A Christmas card from the early 1960s. (Submitted).

A Christmas card from the early 1960s. (Submitted).

How the Grouse got his ruff

Christmas story submitted by Shelley Minato

Copy of a Christmas card given to Dick Minato in the early 1960s from a friend at Carling O’Keefe Breweries, featuring a story about how the Grouse got its ruff by Jack Turnbull. Submitted by Shelley Minato on behalf of Dick Minato and family

Cupped in the hand of the fair land were many things that bespoke the magic of Christmastide – soft snow, fresh fallen, bells a-chime in a distant steeple, silver threads of children’s laughter, red cheeks, trees of many lights, mistletoe, holly, and a host of voices lifted in heavenly praise.

Joy to the world! The Lord is come.

The fair land smiled and its heart was warm.

Hark! The herald-angels sing.

Aye, the fair land smiled this Christmas Day.

And on the ridge above town Red Fox, paused to sniff the light wind. Clean pine tree smell and tiny whiff of woodsmoke. Red Fox tiptoed on. Suddenly he stopped, one paw lifted, nostrils twitching; the scent of the Ruffed Grouse asleep, buried completely as it’s wont in the deep snowbank. Quickly, quietly Red Fox darted a dozen paces to one side and …

Whoof! Red Fox was hidden in an explosion of snow. He sprang high in the air. Whirring wings beat his muzzle. His teeth snapped shut – on nothing. The grouse was gone. A small, tawny breast feather floated gently to the snow. Red Fox resumed his walk; casually, correctly, trying to appear as if nothing had happened and thereby hangs a tale.

It is the long story of the Ruffed Grouse and the Child.

Long, long ago it came to pass that a Man and Woman were on a far journey to the tents of his people. They travelled by birchbark canoe until the waters froze, then they put on snowshoes and walked through the wilderness. It was a slow journey for the Women was heavy with child.

On a cold, cold night when the Northern Lights were a curtain of icy fire that dimmed all but the brightest star in the sky, the Woman’s time was come upon her. There was naught that the Man could do to comfort his wife’s travail, so he built her a small shelter of branches, lit a fire beside it, and went away to seek help.

While he was gone the Child was born.

By dawn, the Man had not returned. The campfire was nearly dead, only one small spark glowed weakly among the ashes. The Woman shivered with cold and held the Child closer to her breast.

At this moment two birds lit on a branch above the shelter and seeing that the Mother and Child were nigh unto death from the cold they straightaway plucked the down from their breasts and fashioned a blanket of feathers that they placed over the Mother and Child. The blanket of feathers was of surpassing warmth.

And one of the birds leapt upon a log and beat his wings furiously to fan the dying embers of the fire into new flame, and soon the sticks were crackling merrily.

The because they had denied their own breasts of feathers and were cold the grouse sought warmth by snuggling in a snowbank.

Soon the Man returned, bringing with him three men of his tribe, and they lifted the Mother and Child onto a litter and with much rejoicing bore them off to the tents of their people.

And the Great Spirit looked down and smiled upon the two birds and He took up the blanket of feathers that had covered the Mother and Child and He placed it about the shoulders of the birds. Thus did the grouse get its ruff and henceforth was called the Ruffed Grouse.

If you look closely at the feathers of the Ruffed Grouse you will see that many of them are marked not unlike a church window. Now you know why.

Know, too, that when the Ruffed Grouse buries itself to sleep in a snowbank on a stormy winter’s night that it first did so when it gave its feathers to cover Mother and Child.

And that drumming you hear when a Ruffed Grouse stands on a log and beats its wings furiously; well, perhaps it is fanning faint embers into flame.


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