A Tofalar Tale
This happened a long, long time ago, when the cedar, the fir,
and the pine still had needles that yellowed and dropped in the
fall instead of staying green all winter.
Once in those olden times a Tofalar went out into the woods to
hunt. He walked and walked, and he came farther than any hunter
had ever dared to go. He saw a bog so vast that no beast could
have crossed it, no bird could have flown across.
And the Tofalar said to himself:
"If our animals can't run across this bog, and our birds
cannot fly across it, what kinds of animals and birds live on
the other side?"
The more he thought about it, the more curious he became.
"I must find out," he said to himself. "Whatever
happens, I must get there.
And so he took a good running start, and leaped right clear across
the bog. He looked around: the same earth, the same grass, the
"Silly!" he said. "There was no need to jump."
Suddenly his mouth dropped open with wonder.
In a little clearing stood seven harnessed rabbits. They stood
quietly, waiting. Then seven people came out of seven burrows
in the earth, exactly like all people, only tiny. When the rabbits
flattened their ears, the people were taller than the rabbits.
When the rabbits' ears stood up, the people were smaller than
"Who are you?" asked the Tofalar. "We are immortal
people," said the tiny men. "We wash ourselves in living
water, and we never die. And who are you?"
"I am a hunter."
The little men clapped their hands with joy.
"Oh, good! Oh, good!" they cried in chorus.
And one of them, the eldest, with white hair and a long white
beard, came forward and said:
"A terrible, huge beast has come into our land. We don't
know where it came from. The other day it caught one of our people
and killed him. We are immortal, we never die ourselves, but this
beast killed one of us. You are a hunter---can you help us in
this trouble? Can you hunt down the beast?"
"Why not?" answered the Tofalar, but to himself he
wondered: "Will I be able to kill such a frightful beast?"
However, he went out to track the beast. He looked and he looked,
but could find nothing except rabbits' footprints. Suddenly, among
the rabbit prints he noticed the track of a sable.
"Oh, that's too fine a quarry to miss," he said. "First
I will get the sable, and then I'll go on looking for the terrible,
He found the sable and killed it. Then he skinned it and went
on with his search. He walked the length and breadth of the little
people's land, but could not find any trace of the beast.
So he came back to the little people and said to them: "I
could not find your terrible, huge beast. All I have found was
this sable." And he showed them the little sable skin.
"That's it, that's it!" they cried. "Oo-h, what
a huge skin, what thick paws, what terrible, sharp claws!"
And the eldest of the little men said to the Tofalar:
"You have saved us and our people! And we shall pay for
your kindness with kindness. Wait for us. We'll come to visit
you and bring you living water. You'll wash in it and will become
The Tofalar jumped back across the bog and went back to his valley
and told his people about the little men.
And the Tofalars began to wait for their guests, the immortal
They waited one day, two days, three days, many, many days. But
the guests did not come, and the Tofalars forgot about them and
Winter came. Everything around was frozen. And the bog was covered
with a coat of ice.
One day the village women went to the woods to gather firewood.
Suddenly they saw a little herd of rabbits galloping their way.
They looked again, and saw that every rabbit was saddled, and
in every saddle sat a tiny man with a little pitcher in his hands.
The women burst out laughing at the sight.
"Look, look!" they cried to one another. "They
are riding on rabbits!"
"And look at the little men, how funny!"
"Oh, what a joke!"
"Oh, I'll die laughing!"
Now, the immortal people were a proud race. They took offense
at this reception. The one in front, with white hair and a long
beard, shouted something to the others, and all of them spilled
out the contents of their pitchers onto the ground. Then the rabbits
turned and hopped away so fast that you could only see their white
And so the Tofalars never got the living water. It went instead
to the pine, the cedar, and the fir. And this is why they are
fresh and green all through the year. Their needles never die.