Along a small lake beside a drooping willow deep in the grotto of the old woods lived a young turtle. He had lived here for two years, the second just coming to its gentle close. From his slow emergence from his mother's dappled shelled egg, to his first baby turtle struggle to the lake's lapping shores, to his first swim and to the first afternoon spent lazing on his moss covered rock, until today, Turtle's life was as a turtle's life should be: reasonable.

The morning's sun had risen in a low arc across the brow of the southern sky, framing the lake in rays red and deep with color. The song birds of summer already fled south, leaving the lake's natural rhythm of sighs and shrugs accompanied only by the creaks and scratches of branches. Along the surface and edges of the water floated leaves, saturating and dissolving into the earth where roots would find them next spring, absorb them once more, and furl them into a younger season's shining sun.

There sat Turtle, on his moss covered rock, a little sad for his departed friends, a little lonely for the company of squirrels and other animals far too busy for chatting, and a little bit wondering about his life.

As he sat still and pondered these things, stretching his small turtle tail far out of his shell and slowly shifting his turtle legs to avoid a twig the lake was brushing against his rock, he spotted the grumpy mother black bear that sometimes came for a sip.

"Hello, mother bear," offered the turtle. But he received no reply. Just a tilted ear and twitch of snout. She drank deeply, and mother black wandered back into the forest, with a just a few lumbering strides, surpassing the farthest turtle had ever been from his lake.

"Perhaps I should make my preparations for winter," thought Turtle. The squirrels and chipmunks have gathered their supplies. The birds have made their goodbyes and flapped their way to warmer climes. Even the mother bear, so fearless and confident, has eaten the berries and prepared for her long winter naps. "Perhaps it is my turn to prepare for the winter."

Somehow Turtle knew that when the sun no longer rose high enough to warm his rock just right, and when the leaves were gone from the trees, he should swim to the deepest portion of the lake, and burrow deep into the mud, maybe under a little rock, where he would draw slow breaths and relax into the water's chill, his whole world slowing until finally he was as quiet as a snowy morning, his heart barely beating. There he would stay separate from the rest of the world until spring sun warmed the water and woke him from his deep hibernation.

"No," thought Turtle. "Perhaps tomorrow, but today still the sun is warm enough and my mind is full of thoughts."

And night passed.

The next afternoon, around the same time as the day before, Turtle of course on his little mossy rock, the black mother bear wandered by.

"Hello, mother bear," offered Turtle.

She lifted her head. Looked at Turtle.

"Hello, Ms. Bear," he said again, truly lonely for a little conversation.

"Well, Harumph. Good day to you to, young Turtle. You are here quite late this year - your father would have been long ago burrowed in for winter. You should do you the same, young man," replied the mother bear, stepping toward turtle and leaning over into that funny little sit bears are want to do.

"Yes, I know," Turtle said. "But, my head is still full of thoughts, and I miss my friends from summer. If I were to sleep now, I worry I would be sad and lonely the winter long."

"Turtles!" Harumphed mother black bear. "Turtles should have more cheer. The winter is long and cold, blustery winds cut through the night. Snow hides the forrest's berries. There are no good things to eat. Only cold and hungry nights, Mr. Turtle. You should be glad you don't have to worry about it."

"I've never seen a winter," said Turtle.

"I've only seen a little myself," continued mother black bear, "only between my long naps when I step outside to stretch my legs. Now make yourself ready Turtle. I will see you in the spring." And she lumbered and shuffled her way back up edge of the lake, through some tall, browning grasses, and into the woods.

"Mother bear is certainly not fond of winter," thought Turtle to himself. "But I wonder what it is like." As he sat and thought these slow turtle thoughts, a white crisp fell from the sky, landed on his turtle nose. "What is this?" said turtle aloud. And as he spoke, the white crisp melted, tingling a little on his skin. Soon another fell. And another: white bits from the sky, delicate and unique. "It must be snow!" he exclaimed. "This isn't bad - not biting at all - actually," thought Turtle, "I like it."

Overhead a thick gray cloud billowed and blew, dropping its snow on Turtle's shell. "I will take a long walk," concluded Turtle. "And then when I return, I will settle for the winter. First, though, I will see the start of the season and have a story to tell my friends when spring finds us all together again."

And with that, a quick splash, Turtle walked from his rock, into the pool, swam to the shore and took his first steps away from the lake. He walked up the slant the bear had covered so easily, the cold, thick mud squishing beneath his feet; climbed his way over the old fallen tree, and, head looking about with young curiosity, black eyes taking in the season's first evidence, Turtle walked even deeper into the woods.

As he wandered, he marvelled at the crystals - their shape and size so un-turtle like. His tail quivered with the newness of it all. His eyes caught the white layering of frost along the northern edge of an oak tree. It must be winter moss, he thought to himself. As the afternoon passed into the early stages of evening, Turtle had come quite some ways from the lake. He couldn't hear its lapping shore behind him any longer; could not find a familiar branch or sight. As the sun set behind a outcropping of granite, Turtle suddenly new another first: he was lost.

Snow kept falling from the stubborn cloud. Turtle looked about and cried a little. He walked all around one tree, and then the next, looking for a safe place to spend the evening. Tears dripped from his little eyes, his mind was now certainly very full of thoughts. As he hurried his way around a third tree, his short leg fell through a small hole covered by leaves. He pulled his foot out, poked his head in. Here is a place I can stay, he thought. And he wiggled and struggled his way down the little hole into a little burrow left behind by a forest creature.

He looked about. Of course, it was dark, but he could still make out little tendrils of roots poking through the burrow. At the far edge, away from the tunnel entrance, lay a pile of pine needles and tufts of grass, a bed, where Turtle spent his first winter night.

Morning, again. Turtle opened first his left eye, looked about. "Where am I?" he thought. It took a moment to recall. He opened his right eye: "oh, my, it was not a dream. I am far from my lake. And it is winter," he realized.

Turtle made his way from the burrow, back up the tunnel he scrambled, out into - a snow covered forest. The snow was deep! Quite deep indeed. Much deeper than turtle was tall. He tried to walk, for he had to find his lake again, but each step he took was swallowed by the white, fluffy cover, and down into it he sank, the cold chilling his body, finding its way into the corners and edges of his shell. Just a few steps taken from the burrow, and Turtle shivered. A few steps more and he felt the ice clinging to his shell. A step or two more, and turtle knew he could not make it the lake, even if he knew the direction to continue.

"I should return to the burrow." As turtle stuck a tentative leg out of his icy shell to lever his body around, he only fell deeper into the drift. There he sat, trapped. Lost. Cold. And sad.

Time passed. Turtles aren't very good at staying warm, and quickly the snow and winter air chilled him through. His breathing became slower. His heart slower, too.

"Turtle!?" exclaimed mother black bear. She leaned over the still form. "What are you doing here so far from your lake?" Turtle heard the voice. Turtle heard the anger in mother bear's voice, but also, as he listened, thinking slowly, he heard her worry.

Mother black bear lifted turtle from the snow in her large pointed mouth. "I will carry you back to the lake," she mumbled, a little bit of bear drool getting on turtle as she did so. And she ran, did not lumber, towards the lake. Her strong, thick legs covered the distance quickly, careful not to harm poor turtle in her mouth. In a few seconds, a bit of a jump over the fallen tree just before lake's edge, she looked down at the water, looking for the rock turtle usually sat on, but only saw snow and ice. "The lake is frozen, she mumbled."

"What? Asked turtle, unable to understand bear's words." She turned back to the fallen tree, swept aside the gathered snow with a paw, scratching away some rotting bark that caught her claws, and sat turtle down. "The lake is frozen," she said again more clearly. "You won't be able to find a way to the bottom if you can't get past the top, Mr. Turtle. "

"Oh." Said turtle. "Thank you for finding me, mother bear."

"Whatever will we do with you, Turtle!" And mother bear let out a deep bear growl. "Oh, Turtle, whatever will we do with you."

Turtle looked about - his lake was quite different. No lapping sounds of water. No sunshine. No mossy rock: just a long wind blown sheet of ice, snow piling on it like fake waves in little drifts. "I don't know, Ms. Bear. I don't see a place to swim?" A tear drop fell from his little eye, making a small dimple in the snow where it landed.

"I've an idea," mother bear finally said, after much pacing and pondering. "The other day, as I was gathering my berries and" (a stern look at sad Turtle) "preparing for winter time, I noticed horse and sleigh tracks at the edge of the woods. Perhaps I will take you there and we can find a warm human house for you this winter. It isn't a lake - but it will at least keep you alive, Mr. Turtle."

"A human house?" asked Turtle. "What's that?"

"There are people that live at the edge of the forest. They have only two legs and they change their fur all the time," said mother bear. "But they live in warm houses, and maybe one will take care of you this winter."

With that, not giving Turtle another second to ponder, she snapped him up, gently, in her mother bear teeth and started at a run towards the edge of the forest. She was a very smart bear and very experienced in these woods. It wasn't hard to find where the horse and sleigh tracks had been. To her great relief, fresh tracks had appeared since the snow fall.

Mother bear curled up nearby, cuddling Turtle in her fur to keep him warm. And she waited.

The sun slowly passed across the southern sky. When it had reached three quarters of its travel, the ringing of a bell reached Turtle and mother bear. "Ah, the sleigh bell," said mother bear to Turtle. "They are coming back. When they are near, I will sneak you into the man's pack - there you must stay until you reach the house. Do you hear me Mr. Turtle?"

"Yes, mother bear," said Turtle. He heard her, but he was very afraid at this strange and unfamiliar plan. He wondered what a lake inside a house might look like. Turtle shook with fearfulness.

The bell's ringing came closer and closer. Bear stood up. Right as the sleigh came around the corner, pulled by two enormous brown horses, bear reared up on her back legs and gave a mighty roar. It nearly scared Turtle out of his shell.

The driver and the horses all stopped and bucked and hesitated. As the man struggled to calm his team, mother bear quickly grabbed turtle in her mouth and ran towards the sleigh! Growling and making a horrible noise, very loud in Turtle's ears, she bounded towards the sleigh. With a slight twitch of her powerful neck, she tossed turtle into the sleigh, right into the man's burlap sack, and she growled again. The man, very concerned with his horses and quite frightened by mother bear, did not notice little Turtle. He gave a great shout, "back! help!" he yelled out. Mother Bear winked at turtle, turn, and ran into her woods.

Eventually the team of horses calmed and the human sat back down in his seat. The sleigh started back towards the house, bells ringing. "What a crazy bear," the man kept muttering, as he rode homeward.

The bag was rough and a scratchy on Turtle's tail, but otherwise warm enough. Turtle didn't enjoy the ride. He was scared and hungry and worried about what might happen when he was found.

And found he was, as the man pulled the carriage into the barn, he picked up the sack: "A Turtle?" he exclaimed. "First a bear, and then, in the middle of winter, a Turtle in my bag?" "My my. My, oh, my."

The man carried the Turtle and the bag inside. As they crossed the porch and passed through the door of the house, Turtle could feel a wave of warmth, pleasant smells of sweet foods, wood fire smoke and something baking. "It seems nice," thought Turtle. "But where is the lake?"

As the man settled at the rough hewn kitchen table, a little girl ran up to him. "Grandpa, grandpa," she called, as she scampered forward, in braids and long plaid pajamas. "Hello," said grandpa, as she hopped onto his lap. "Guess what I've brought you?"

"Candy?" she asked.

"No, not candy" said grandpa.

"A toy?" she asked.

"No, not at all a toy," said grandpa. "I brought you a little turtle." And out he rolled Turtle from the bag onto the table.

"A turtle!" said the little girl. But her voice wasn't so sure.

"Oh dear," thought Turtle.

"Yes. A little Turtle. It must have been out in the cold woods this morning and somehow ended up on my sleigh. You should keep it this winter."

"Oh." said the girl. "Okay."

"To keep a turtle, you have to be very attentive, very kind and very thoughtful," said Grandpa. "But don't worry, I will help you when you need a hand."

The girl was kind. All winter long she kept Turtle in her room, near the window where he could see outside. She gave him water, food, little pieces of bread. And she would play dolls with Turtle sometimes. Soon they were close friends. Turtle had lots of conversations, learned all sorts of things, and watched the whole winter pass by outside the window. He was never lonely.

Eventually, the white of winter faded away and revealed the pale greens and first blooms of spring. The girl was a little taller. Turtle was considerably smarter. Grandpa was still the same gentle person, there to lend a hand when needed. One afternoon, the sun already taking a higher arc then when Turtle arrived in the house, Grandpa asked the girl, "don't you think Turtle should return to the woods now?"

"Oh. I think so," said the little girl. But her voice wasn't so sure.

"He should," said Grandpa. "I know a quiet little lake in the woods where I used to play when I was a young boy. It would be a fine lake for a Turtle. Tomorrow, let's take him back there."

The little girl wasn't so sure. She had grown quite fond of Turtle.

"It is the right thing to do," said Grandpa, "and when you miss Turtle too much, you'll just have to go visit him near the lake."

The little girl, after a long thought, finally agreed. It seemed okay - even though she knew she would miss her friend.

The next day, Grandpa and the little girl walked into the woods, Turtle riding in a little basket the girl carried. It was a long walk, Turtle couldn't see much through the basket. All its swaying as the girl walked made Turtle a little drowsy. Finally, he fell asleep, the sunshine calming and gentle after the whole winter indoors.

"We're here, Turtle," he heard her say. As she lifted Turtle from the basket, he opened his left eye. His lake! It was his little lake, and not covered in ice and snow, but fresh with the vibrance of spring. Turtle's heart just leaped with happiness. He scuttled and crawled and ran, well as much as turtles run, right back to his moss covered rock.

Home again, he sighed. And he looked up. The sky above shone like saphires, the lake as gentle as an old song, and there near its edge, the girl, his friend, smiling and waving. Turtle smiled back. What a story to tell his forest friends.

"I'll come back to vist you, Turtle," said the little girl. And away she wandered holding her grandpa's hand.