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Ice Man and the Messenger of Springtime

Ice Man was sitting in his birch-bark wigwam by the side of a frozen stream. His fire was almost out. He had grown very old and melancholy, and his hair was long and white. He was lonely, and day after day he heard nothing but the howling of winter storms sweeping snow across the land.

One day as his fire was dying to its last orange ember, Ice Man saw a young man approaching his wigwam. The boy's cheeks were red, his eyes shone with pleasure, and he was smiling. He walked with a light and quick step. Around his forehead was a wreath of sweet grass, and he carried a bunch of flowers in one hand.

"Come in, come in," Ice Man greeted him. "I am happy to see you. Tell me why you come here."

"I am a messenger," replied the young man.

"Ah, then I will tell you of my powers," said Ice Man. "Of the wonders I can perform. Then you shall do the same." From his medicine-bundle, the old man drew out a wonderfully carved pipe and filled it with aromatic leaves. He lighted it with one of the last coals from his dying fire, blew smoke to the four directions, and then handed the pipe to the young stranger.

After the pipe ceremony was concluded, Ice Man said: "When I blow my breath, the streams stand still and the water becomes hard and clear as crystal."

"When I breathe," replied the young man, "flowers spring up all over the land."

"When I shake my long white hair," Ice Man declared, "snow covers the earth. At my command, leaves turn brown and fall from the trees, and my breath blows them away. The water birds rise from the lakes and fly to distant lands. The animals hide themselves from my breath, and the very ground turns as hard as flint."

The young man smiled. "When I shake my hair," he said, "warm showers of soft rain fall upon the earth. The plants lift themselves with delight. My breath unlocks the frozen streams. With my voice I call back the birds, and wherever I walk in the forests their music fills the air." As he spoke, the sun rose higher in the sky and a gentle warmth came over the place. Ice Man sat silent, listening to a robin and a bluebird singing on top of his wigwam. Outside, the streams began to trickle, and the fragrance of flowers drifted on the soft spring breeze.

The young man looked at Ice Man and saw tears flooding from his eyes. As the sun warmed the wigwam, the old man became smaller and smaller, and gradually melted completely away. Nothing remained of his fire. In its place was a small white flower with a pink border, the wild portulaca. People would call it Spring Beauty because it is among the first plants to signal the end of winter and the beginning of springtime.

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The Indigenous Peoples' Literature pages were researched and organized by Glenn Welker.