Tell Me a Story by Amy Friedman and Meredith Johnson

THE DREAMING TREE (a folktale from Brazil)

Once upon a time a young boy named Uaica lived with his grandfather in a small village. He was a kind-hearted child, but he was sickly and tinier than the other boys of his village. He was frequently unwell, and the others teased him and ignored him, so that Uaica was often lonely. His grandfather loved the boy and wanted to protect him from harm, and so did his best to take care of him.

But one day when the boys had been especially cruel, Uaica could not find his grandfather. He walked into the forest, where he always felt happy. The trees offered a beautiful, protective canopy, and exotic flowers spiced the air with fragrant scents. The raucous calls of the macaws and parrots cheered the boy, and when the butterflies softly brushed against his skin, he remembered there was gentleness in this world.

Distracted by the birds and insects around him, he tripped upon a fallen branch, and when he looked down he saw a most amazing sight. There at the foot of an enormous tree lay a tapir, a sloth, an anaconda, a monkey, a caiman and a family of jaguars fast asleep, all curled up beside each other.

Uaica stood and stared in wonder, but as he did, he felt overcome by sleep. "I must not lie down near these wild animals," he said aloud, but he could not help himself. Before he knew what was happening, he was on the ground and fast asleep.

Soon he was dreaming. Someone was whispering in Uaica's ear, "I am Sinaa," the man's voice said, and Uaica knew this was the son of the jaguar. He had heard tales of this Jaguar Man, who had healing powers and eyes in the back of his head. This man was old, but when he bathed, he shed his skin and so he appeared forever young. He knew where the large forked stick that holds up the sky was buried and all the secrets of saving the world.

Sinaa began to tell tales and reveal his secrets to Uaica in his dream.

When Uaica at last awoke, the sun had set and the forest was shrouded in darkness. He looked around but saw no animals nearby. He ran home as fast as he could. But the next morning he could think of nothing but that tree and the mysterious Sinaa, the Jaguar Man, and so he walked back into the forest, telling no one where he was going.

He found the tree and all those sleeping animals. He lay down and fell fast asleep, and once again Sinaa came to him in his dream.

For days Uaica visited the forest and dreamed, and every day he learned a new secret. But he stayed later and later, and so missed many meals. As the days passed, he grew thinner and more sickly. When Jaguar Man saw this, he said to Uaica in his dream: "I have taught you enough. Now you must promise to stay away from this place. If you return, you might never leave."

Uaica took this advice deep into his heart, for he had grown to love Sinaa nearly as much as he loved his grandfather. He would be sad not to return, but he gave his word, and then he walked home.

"Child," his grandfather said, "I have been greatly worried about you. Please, you must eat."

Uaica comforted his grandfather. "Do not worry," he told the old man. "I have a secret," and then he led his grandfather into the forest to show him the Dreaming Tree.

When they were nearly there, Uaica stopped, for he remembered Sinaa's words. "I cannot go closer, grandfather. I must stay away now." But his grandfather already had walked close, and the powers of the Dreaming Tree had captured him. He was on the ground, fast asleep among the animals.

Uaica stood at a distance and watched as his grandfather slept. He longed to hear Jaguar Man's words. "Perhaps I'll move closer," he said, but he stopped himself. Uaica would never break a promise.

When at last his grandfather awoke, he hurried to Uaica's side. "You must never speak of this tree to anyone," he said. "It is a powerful tree. Those who sleep here must be strong of heart. Anyone without a strong heart might use the knowledge of the forest against our people."

When Uaica and his grandfather returned to the village, they learned that one of the boys who always teased Uaica, a boy named Casimiro, had fallen gravely ill. His family feared he would die.

"I can heal him," Uaica said, and he went to the boy's side, lay his hands upon him, and Casimiro was cured.

So it was true. Sinaa had given Uaica the gift of healing.

The villagers were amazed that this scrawny boy had special powers, and for a long time they did not believe this could be so. But again and again Uaica cured those who were ailing, and soon everyone understood Uaica had a special gift. No longer did the bullies tease him. Casimiro became one of his dearest friends.

One night Sinaa came to Uaica again in a dream. "You have done well, child," he told him. "You obeyed my command to stay away from the Dreaming Tree, and you have shown generosity to all, even your enemies. Therefore I will teach you more."

Every night after that, Jaguar Man visited Uaica in his dreams. Uaica and his grandfather built a house in which to sleep and dream, and there Uaica learned the wisdom of the forest. Along with his healing powers, he learned to work with all the forest's gifts. He created necklaces and bracelets, belts and coats using feathers and flowers, stones and shells, nuts and bones. People were dazzled by the beauty he could conjure from the smallest, simplest things.

All was well until one day greed and envy crept into the heart of a woman of the village. "There's no sense learning to create these things," she said to her friends. "Uaica owns so many wonderful things. We should steal his treasures."

They hid behind Uaica's house until he returned from fishing in the river. But Uaica had learned another secret from Jaguar Man. He could see everything, even things standing behind him, and he spied his enemies in hiding. He quickly turned on them.

"This is how you repay me?" he said. "Now your greed will rob you of gifts." And with those words he vanished beneath the crevice in a rock, and the boy who could cure all was lost to the people forever.

However, legend tells us that to this day, Uaica dreams inside that rock, where he continues to learn the gift of healing from Sinaa, the Jaguar Man. It is also said that those who possess loving and generous hearts and listen closely in their dreams may still receive his wisdom.

Readers who want to hear their favorite story on the second audiobook CD for "Tell Me a Story," soon to begin production, should send their suggestions by e-mail to kellsmom@ca.rr.com. Those selected will receive a free copy of the first CD, "Tell Me a Story: Timeless Folktales" (www.mythsandtales.com).

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