Why the Bat has Wings

Retold from a legend of the Cherokee Indians of Oklahoma

Long ago, the animals challenged the birds to a ball game. Bear was captain of the animals. On the way to the game he tossed great logs into the air to show his strength. Deer ran alongside to show off his speed.

Eagle was captain of the birds. Hawk and Falcon, both swift in flight, joined the team. But secretly, the birds were afraid the animals would win. The birds perched high in the trees, waiting for game time. Two furry things, not much larger than mice, scurried along a branch.

"Please, Eagle, let us play," they said. "But you have four feet and fur. You belong with the animals," Eagle said. "The animals would not have us," the furry things replied. "They said we were not strong or fast."

"To be on our team, you must have wings," Eagle said. So the birds took spare leather from a drum head and cut two wing shapes from it. They stretched the leather shapes with cane strips and fastened them to the forelegs of the first little animal. In this way came Tla'meha the bat.

Eagle tossed the ball to him. He caught it in his wing and flew with it, dodging and circling. The birds knew he would do well on their team.

There was no more drum leather to make wings for the second animal.

"We'll have to stretch his skin," Eagle said. So the birds pulled at his fur with their beaks until the skin formed flaps between the little creature's front and hind legs. In this way came Tewa, the flying squirrel. He could carry the ball in his teeth as he glided from tree to tree.

The game began, Bat, skillful and agile, swooped close to the ground to catch the ball and carry it to the goal. He was the star player!. The animals wished they had him on their team.

Why the Bat Hangs Upside Down.

Retold from a myth of the Lipan Apache Indians of Texas

Once, long ago, Coyote thought he would take a wife, but did not know whom to choose.

"Why not take the wife of Hawk Chief?" Bat said, for Hawk Chief was missing, and had not been seen for many days.

But Hawk Chief returned and became angry with Bat for giving such ill- considered advice. He picked Bat up and slung him with full force into a juniper bush. Bat hung upside down in the bush, caught by his long, pointy-toed moccasins. He twisted and he turned, but however much he struggled, he could not get free. And from that time on bats hang upside down - even when they sleep.

The Bat and the Weasels.

Retold from a fable by Aesop, a legendary storyteller of Ancient Greece

Once, a bat slipped from his roost in a tree and fell to the ground. A hungry weasel beneath the tree. A good meal, he thought, as he snapped at the bat.

"Help me! Mercy! Save me!" the bat cried, knowing he was about to die.

"Why should I save you?" asked the weasel. "You are my enemy. In fact, you are my worst enemy among the birds."

"But I am not a bird," said the bat. "See my fur? See my teeth? I'm a sort of flying mouse."

"Then I suppose I'll let you go," the weasel said.

Later, the same bat slipped from his roost again. He was caught by a different weasel, who happened to be hunting beneath the tree.

"I shall eat you," said the weasel. "I fancy a tasty mouse for dinner."

"But I am not a mouse," said the bat. "Look at my wings."

"Then I suppose you are a bird. I will let you go," the second weasel said.

And so twice the bat went free.

The moral of this fable is to be flexible in the face of danger!

Why the Bat has Short Legs

Retold from a myth of the Chiricahua Apache Indians of New Mexico.

Long ago, Killer-of-Enemies vowed to save his people from the terror of monster eagles that roamed the skies and carried off children. Killer-of-Enemies tricked one monster eagle into carrying him up to the eagle nest on the cliff, where he killed the monster eagle and its family. But Killer-of-Enemies did not know how to get down from the cliff. Just then, he saw an old woman approaching. It was Old Woman Bat.

"Grandmother, help me. Take me down," Killer-of-Enemies said. Old Woman Bat looked all around, but did not see him. Killer-of-Enemies called out again, and again, and again. Finally, Old Woman Bat saw him high in the eagle's nest. She came over to the cliff and began to climb.

"What are you doing here?" she asked, when she reached the top.

"Monster eagle carried me up here," he said. "Please take me down."

"Climb in my basket," Old Woman Bat said. Killer of Enemies looked at the burden basket on the old woman's back. Its carrying strap was made of spider's silk.

"That strap is too fine," he said. "It will break and I shall fall."

"Nonsense! I've carried a bighorn sheep in this basket," Old Woman Bat said. "Get in and close your eyes. If you look, we will fall."

Old Woman Bat clambered down the rock, singing a strange song. Her burden basket swayed wildly from side to side. Killer-of-Enemies thought the spider thread would surely break, so he opened his eyes to look.

As soon as Kill-of-Enemies opened his eyes. He and Old Woman Bat crashed down from the cliff. Old Woman Bat landed first and broke her legs. Killer-of-Enemies fell on top of her and was safe. Old Woman Bat's broken legs soon mended but from that day on her legs were short.

Why the Bat Flies at Night.

Retold from a legend of the Kono people of Sierra Leone, Africa

Long ago, when first the world was made, it never became dark or cold. All day the sun shone brightly, giving creatures warmth and light. All night the full moon gleamed, making twilight almost as light as day. Until...

One day, Bat accepted a mission to carry a mysterious basket to the moon. In the basket was darkness, but Bat did not know that.

Bat took off to fly to the moon with the basket on his back.

Bother this basket," he said after a while. "Its too heavy and I'm tired and hungry."

So Bat put the basket down and went to find some food and take a rest. "That is a large basket," said one of them. "I wonder if it is full of good things to eat?"

"Lets open it and see," said another.

Just as the animals were peeking under the basket lid, Bat came back. But he was too late. Darkness had escaped.

Ever since that time, Bat rests by day so he is ready to fly at twilight. At night, you will see him rushing about everywhere. He is trying to catch all the pieces of dark to put back in the basket, so he can take it to the moon. His mission now is to capture every tatter of darkness.

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