An Estonian fairy tale, this version is from Tales of The Amber Sea, compiled and translated by Irina Zheleznova in 1974.
Once in times long past a woodcutter went to the forest to chop some wood. He came up to a birch-tree and waved his axe and the birch-tree spoke up in a human voice and said:
“Do not kill me, woodcutter! I am young and have many children. What will they do without me?”
The woodcutter took pity on the birch-tree. He came up to an oak-tree and was about to chop it down but the oak-tree saw the axe in his hands and said in pleading tones:
“Do not kill me, woodcutter! I’m not yet fully grown and my acorns aren’t yet ripe. If they are destroyed now no grove will ever spring up around me.”
The woodcutter took pity on the oak-tree. He came up to an ash-tree and wanted to chop it down but the ash-tree saw the axe in his hands and said in pleading tones:
“Do not kill me, woodcutter! Only yesterday did my bride and plight our troth. What ill become of her if I am chopped down?”
The woodcutter took pity on the ash-tree. He came up to a maple-tree and was about to chop it down, but the maple-tree spoke up in pleading tones and said:
“Do not kill me, woodcutter! For my children are small and have been taught no trade. They will perish without me.”
The woodcutter took pity on the maple-tree. He came up to an alder-tree and wanted to cut it down, but the alder-tree saw the axe in his hands and said in pleading tones:
“Do not kill me, woodcutter! This, is just the time when I feed the tiny wood bugs with my milk. What will become of them if I am chopped down? “
The woodcutter took pity on the alder-tree. He came up to an aspen-tree and wanted to chop it down, but the aspen-tree spoke up-tearfully and said:
“Do not kill me, woodcutter! What was life given me for but for me to rustle my leaves in the wind and frighten the highwaymen at night! What is to become of good and honest folk if I am chopped down?”
The woodcutter took pity on the aspen-tree. He came up to a bird-cherry tree and wanted to chop it down, but the bird-cherry tree saw the axe in his hands and said in pleading tones:
“Do not kill me, woodcutter! I am in full- bloom now and the nightingales like to perch on my branches and sing their songs. If I am chopped down they will flyaway and their songs will be heard no more.”
The woodcutter took pity on the bird-cherry tree.
He came up to a rowan-tree and wanted to chop it down, but the rowan-tree spoke up in pleading tones and said:
“Do not kill me, woodcutter! I have only just flowered out. Clusters of berries will soon grow up on me and the birds will feed on them in autumn and winter. What will become of them if I am chopped down?”
The woodcutter took pity on the rowan-tree.
“It’s no use, I’ll never be able to bring myself to cut down any of the leaf-bearing trees! ” said he to himself. “I’d better try my luck with the conifers.”
He came up to a spruce-tree and wanted to cut it down, but the spruce-tree saw the axe in his hands and said in pleading tones:
“Do not kill me, woodcutter! Wait till I grow to my full height, for then you will be able to make floor boards of me. Now, while I’m still growing, people can take joy the year round in the sight of my green branches.”
The woodcutter took pity on the spruce-tree. He came up to a pine-tree and was about to chop it down, but the pine-tree saw the axe in his hands and burst into tears.
“Do not kill me, woodcutter!” it begged. “I am still young and strong and my green branches, like those of the spruce-tree, are a lovely sight, summer and winter. It will sadden people if I am chopped down.”
The woodcutter took pity on the pine-tree. He came up to a juniper-tree and was about to cut it down, but the juniper-tree, too, spoke up in piteous tones and said:
“Do not kill me, woodcutter! Of all the trees in the forest I am the one to do the greatest good. I bring good fortune to all and relief to sufferers from a hundred ailments. What will become of the men and animals who come to me for help if I am chopped down?”
The woodcutter sat down on a hummock and began to think.
“It’s really quite a marvel! ” said he to himself. ,”I never suspected that trees could talk. Now I know that they can, for they have all begged me not to chop them down. What am I to do? My heart is not made of stone that l can withstand their pleas. I would gladly leave the forest empty-handed, but what will my wife say when I get home?”
The woodcutter lifted his head and whom should he see coming out of a thicket but a little old man with a long grey beard. He had on a shirt of birch bark and a coat of spruce bark and he came up to the woodcutter and asked:
“Why do you sit there looking so sad? Is it that you’ve met with some misfortune?”
“There’s no reason for me to be gay,” the woodcutter replied. “I came to the forest to chop some wood to bring home. But now I cannot do it, such are the marvels I have seen here. The forest is alive and every tree thinks and feels and can speak in a human voice. It breaks my heart when they plead with me. I don’t care what happens, I cannot bring myself to chop them down.”
The little old man looked at the woodcutter warmly and said:
“Thank you for not having closed your ears to my children’s pleas and shed their blood. I am indeed grateful and will repay you for your kindness. From now on you will know great good fortune and never want for firewood or timber or anything else. And that goes for your family, too. Only you must none of you be overgreedy if you don’t want evil to come of good. Take this rod of gold and treasure it as you do the apple of your own eye!”
And the little old man gave the woodcutter a golden rod several inches long and no thicker than a knitting needle.
“If you want to build a house or put up a barn or a cow-house” said he,” just come up to an ant-hill and wave the rod over it three times. Be careful not to touch the ant-hill or damage it but tell the ants to build whatever it is that you want and it will be ready by morning. And if you are hungry, tell your cooking pot to cook you whatever it is you fancy and it will do it. If it’s honey you want, wave the golden rod over a bee-hive, and honey-combs full of fragrant honey will appear on your table. If it is birch or maple syrup you long for, wave the rod over a birch or a maple, and you will have all you want of it. The alder will give you its milk and the juniper will make you strong and healthy. And you won’t have to hunt or fish either, for your cooking pot will cook you as much meat and fish as you ask for. You have only to tell them, and the spiders will spin you a length of silk or weave you a length of cloth. All this and more will you have in return for having spared my children. I am the father of the forest and I rule over all the trees and wild beasts in it.”
And biding the woodcutter goodbye, the little old man vanished.
Now, the woodcutter’s wife was as ill-tempered and spiteful a woman as can be. Seeing her husband coming toward her empty-handed, she rushed out into the yard in a rage.
“Where is the firewood I sent you for?” cried she.
“In the forest where I left it to grow,” the woodcutter replied, not raising his voice.
This only made the wife angrier still.
“I’ve a good mind to take a bunch of birch twigs and give you a hiding with them, you loafer!” cried she.
But the woodcutter waved his rod without her seeing it and said under his breath:
“Let it be my wife and not me that gets the hiding!”
And no sooner were the words out of his mouth than his wife started running up and down the yard, gasping and crying:
“Oh! Oh! It hurts! Don’t! Please don’t!”
And she would over now one, now another part of her body with her hands to shield herself from the dancing, stinging twigs.
At last, seeing that she had had enough, the woodcutter ordered the rod to stop. He now knew how much he had the forest father to thank for and was very pleased that he could bring his shrew of a wife to reason any time he wanted to.
That same day the woodcutter decided to try out his golden rod on some ants. He had only one ramshackle old barn to his name and needed a new one badly.
He went to the forest, and, finding an ant-hill, waved the rod three times over it and said:
“Build me a new barn, ants, to replace the old one!”
And in the morning he came out of his house, and lo! -there in the yard stood a brand-new barn.
From that day there was not a happier man than our woodcutter in the whole of the countryside. He did not have to worry about food, for whatever he fancied the cooking-pot cooked for him and served, too, and all that his wife and he had to do was eat it. Between them, they had not a care in the world: the spiders spun their cloth for them, the moles ploughed
their fields, and the ants sowed the grain and reaped it. when the time came. And when the wife had one of her fits of anger, the golden rod brought her to her senses, so that she was the one to suffer most from
her own bad temper. Many a husband in our own day, I shouldn’t wonder, who hears this tale will sigh and say: if only I had a rod like that!”
The woodcutter lived to a ripe old age and never knew a day’s unhappiness, for he never asked of the rod what it was unable to do. Before he died he left the rod to his children, telling the what the father of the forest had told him and cautioning them not to wish for the impossible. The children, who did as he had told them to, lived out heir lives as happily as he.
In later years the golden rod passed into the hands of a man who was heedless an unreasonable, thought little of his parents’ behest and annoyed the rod with his empty demands. However, as long as what he asked for did not go beyond the bounds of ordinary common sense, nothing very bad happened.
But one day this foolish man demanded that the sun come down to him and warm his back. the golden rod did all it could, but the sun, instead of coming down itself, which was impossible in any case, sent such fierce rays down that the man and his house and farm were burnt to a cinder and not a trace was left of them. The golden rod, too, melted in the flames or so it was thought, for who was there to say that it hadn’t! Only the trees had been there to see, but the sun’s scorching rays had so terrified them that they quite lost the use of their tongues and have remained speechless to this day.