Mariana M. Prats’ uncle, wrote down his version of this sad tale in happier times, back when he was a college professor in Camaguey. This is my translation.
Once upon a time
a boy found
himself lost in the forest. Without success he tried and tried to find the way home.
He walked in the woods for hours and hours and now dusk was
approaching. As daylight waned his anguish grew. Overcome
by fear and exhaustion he sat down on a large flat stone and, hiding his face
in his hands, he began to cry.
He was still crying when he heard the brush of footsteps in
the grass nearby. He raised his head and saw before him a beautiful young
woman looking at him with sympathy and concern.
“Who are you?” the boy asked, surprised.
“I am the fairy of the forest,” replied the young woman. “Why are you
“I am lost. I cannot find the way back home.”
“And why do you have to go back?” the fairy asked. “If you
return, you will become nothing more than a poor woodcutter like your father.
On the other hand, if you search the forest, you may find the tree with golden
fruit that Fortune, my sister, planted.
“Every spring this tree is covered in beautiful flowers and every
summer it is laden with fruit made of the precious metal. If you can find it
just once, and you collect its prodigious yield, you will be richer than the
most powerful monarch on earth.”
And as she finished these words, a swirl of wind enveloped the fairy
and she disappeared into a mist.
— — —
At first the boy was not
sure what think as he marveled after the strange apparition he had seen; but it
was not long before the tantalizing words he had heard began to take effect. Then
and there he resolved to set out in search of the tree with the golden fruit.
Walking and walking day after day, he reached the edges of the forest and doubled
back to search again. Later — in search of other forests — he crossed valleys and gorges, he climbed
rugged mountain ranges, he explored dark jungles and broad savannahs, he crossed mighty
rivers, and more than once he had to sail across a sea. He was always in search
of the tree with the gold fruit—which he could never find.
And so years and years passed by, the boy became a young man, the young
man reached adulthood and the adult became an old man. But there was always a
brightness in his eyes, like rays of light. It was the light of hope of one day soon finding
that remarkable tree.
More years passed as he continued his search, and the tree was
not appearing. One day discouragement finally overcame him. He felt old and
tired. Then and there he decided to return home to the house of his parents.
But before arriving he wanted to take a last walk through the forest where,
when he was a child, the fairy had appeared to him. Entering the woods of his
boyhood, the old man realized he wanted to see the large flat stone again—the
stone where on that memorable afternoon all those years ago he had shed so many tears. Suddenly, there
was the stone.
— — —
The old man stood before the stone in religious contemplation while a
thousand memories swirled in his head. And when he distractedly raised his
gaze, he saw before him—right there next to the stone—a stout tree whose branches
bent under the weight of thick pomes of gold that shone like suns.
The tree had been there next to him—sheltering him with its branches — the day
the fairy told him about its existence. And he, driven mad by his obsession, had
thrown his life away searching the world for it — without ever thinking that the
tree he sought so fervently could have been so close to home. He had never
suspected that the more he walked, the farther away he walked from the object
of his travels, and of his dreams.
He needed to climb the tree of gold to reach its fruit, but he could
not — he was too old and his arms and legs too weak for climbing. He tried standing on the stone, grasping the rough bark of the ancient trunk with one hand so he could
reach the lowest branch with the other, but he could not — he was no longer strong enough to raise a
hand high enough.
And there, sitting down on the large flat stone on which the boy had
cried, the old man cried again. It was not long before his body surrendered to
the pain and fatigue his obsession had kept at bay. That night he drew his last breath under
the tree he had sought all his life — under its fruits of gold.
Mariana M. Prats found
a short manuscript in Antonio Martínez’s papers after he died. It was
an essay in Spanish titled “La Tierra Más Hermosa” (The Most Beautiful
Land). It is a reminiscence of the natural
beauty that can be found on the island of Cuba, and contains this fable about a
She decided to type it
up. This was in the late 1980’s and she
typed it into a cobbled-together personal computer running Microsoft DOS with
the PC-Write word-processing shareware.
She showed it to me one
day and gave me a 3¼" diskette with it. She did not know when it was
written, but it could be inferred from the text that it was written in Camaguey
before Antonio emigrated to Maryland. In
1990 I formatted it for Hewlett-Packard’s first laser printer, the LaserJet model
1, and printed and bound a stack of booklets of the essay for her to give away.
She asked for more and I commandeered a
Xerox machine at work and made another batch.
As you can see, the fable stands alone without the rest of the essay. Antonio
used the fable to caution the reader to resist the seduction of foreign travel.
Why travel far away to see natural wonders when there are so many you have not
seen near where you live. But this fable
has many more—and less trivial—morals to its story than the one he chose for
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