Mikku and the Trees

A Tale from Estonia
Retold by Margaret Read MacDonald

One day Mikku went to gather firewood.
He could have walked into the forest and gathered fallen branches.
But that was a lot of trouble.
Instead he decided to just chop down the first tree he saw.

Mikku raised his axe and
CHOP!

But the tree screamed out.
“STOP! STOP!
Don’t cut ME!”

“What . . . a talking tree?
Why shouldn’t I chop you down?”

“Don’t you see what kind of tree I am?
I am a BIRCH TREE.
You use my bark to make baskets.
You use my twigs to make brooms.
Don’t cut ME.”

“You are right,” said Mikku.
“The birch tree is a very useful tree.
I won’t cut you after all.”

“Thanks, Mikku.
Remember . . . you care for us
and we will care for you.”

So Mikku went on into the forest.
“Here is a good tree for firewood.”

He raised his axe and
CHOP!

“Stop! Slop!
Don’t cut ME!”

“Why not?”

“I am a CHERRY TREE.
I know you love cherry pies.
If you cut me there will be no more pies for Mikku.”

“You are right.
I won’t cut you after all, Cherry Tree.”

“Thanks, Mikku.
Remember . . .
You care for us and we will care for you.”

So Mikku went on into the forest.
Soon he found a broad, leafy tree.
He raised his axe and
CHOP!

“Stop! Stop!
Don’t cut ME!”

“Why ever not?”

“I am a MAPLE TREE.
You make maple syrup from my sap.
And maple sugar too.
You don’t want to cut ME down.

“You are right, Maple Tree.
I won’t cut YOU.”

“Thanks. Mikku.
You care for us and we will care for you.”

Mikku went on through the forest,
but every tree had a good reason
why he should NOT cut it down.

Pine Tree gave its cones for Mikku’s fires.
Cedar sheltered deer on winter nights.
Walnut gave its nuts.
Each tree gave something.

At last Mikku sat down to think.

“I’ll just gather branches from the forest floor for my fire.
All of these trees serve a purpose.
It would be a mistake to cut any of them down.”

No sooner had he uttered these words
than a little man jumped out from behind a tree.
The little man was such a strange sight.
He was wearing a coat made of birchbark.
His hat was made of acorns.
And his shoes were made of thistledown.

“Mikku! I see you respect and care for my trees!” said the little man.
“I want to thank you, Mikku.”

And he handed Mikku a little wooden wand.

“Whenever you need something from nature, just show this wand and ask.
All of the birds and beasts will be glad to help you in return for your kindness to our trees.
If you want honey, show it to the bees.
If you want berries. show it to the birds.
When you are ready to plow your fields, show it to the moles.
All of these creatures will help you, Mikku.

“Just one thing. though.
Never use the wand to ask for something that goes against nature.
Never ask for something that should he impossible.
NEVER do that.”

Mikku took the little wand and went home.

“I wonder if this will really work.”

He held out the wand and showed it to the bees.

“Bees . . . I would love to have some honey.”

Bzzzzzzzz. “We’ll bring it!” Bzzzzz.

The bees flew away.

In a moment they were back with a honeycomb dripping with honey.

“Why, THANK YOU, beesl”

“Birds . . . I would like some berries.”

“We’ll bring them, Mikku.”

In a flash the birds were back with beaks full of berries.
They dropped them in Mikku’s bowl.

Now Mikku had life so easy.
Whenever he wanted something,
he had only to show the little wand to the creatures and they would help him out.

In the spring he took the wand out to the field.

“Moles . . . I would like my field plowed.”

“We can do it, Mikku.”

The moles dug up and down until the field was plowed.

Then he showed the wand to the ants.

“Ants . . . I have some seed to sow.”

“We can do it, Mikku.”

The ants scurried about and sowed all of the seed.

Mikku’s life was easy indeed.

He became rich.
He became lazy.
And he became proud and boastful.
He got in the habit of giving orders.

One day in the middle of winter.
Mikku happened to be out in the field.
It was VERY cold.
The sky was cloudy and gray.
Mikku HATED this cold weather.
He was accustomed to having his own way by now.
Without thinking he held up his wand to the sky.
Mikku commanded:

“Sun come out from behind that cloud and shine on me.
I want to be HOT HOT HOT.”

Hot sun in the middle of winter?
That is going against nature.
Mikku should never have spoken those words.

Immediately the clouds parted and the sun began to shine.
Its rays burnt down and Mikku grew HOT HOT HOT.
That sun’s intense heat focused on Mikku and . . . ZAP!
Mikku was gone.

Nothing was left. Not even the magic wand.

Since that day the trees have never spoken to another human being.
Though they say that if you walk through the woods and listen, you can hear them whispering high up in the treetops . . .

“You care for us . . . and we’ll care for you.
You care for us . . . and we’ll care for you.”

Commentary

I like this story for audience participation, improvising as I tell. I approach one member of the audience, ask what kind of tree he or she is, pretend to strike with my ax, and then ask why I should not chop them down. Most pick up on the refrain and call back “Stop! Stop! Don’t cut me!”

Motifs here are:Cutting down the tree tabu; D940 Magic forests; C51.2.2 Tabu: cutting down sacred trees or forests; D1610.2 Speaking Tree: c 600 Unique prohibiton. A Person forbidden to do one particular thing; and D 1254.1 Magic Wand

Source

Norma and George Livo, The Enchanted Wood and Other Trees from Finland, Englewood, Co: Libraries Unlimited, 1999; Selve Maas and Peggy Hoffman, The Sea Wedding and other Stories from Estonia; Minneapolis, Mn: Dillon Press, 1970.

Esteemed folklorist, storyteller and librarian, Margaret Read MacDonald has more than 30 book and audio titles to her name. She has been a leader in promoting peace issues and environmental awareness through stories. To learn more about Dr. MacDonald, visit her website at www.MargaretReadMacDonald.com

Story and commentary excerpted with permission from Margaret Read MacDonald’s Earth Care: World Folktales to Talk About. Linnet: North Haven, Conn., 1999. All rights reserved.

This entry was posted in Birch, Cherry, Environmental Stewardship, Europe, Forest, Good for Young Ages, Maple, Parables/Wisdom Tales. Bookmark the permalink.

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