Cherokee legend has it that long ago humans and animals lived together and spoke to each other. Those times have long since past, or so thought the Cherokee trail runner. It was a crisp, clear winter day with fresh snow on the ground. Trail runner thought it a perfect day for a long run. She had no idea what she was in for! She made her way through the winding trails of the forest, somewhat surprised that no other humans had made tracks yet. She drank water and ate to sustain her energy for the long run. She delighted in the sounds of the woodpeckeR (ta-la-la), the scurrying squirrel (sa-la-li), and other small animals foraging in the woods. For several miles her eyes were drawn to the tracks in her path….deer (a-wi), rabbit (tsi-s-du), coyote (wa-ya), bobcat (gv-he), raccoon (gv-li), turkey (ka-la-gi-sa). But no human, just her own tracks in her odd shoes. You see, her trail shoes have a split toe. She noticed how they compared to the deer. She laughed...much larger and more cumbersome for sure!
Just then, a white deer popped out on the trail in front of her. He looked at her feet and said, I’ve been following you for some time, your print is not like any human print I have seen! What are you doing out here? Trail runner explained to a-wi that her shoes helped her feet move easier and more naturally on the trails. A-wi asked, “do they make you faster?” Trail runner laughed, “I wish!”. She replied, “No, I admire your speed and agility though, and would love for my running to be as graceful, efficient and swift as your own”. A-wi nodded and replied, “I have heard of human’s endurance..endurance that has been known to exceed that of the a-wi.” trail runner nodded, “I have heard this too.” As a-wi and trail runner conversed, other forest animals gathered, for this was the first time in many, many generations that human and animal understood each other and spoke the same language.
Rabbit (tsi-s-du), spoke up. “Well, why don’t we have a race?”. Tsi-s-du sized them both up and was quite convinced he could win. He had been sizing them up for some time. He thought, “I am surely faster than trail runner, for she only has 2 legs...and well, she’s human!” Rabbit wasn’t so sure about a-wi, but was convinced he could cut the course without being caught making his way ahead of a-wi and surely win. The other animals got very excited and chattered. The hawk (ta-wo-di) watched and listened to all that was going on. Bear (yo-nv) was pleased to see human and animal communicating with and respecting eachother. “It has been so long,” he thought. A-wi and trail runner took a little convincing, but all thought, including a-wi and trail runner, the victor would surely be a-wi. A 20 mile course was set by bear. The animals agreed the distance would balance things for a-wi and trail runner. Both a-wi and trail runner were nervous. Both confident in their own abilities, but in all of history, there has never been such a race. All the animals placed their bets on a-wi, all convinced by looking at a-wi, he should be the obvious winner.
Rabbit piped up…what about me? I’m going to race as well! I am sure to win! Look at my powerful hind legs! My heart beats many times faster than either of yours, my reflexes too fast for you to even see! And what about the prize? There must be a prize of course! The animals began to chatter and the crowd became more anxious. A-wi spoke, “I will offer up my antlers to the winner”. Everyone agreed this was a fitting prize. The hawk observed all this and took flight. He would follow them on the course, he knew deer and trail runner were of pure intentions, but he was suspicious of rabbit. Bear sent them off with a loud growl. Rabbit was first on the trail and very quickly out of sight around the first bend. By ¼ mi. A-wi was well ahead of trail runner.
Trail runner was a little discouraged at how quickly she lost sight of the two. And hawk soared overhead. Trail runner refocused her effort. She remained steady, taking in calories and water as she went. Before long she was completely alone. Not even hawk above. Trail runner shook her head. She wondered if it was all a dream or maybe her imagination trying to make the miles pass. Ahead Hawk had spotted rabbit. Just as hawk suspected, rabbit was cutting the course. He was making his way straight up the hill instead of following the trail. Hawk briefly thought about eating rabbit, but figured the arrogant little rabbit would leave a bad taste. Just then, rabbit got hung in a thicket and could not free himself. Rabbit cried out to hawk for help, but to no avail. Hawk thought the situation quite fitting for rabbit and flew on. Hawk watched both a-wi and trail runner. A-wi was still flying down the trail, effortless and elegant. Hawk then took note of trail runner..moving slower, but persistent. He noticed how she backed off on uphills and increased her pace on downhills. She took sips of water out of funny looking bottles and ate what looked like honey as she went. 5 miles turned into 10 and 10 into 15. A-wi was struggling. He felt tired and would stop briefly, but felt compelled to take off again before fully recovered. A-wi did not drink or eat, he had never done that on the run.
By now trail runner had fully determined her deer encounter to be a figment of her very overactive imagination. Around mile 18 she came around the bend and right up on deer. A-wi was panting, obviously in distress. A-wi said to trail runner, “go on, you are strong and persistent and I am weak”. Trail runner did not leave. She gave a-wi water and honey gels. A-wi was grateful. The two sat quietly and rested, hawk flying overhead. Once recovered, a-wi and trail runner arose. Quietly, they ran together with great respect each for the other.
They crossed the finish together. The animals created quite a stir….who is the winner? A-wi promptly hushed the animals. “Trail runner is the winner” he said. A-wi explained what happened, and how trail runner had stopped to help him. The animals agreed that the antlers should go to trail runner. Trail runner was honored, but couldn’t bear the thought of a-wi giving up a part of himself, his magnificent antlers. Trail runner explained, she meant no disrespect, she wanted a-wi to keep his antlers. A-wi smiled and said, from this day forward, every year, about this time a-wi will shed their antlers and humans will find them as a reminder of this day and the respect we share for each other. So from that day forward, every year around December to April, a-wi shed their antlers for humans to find and be reminded of their encounter.