."

Turtle was proud of her flute, and she lumbered to her door and held out her flute so that the man could see. But the moment the man saw Turtle, he grabbed her by the neck and began to run with her through the jungle.

Turtle tried to cry for help, but she couldn't make a sound. She closed her eyes, holding tightly to her flute for good luck.

When the man reached his hut, he called to his family. "Look," he said proudly, "what a feast we shall have! Turtle soup will ease our hunger." He put Turtle into a cage made of branches, closed the lid, and put a log on top of that. He and his family then went to sleep.

At dawn the family awoke as usual. "I'm going to plant our seeds," the man said to his children. "At sunset I will come home and we'll cook Turtle. Remember, whatever you do, don't let Turtle out of her cage." And off he went to the fields.

The children began to play outside. Turtle sat very still inside her cage, thinking about the father's words. She began to play a sweet tune on her flute, and the children ran to the cage. "Is that you playing, Turtle?" they asked, their eyes wide with wonder.

"Yes," Turtle said, and she played another little tune. She kept on playing, for she could see the children were delighted. At last she stopped. "I can dance even better than I play," she said to the little girl. "Would you like to see?"

"Oh, please," the little girl cried. "Please show me."

"I'll show you how I dance and play at the same time," said Turtle, "but you must open the lid. There is no room in here to dance."

So the little girl lifted the log and Turtle began to dance and play. The children laughed and clapped their hands, for never had they seen such a wonderful thing. Turtle was a very fine dancer.

Then Turtle stopped dancing and playing her flute.

"Don't stop!" the children cried.

"Oh," Turtle groaned, "my legs are stiff. If I could just walk a little bit to loosen them . . ."

"Don't go too far," the little girl cautioned. "And don't forget to come right back."

"Never fear," said Turtle. "You wait right here. I won't be long."

Turtle crawled off toward the jungle. The moment she was out of sight, she slid beneath the ferns and moss and monkey ropes. Lost in the green bush, she crept along as fast as she could, all the way back to her house.

The children waited, but Turtle did not return. They ran toward the jungle, calling out her name. "Turtle! Dancing Turtle! Come home!"

They searched under every branch and log, but they could not find her. When they called again, the monkeys and birds screeched in answer, and if the children had been able to understand the animals' language, they would have known that the animals were calling out, "Hide, Turtle, hide. They're looking for you still!"

The children wandered home. "What will our father say?" the little girl asked. Her brother had a marvelous idea. He reached down and picked up a stone just about the same size as Turtle. "We'll paint this stone to make it look like Turtle," he said. "Father will think it's Turtle and won't be angry."

And that's exactly what they did.

Their father returned at sunset and at once set the pot on the fire. "We'll boil water now," he said, his mouth watering with hunger, "and we'll toss Turtle in. When she's well cooked, we'll take off her shell and eat her tender meat."

The children were quiet as their father worked. They watched carefully as their father lifted the stone and put it in the boiling water. They obediently brought the bowls and spoons when their father asked them to.

After a while, their father lifted out the stone and threw it into a bowl. The bowl cracked into dozens of pieces. Realizing what had happened, the father looked sternly at his children. "Did you set Turtle free?" he asked.

"Yes," said the children. "We were wrong."

"I'll try to find Turtle again," he said. "And this time I know you won't let her run away."

"Oh no, Father. We won't!" the children cried.

Off he went, listening for Turtle's song. Deeper and deeper into the jungle he walked, listening hard but hearing only the screeching monkeys and the trilling birds.

When the moon was high, the father returned to his hut. "Well, one day I'll hear Turtle's song and I'll catch her."

But the people say from that day on, they never heard Turtle play her flute. The monkeys and the birds still call to her, begging her to play, but Turtle rests quietly, listening to the music around her. One day she may play again.

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