“The Turtle and The Hummingbird” By Christine Stoddard Once upon a time, in a deep, sweaty forest far away

, there lived a turtle and a hummingbird. Turtle resembled the turtles we know in this age, save for one thing: his speed. He mocked lethargy, embracing swiftness and agility. Whether he zipped across the pond or raced from rock to rock, Turtle was the fastest, most graceful creature in all the land—except for Hummingbird. Hummingbird, too, appeared nearly as we know hummingbirds today. The difference lied in her plumage. Lacking the lush greens and reds or golds and ambers of today's hummingbirds, this hummingbird was a plain gray because she never fed from the flowers. Every morning, Hummingbird would wake up but stare at the sky before emerging from her nest. She longed for the brilliant shades of yellow and orange she saw in the sun. As she admired the trees, she wondered why she was not emerald like their leaves or crimson like their fruits. Hummingbird never wanted to leave her nest, but did so out of a vague will to survive. She had to find food. In those days, Hummingbird ate quick, ugly insects and spiky seeds none of the other birds dared to touch. While Hummingbird hunted and foraged, Turtle frolicked, only pausing to look at all the pretty birds in his midst. There were macaws and toucans, parrots and cockatoos. They fanned gorgeous, bright feathers. When Hummingbird spotted those other birds, she hung her little head in shame. She could never be as beautiful as them. As much as she tried to distract herself with searching for food, Hummingbird could not help but dwell on her hideousness. Not only did she have drab plumage, she was also a runt with teeny eyes and a comically long beak. If that were not pathetic enough, Hummingbird made her lunches out of the odds and ends everyone else rejected. She lived a life of no dignity. Meanwhile, Mother Nature watched all her creatures from her high hill. She took care to notice every single one, from Chipmunk to Warthog. When she saw one in need, she swooped down to help. Every now and then, Mother Nature would approach Hummingbird. “Why do you hang your head, Hummingbird?” Mother Nature asked in her sweet, serene voice. “You move quickly and elegantly—more so than any other animal I have ever known. Take pride in that.” “But I'll never be as fast and graceful as Turtle,” Hummingbird muttered. “Nonsense! Do you not know that you are faster than him?” Hummingbird shook her tiny head. “Well, you are. Your good and kind heart propels you faster than anyone, including Turtle. I would know better than anyone else. Don't you believe me?” Hummingbird hesitated before nodding, never fully accepting Mother Nature's words, no matter how many times she repeated them. Mother Nature, like a true mother, was kind to all her children, Hummingbird reasoned. She would never ridicule Hummingbird for being less than comely.

Turtle, on the other hand, could not have been a more cheerful fellow. Despite his wrinkled skin and severe hunchback, Turtle never questioned the value of his looks. Everyone adored him, shell and all because he ran so fast. Even Cheetah bowed before him. One day, when Hummingbird seemed particularly dejected, Mother Nature came up to her nest. “What is the matter, dear?” asked Mother Nature. “Look at Turtle. Everyone wants to be his friend, even me. But he never notices me. He only notices the pretty birds.” “Hummingbird,” said Mother Nature, “You may not be a pretty bird, but you are a beautiful bird.” “How so?” “Have I not told you of your speed and great elegance before? You move beautifully.” “Yes, you have told me many times before, Mother Nature. And yet I remain ugly.” “What I mean is that looks mean nothing.” Immediately Hummingbird shot Mother Nature a hurt glance, and said, “Well, then why--?” “Fine!” shouted Mother Nature, exasperated. “Fine, fine, fine. You've questioned me far too many times and I've replied so many—fine. I will allow you your outer beauty and then you will understand how right I was all along.” “You will make me beautiful?” gasped Hummingbird. “I will not only make you beautiful; I will make you the most beautiful. Everyone, even Turtle, will notice you.” She rolled her eyes upon completing her statement. “Oh, thank you, Mother Nature!” “Stop. Not so easily, dear. You must first follow this ritual.” “A ritual?” “Yes. You must feed from all the colorful flowers in the land.” “But Bee will sting me!” “No, she will not. You will eat from different flowers. In fact, you will only be able to see the flowers you may eat and, in turn, Bee will only see the flowers she can eat.” “Ah.” Hummingbird paused. Confusion flickered in her bitty eyes. “Then what?” “After one fortnight of eating those flowers, you will shine. Your feathers will be like rainbows. Every bird will envy you and Turtle will see you for the very first time.”

“Mother Nature, you are being too--” “No, Hummingbird. I want you to understand that outer beauty is--” “But—oh, I—but--” “No arguing. Simply do it.” Hummingbird paused before thanking Mother Nature. With that, Mother Nature twirled her robes and disappeared. After sitting for a couple minutes longer, Hummingbird decided she had nothing better to do than follow Mother Nature's command. She flew out to the nearest patch of flowers, dove her beak into one and started sipping a sugary supper unlike any other she had ever tried. Fourteen days passed in this way: Hummingbird woke, Hummingbird ate all day, and then Hummingbird went to sleep. On the morning of the fifteenth day, Hummingbird refused to leave her nest. She remained curled up in a pile of twigs and squeezed shut her eyes even more tightly when the sun rose and beat down on her. As the day neared afternoon, Mother Nature peered inside of Hummingbird's nest. “Why have you not yet left your nest?” “Because what you promised would happen didn't.” “You doubt me?” “I know I'm still ugly, Mother Nature. I can feel my ugliness.” Mother Nature tittered. “How do you know? Have you seen your reflection?” “No, but I still feel ugly.” “How you feel and how you appear do not necessarily match up. Now get up.” Mother Nature scooted Hummingbird's tail feathers with her pointer finger. “No.” “Get up!” “No!” “Hummingbird, I command you to get up!” Hummingbird opened one eye and then the other. Mother Nature's furrowed brow filled her entire field of view. The bird shook her wings, scooting closer to Mother Nature. “I will only leave if...if you assure me my looks have changed for the better.”

“They have,” Mother Nature said, “Though I doubt your stubbornness has weakened at all.” Hummingbird ignored Mother Nature's sass, closed her eyes and burst out of the nest, fluttering madly toward where she heard the brook babbling. Upon reaching the brook, Hummingbird opened her eyes, scanned the ground for a rock and perched herself on one that looked like marble. The rock might as well have transformed into a throne because when Hummingbird caught sight of herself, she felt like royalty. Hummingbird was stunning. She glowed a rich, glittering green from head to tail, except for a becoming patch of red feathers shading her throat. Darting toward the sky, Hummingbird twirled and twirled in ecstasy. She was prettier than any other bird she had ever seen! Once the hummingbird dashed back toward the ground, she spotted Turtle's shell. As usual, he was looking approvingly at a long line of beautiful birds. Each one strutted before him with the largest smile her beak would allow. “I'm going to get in that line,” Hummingbird murmured to herself. Without the slightest vacillation, Hummingbird cut in front of Cockatiel. Cockatiel was too busy brushing her feathers to truly notice or even care. “Self-centered creature,” Hummingbird breathed. “Next,” Turtle cried. Beauty was his opium, meaning he needed increasingly larger dosages everyday to satisfy his craving. But when Hummingbird jumped in front of him, Turtle froze. “You...are...a...knock-out,” he spat. “That I am!” Hummingbird mused, strutting even more arrogantly than any the previous bird had. “I...have...never...ever--” “I know! I'm breath-taking! I'm record-breaking!” Turtle's jaw hung open. When he attempted to speak, the words stumbled out of his mouth so awkwardly that no one could make sense of them. “What was that, Turtle?” Hummingbird asked. “Dumbfounded are you?” Turtle tried to nod but his attempt took so long that everyone was convinced he had started to fall asleep. “You've certainly bored him, Hummingbird!” yelped Golden Finch.

“If I bored him, how come his eyes are still open?” Hummingbird snapped. “Oh...uh...I...” That's when Jay broke in. “He's not falling a sleep! He's nodding! Look—he's moving his head upward again.” “He's awestruck!” shrieked Quetzal. The other birds cawed in agreement. “That's never happened before,” said Flamingo. “Weren't you just a nasty little thing yesterday?” hissed Tanager. Recalling Mother Nature's words, Hummingbird flipped her feathers and replied, “I have always been beautiful!” “Well,” said Tanager, “You've only just now caught Turtle's attention. You should've stopped by earlier if that's what you wanted.” “Yeah!” cried Sparrow, “How come you never stopped by before?” Suddenly all the other birds flapped their wings and descended upon Hummingbird, intent on plucking out all her feathers. But before they could do any damage, Mother Nature appeared. “Why, hello, everyone,” she said coldly. The birds squawked and chattered a nervous 'hello.' Turtle, however, did not—could not—reply. “Why all the ruckus? I could hear you all the way from my hill.” Chickadee popped up. “Why is Hummingbird suddenly beautiful?” “Yeah!” chimed Lark. “And why won't Turtle move? We want to see him speed up again.” “I helped make Hummingbird beautiful so all of you would recognize how lovely she is on the inside. None of you seemed to notice that.” “She was so plain!” they all said in one way or another. “And that's why you didn't befriend her? That's why Turtle never even bothered to look at her? That's why you left her the worst of things to eat? Well, all that is precisely why I gave Hummingbird outer beauty to match her inner beauty.” Turtle remained right where he was, still soaking in Hummingbird's newfound beauty. “And I've robbed you,” Mother Nature told Turtle, “Of your stealth because you were so slow to

recognize Hummingbird's humility and virtue.” The birds gasped. Turtle blinked. “And,” Mother Nature raised her voice a little, “For the record, Hummingbird has always been faster than you, Turtle.” The birds gasped again. Turtle blinked again. “She does, after all, possess the best of hearts.” And, with that, Mother Nature disappeared. From that day on, Hummingbird was beautiful—inside and out—and Turtle was slow.

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