Monday, January 05, 2009

The Grateful Crane: A Tale from Sado Island

There was once an old couple who lived deep in the mountains of Sado Island. The two were very poor and just managed to eke out a living by growing their own vegetables, gathering wild food, and selling firewood in a nearby village. One cold, snowy day, the old man went to town to sell some firewood. On his way home he saw a crane. It was caught in a trap and couldn't fly. The old man was sad, and he wanted to help the bird. "Don't move," he said soothingly to the crane. "I'll help you." The old man took the crane out of the trap, and the bird flew away into the mountains. When he returned home, the old man told his wife about the crane. Just then, the old couple heard a knock at the door. "Who can that be?" the old woman wondered. When she opened the door, she was surprised to see a beautiful young woman standing outside. "Please forgive my knocking at your door at night. It is snowing very heavily, and on my way to visit a friend I lost my way. Could I please stay with you tonight?" the young woman asked. "It's especially cold outdoors, and if you don't mind spending the night in such a poor house as ours, where there aren't futons enough to go around, we should be honored to have you as our guest." So saying, the old woman beckoned the delighted young woman inside. The blizzard continued for days, and still the young woman remained with the old couple. The woman, to demonstrate her gratitude for the couple's kindness, did all the cooking, washing, and many chores besides. The old couple, who were childless, came to regard the young woman as their own daughter. For her part the woman loved the man and his wife so ardently that she asked them to adopt her as their own, which the elated old couple immediately agreed to do. One day the young woman announced that she desired to do some weaving. "Please go to the village and get some fabric for me. I'll weave some beautiful cloth for you," she said. The old man hurried out to buy some cloth for the woman. When he returned, the woman said to the couple, "Don't on any account peek into the room while I am at work. I implore you, don't open the door of the room." "We understand you- have no fear. Please weave some beautiful cloth," replied the old couple. The young woman entered the room and closed the door. For three days the sound of the loom was heard, nor in all that time did the woman pause in her work. Finally, on the evening of the third day, the "whoosh" and "clack" of the loom ceased, and the woman opened the door, bearing in her arms a roll of cloth. "It's the most beautiful cloth we've ever seen," the old man and woman exclaimed in unison. "It's called 'crane's cloth',"explained the woman. "Why don't you take it to the village tomorrow to sell? Then you can buy me some more fabric." And so the old man left early the next morning. "Crane's cloth for sale. Crane's cloth for sale" heard the people of the village as the old man passed. The cloth sold quickly, and with the money he received the man bought more fabric and a few household items before returning home. After reminding the old coulpe not to watch her at work, the young woman shut the door of the workroom and began weaving another roll of cloth with the new fabric. Two days passed, then three. "I'd give anything to know how she weaves such beautiful cloth," admitted the old woman to her husband. "Surely it wouldn't hurt to take one little peek." "No, no, we mustn't," remonstrated her husband. "Remember the promise we made." But under his wife's repeated cajoling and coaxing, the man finally relented. Peering into the room, the old lady was dumbfounded by what she beheld. For instead of the beautiful young woman a crane was bending over the loom, using its long beak to weave its own feathers into the fabric. "Grandpa, grandpa, a crane is weaving the cloth!" she whispered excitedly. That evening the young woman emerged from the room carrying a roll of cloth. "Thank you for your many kindnesses," she said. "I'll never forget how you welcomed me into your home one snowy evening, a complete stranger who had lost her way. I am the crane you released from the trap. Because you looked into the room where I was weaving, I must now leave you. Thank you again for everything." With that the woman spread her arms, assumed the form of a crane, and rose into the sky. After circling the house, the crane flew off toward the mountains. The saddened old couple followed the bird's flight and remained gazing wistfully mountainwards, long after the creature had disappeared from view.
Translation 2009, Brian Southwick

1 comment:

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- Joe