The Tortoise and the Hare (a Taoist re-imagining)

By Dave

One day, when he was feeling especially energetic and spry, the hare decided that he would like to put his speed on display.

Gathering the creatures of the forest together on the well-trodden path that led through the trees, he announced his intention to prove his athletic ability in a competitive foot-race.

“The first one to reach the great stump at the foot of the pond is the winner,” bellowed the hare. “To be sporting, I’ll even give you a head-start!”

The gathered creatures looked on, anticipating the coming race, but none stepped forward.

“Is there no one up to the challenge?” the hare asked impatiently.

The crowd of animals suddenly erupted in laughter and the hare turned to see that a tortoise had started down the trail, moving slowly and steadily — as tortoises do– towards the stump that marked the finish-line.

The hare immediately joined in the laughter. How could such a slow creature hope to best him in a foot-race?

“I’ll have to give him a whopping head start!” said the hare, wiping away tears. “So, Crow, how have you been?” he asked, making a show of yawning.

For several minutes, the hare engaged in much meaningless chit-chat with the woodland creatures, doing his best to act casual and relaxed. For the most part, the act was successful, though any creature who happened to look more closely could see that, while his posture and voice were both quite relaxed, his eyes were dancing about it his head, constantly sneaking glances at the tortoise, who was moving slowly down the path.

“You know what?” asked the hare after he had run out of small-talk, “I’m feeling a bit peckish. Maybe I’ll have some blueberries.”

The other creatures laughed as the hare strode off towards the blueberry patch, seemingly oblivious to his opponent.

The sun fell through the trees while the rabbit noisily sauntered around the blueberry patch, picking plump, juicy berries and eating them.

“Boy these berries are good!” said the hare, loud enough for the whole forest to hear him. “I could sit and eat them all day!”

In fact, he hadn’t taken much notice of the delicious berries or the warm sunlight, for his attention was focused on the tortoise, who he could just barely make out grunting his way down the path in the distance.

“I’m stuffed,” bellowed the hare through blueberry stained lips as he made his way back to the path. Seeing that the tortoise had only just passed the halfway mark, he rubbed his belly and announced: “I’m so full, in fact, I think I might just plop down for a quick nap!”

The other creatures watched amusedly as the hare made a little nest in the grass that lined the path and flopped himself down heavily, as if he had forgotten the race.

Lying on his back, the rabbit cried out, “My, the clouds are beautiful today!”

In fact, they were. Behind the leaves and branches of the forest stretched a deep blue sky filled with hundreds of lazy clouds. The hare, however, had not really noticed them for he was actually looking sideways through the grass at the tortoise, who was still making slow progress towards the stump.

Seeing that the tortoise was still a good few minutes away from victory, the hare turned his eyes to the sky and was quickly mesmerized by the beauty that he found there. As he lay in the soft nest, watching the puffy clouds hang there above him, his eyes fell closed and he began to dream that he was floating.

Just as he was reaching a state of unmatched relaxation, the hare was snatched from this beautiful reverie by the sound of laughter and cheering.

Dazed, the hare sat up in his nest and, looking down the path, realized with a jolt that the tortoise was about to cross the finish line.

He took off in a blink and was soon tearing down the path towards the stump where a much larger crowd than before had gathered to cheer for the tortoise.

The hare’s muscles burned with the exertion, for he was running faster now than he ever had. This new achievement went unnoticed, however, as he watched the tortoise cross the finish line several seconds ahead of him.

The hare skidded to a stop on the dirt path and his face grew immediately red with embarrassment.

The creatures who had gathered at the stump howled with laughter at the result of the contest while the hare stood, panting, unable to speak.

The tortoise, who had stopped to see what all the ruckus was about, asked: “What’s so funny?”

“What do you mean, what’s so funny? You beat the hare in a race, of course!” explained a hedgehog.

“I did?” asked the tortoise, apparently unaware that he had been competing. “How did I do that?”

“You were the first one to cross the finish-line!” laughed a mouse, pointing back the way the tortoise had come.

The tortoise craned his neck to look behind him.

“Finish? Line? All I see is the path to the pond.”

Realizing that the tortoise had not even been racing made the hare feel like an absolute fool.

“Why are you so down, hare?” asked the tortoise. “You’ve spent this beautiful summer day running through the forest, eating berries and lazing about in the sun.”

The hare thought back at all he had done and found that the tortoise had a point, What did it matter who was faster? Trying to prove his superiority had ruined what would have otherwise been a great day.

The hare lifted his head to thank the tortoise, but he had already slipped quietly into the pond.


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