Back in the old days, Bear had a tail which was his proudest possession. It was long and black and glossy and Bear used to wave it around just so that people would look at it. Fox saw this. Fox, as everyone knows, is a trickster and likes nothing better than fooling others. So it was that he decided to play a trick on Bear.
It was the time of year when Hatho, the Spirit of Frost, had swept across the land, covering the lakes with ice and pounding on the trees with his big hammer. Fox made a hole in the ice, right near a place where Bear liked to walk. By the time Bear came by, all around Fox, in a big circle, were big trout and fat perch. Just as Bear was about to ask Fox what he was doing, Fox twitched his tail which he had sticking through that hole in the ice and pulled out a huge trout.
“Greetings, Brother,” said Fox. “How are you this fine day?”
“Greetings,” answered Bear, looking at the big circle of fat fish. “ I am well, Brother. But what are you doing?”
“I am fishing,” answered Fox. “Would you like to try?”
“Oh, yes,” said Bear, as he started to lumber over to Fox’s fishing hole.
But Fox stopped him. “Wait, Brother,” he said, “This place will not be good. As you can see, I have already caught all the fish. Let us make you a new fishing spot where you can catch many big trout.”
Bear agreed and so he followed Fox to the new place, a place where, as Fox knew very well, the lake was too shallow to catch the winter fish—which always stay in the deepest water when Hatho has covered their ponds. Bear watched as Fox made the hole in the ice, already tasting the fine fish he would soon catch. “Now,” Fox said, “you must do just as I tell you. Clear your mind of all thoughts of fish. Do not even think of a song or the fish will hear you. Turn your back to the hole and place your tail inside it. Soon a fish will come and grab your tail and you can pull him out.”
“But how will I know if a fish has grabbed my tail if my back is turned?” asked Bear.
“I will hide over here where the fish cannot see me,” said Fox. “When a fish grabs your tail, I will shout. Then you must pull as hard as you can to catch your fish. But you must be very patient. Do not move at all until I tell you.”
Bear nodded, “I will do exactly as you say.” He sat down next to the hole, placed his long beautiful black tail in the icy water and turned his back.
Fox watched for a time to make sure that Bear was doing as he was told and then, very quietly, sneaked back to his own house and went to bed. The next morning he woke up and thought of Bear. “I wonder if he is still there,” Fox said to himself. “I’ll just go and check.”
So Fox went back to the ice-covered pond and what do you think he saw? He saw what looked like a little white hill in the middle of the ice. It had snowed during the night and covered Bear, who had fallen asleep while waiting for Fox to tell him to pull his tail and catch a fish. And Bear was snoring. His snores were so loud that the ice was shaking.
It was so funny that Fox rolled with laughter. But when he was through laughing, he decided the time had come to wake up poor Bear. He crept very close to Bear’s ear, took a deep breath, and then shouted: “Now, Bear!!!”
Bear woke up with a start and pulled his long tail hard as he could. But his tail had been caught in the ice which had frozen over during the night and as he pulled, it broke off. Whack! Just like that. Bear turned around to look at the fish he had caught and instead saw his long lovely tail caught in the ice.
“Ohhh,” he moaned, “ohhh, Fox. I will get you for this.” But Fox, even though he was laughing fit to kill was still faster than Bear, and he leaped aside and was gone.
So it is that even to this day Bears have short tails and no love at all for Fox. And if you ever hear a bear moaning, it is probably because he remembers the trick Fox played on him long ago and he is mourning for his lost tail.
~ Collected by Glenn Welker