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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Evergreen Triumphs Over Ever Greed

Air Date: Week of

Diane Edgecomb, accompanied by musician Margo Chamberlain, tells a British story about two brothers. One is content with hard work and nurturing the plants and animals around him, the other only wants to exploit what surrounds him. The nurturing brother is rewarded for his attitude, while the greedy brother gets put in his place. Edgecomb also tells a Cherokee myth about how the evergreen trees got to be that way.


CURWOOD: With us now in the studio is a horse goddess. Hello.

EDGECOMB: (Laughs) Neeeeeigh!

CURWOOD: Actually, this is Diana Edgecomb and she's a horse goddess and all kinds of things as she tells her stories. Thanks for joining us.

EDGECOMB: Hello. It's a pleasure to be here, Steve.

CURWOOD: Well, you use stories to explore the human connection to the natural world, and our estrangement from nature. That's why we've invited you here to the show. Tell us about the story you're going to tell now.

EDGECOMB: This first story I would like to share is actually collected by Ruth Tong, and she collected it from a man in Pittminster in England. And it's a Wassail story. And within the story there is a tree spirit called the Apple Tree Man, which we don't encounter very often now. But the Apple Tree Man was always responsible for the fertility of the entire orchard, so you can see that the Apple Tree Man was very important.

CURWOOD: Oh, yes.

EDGECOMB: And in the old days, instead of just Wassailing each other and getting drunk, people would actually do something to ensure the fertility of the orchard. They would have Wassail traditions. And include the natural world.

CURWOOD: Okay, well I'm ready if you are.

EDGECOMB: (Laughs) Yes, I am.

(Harp music plays; women sing: "Wassail, Wassail, all over the town. Our toast, it is white and our ale it is brown. Our bowl, it is made of the white maple tree. With a Wassailing bowl we'll drink to thee. Drink to thee! Drink to thee! With a Wassailing bowl we'll drink to thee.)

EDGECOMB: This is a tale of a hard-working chap, eldest in a big family, see? And so, when his dad die, there weren't nothin' left for he. Youngest gets it all! And youngest do give bits and pieces to all his kith, but youngest don't like eldest. All he do give eldest is his dad's old donkey, and an ox that was so skinny it was pretty much gone to anatomy. And his grandfer's old tumble-down cottage with its two dree ancient old apple trees. Only problem is, cottage doesn't have any roof. Only problem is, apple trees don't bear no fruit. But eldest don't grumble. No, sets to work. And he cuts the grass along the lane and feeds it to donkey and donkey starts to fatten. And he rubs old ox with the herbs and says the words for healing. And ox do pick himself up and walk smart. And then the eldest do turn those two beasties out into the orchard. And then those old apple trees flourish a-marvel.

Well one day, into the orchard came the youngest, and he says, " 'Twill be Christmas Eve come tomorrow when all the beasts do talk at midnight. Now I've heard tell and you've heard tell that there's a treasure buried hereabouts. And I'm set. I'm going to ask your donkey where the treasure is buried, and he mustn't refuse to tell me the truth, not on Christmas Eve. Now eldest, you wake me up just afore midnight. I'll take a whole sixpence off your rent."

Come Christmas Eve, the eldest don't forget the animals. He gives old ox and donkey a bit extra. And he fixes a bit of holly in the stables. And then he takes his last mug of cider, and he warms it and mulls it by the fire. And when it's warm and inviting, he outs to the orchard to Wassail the old apple tree. (A flute plays.) (Sings:) "Old apple tree, we'll Wassail thee, and hoping thou wilt bear. The Lord shall know what we shall need to be merry another year. So grow well and so bear well and so merry let us be. That everybody lift up a cup (Laughs) here's health to the old apple tree!" And he takes and throws the last of the cider on the old apple tree. "Good health to you, old apple tree!" And the Apple Tree Man within the tree, he looks out and speaks to the chap. You take a look under this girt didicki root of ours."

So the eldest looks under that girt didicki root. And the hard earth moves aside like it's sand. And he finds a small box, and within it, golden coins.

"You take it, and hide it, and bide quiet about it. 'Tis yours and no one else's."

So eldest does just that. And when he's finished, it's almost midnight. And he goes to wake up his dear younger brother. Well his younger brother wakes up and he's all in a hurry, push. He rushes out in his nightshirt with his hair all every which way. And sure enough, when he gets to the stables, the donkey is a-talkin' to the ox: "You know this girt greedy fool? A-listenin' to us so unmannerly? He do what we should tell him where the treasure is."

"And that's where he's never gonna get it," say the ox. "For somebody have a-tooked it already."

And the two animals, in concert, lifted their tails.

(Harp music plays. Women sing: "Oh here's to the ox and to his right horn. Pray God send my master a good crop of corn. And a good crop of corn that may we all see. With a Wassailing bowl we'll drink to thee. Drink to thee! Drink to thee! With a Wassailing bowl we'll drink to thee.")

CURWOOD: Well, that was terrific! Thank you. Diane Edgecomb is our guest here. She's a storyteller. I love stories, of course being in radio. In the news business, even, we call it a story; it gets edited. I think it's an essential part of us as human beings to tell these stories. But you tell stories about nature. Why in particular stories about nature?

EDGECOMB: Well, I think storytelling is such a connecting medium, and it really was a way for me to bring children and other people into a different relationship to nature through story. I could teach children, you know, the names of different birds and animals and processes. And stories are really the smallest unit of meaning, too, so I could in a way try and get them to see new meanings in the natural world.

CURWOOD: But much of your repertoire actually is for adults.

EDGECOMB: Yes. I think that that's because I'm also trying to make links for myself. Once I grew up and stopped climbing trees and building forts and I felt this loss of connection. And I had a few experiences, I think, that made me realize that I could find a medium, which turned out to be storytelling, that I could use to reconnect myself, and that needed to be in an adult form through seasonal folktales.

CURWOOD: Seasonal folk tales. Now, Joe Bruchac has just told us that the winter time invites storytelling. You're saying that adults need stories to unfreeze us in some fashion?

EDGECOMB: Yes. And the Wassail bowl can unfreeze you, too. (Laughs). But yes, a sense of community is really established through that, because it's not just the storyteller creating the story. It's the entire group of people having these images live in their mind's eye.

CURWOOD: Diane Edgecomb, we have time for just one more story. Do you have one that you could tell us?

EDGECOMB: I would really love to tell this Cherokee myth. It's a beautiful one for this time of year, and when I'm driving down the highway and I see the poor trees with no leaves and I see a few evergreens, I think of this story and I hope other people will as well.

When the plants and the trees were first created, they were given a task: to stay awake for 7 days and 7 nights. Now the first day and night, all of the plants and trees stayed wide awake and the second night as well. But by the third night, and the dawning of the fourth day, many of the small plants and some of the trees were falling fast, fast asleep. Who would be able to stay awake for 7 days and 7 nights?

But on the seventh night, and the dawning of the eighth day, there stood the cedar, the pine, the spruce, and fir, the hemlock, the holly, and the laurel. "You have endured," a voice said, "and you shall be given a gift. All of the other plants and trees will lose their leaves and sleep the winter long, but you shall never lose your leaves. You will provide a shelter to the birds during the harshest winds, and you will remind the people that even during the darkest times something remains. You shall be evergreen."

CURWOOD: Thank you very much. Diane Edgecomb is a storyteller. Thanks for coming by with your accompanist, Margo Chamberlain. Thank you so much for joining us.

EDGECOMB: Thank you very much for bringing us here.



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