Many years ago there lived an old gentleman at the foot of a mountain on central Taiwan. His name was Old Wu, and he was a widower. Having no children or relatives, he lived alone in a little grass hut. He made his living by getting up early every morning to gather firewood. He would then trade the firewood for rice. The rice, along with a the few odd vegetables he was able to grow, enabled him to continue his lonely life.
One day, on a nearby mountain, Old Wu spied an enormous withered tree. As the tree appeared to be an excellent source of firewood, he approached it, ax in hand. As he was about to swing his ax, a shadow suddenly flashed over him.
It was a magnificent eagle, which then glided into a large cavity in the tree.
Old Wu, aged but still hardy, climbed up onto a branch and peered into the hole. There, he saw the eagle feeding its young.
The mother eagle's eyes glistened as Old Wu looked at them.
Old Wu smiled and, addressing the eagles as if they understood words, said, "No, beautiful ones, you have nothing to fear from me. Though I could get a mountain of rice for the wood from this tree, I wouldn't deprive you of your home."
He climbed down and was on his way home.
Before he had taken ten steps, a familiar shadow separated him from the rays of the sun. The mother eagle landed on a stump by the path and faced Old Wu as he headed down the hill.
"Grandfather," spoke the eagle, "you are a kindhearted, merciful soul. Allow me to show my appreciation for sparing the home of my babies. Please climb onto my back and close your eyes."
The stunned old woodcutter did as the eagle had asked and closed his eyes. "Now hang on tightly and don't let go of me until I say so. We have a long distance to cover!"
They were off!
At last, after what must have seemed ages, they came back down to earth. When Old Wu opened his eyes, he discovered he was in a chilly, gray land of pebbles, rock, and boulders. There were rocks in all shapes, sizes, and colors. The stones were spread out as far as one could see.
Old Wu climbed off the eagle and now had to slap his arms to keep himself warm.
"Look under each rock, " said the eagle, "and you will find a ginseng root. Take as many roots as you can carry. Whenever you need to come back for more, all you need to do is to tell me, and I'll gladly bring you back."
Old Wu scurried over the rocks, lifting as many as he could and stuffing his clothes with the precious roots. He had heard that ginseng, a root shaped like a person, was extremely valuable as a tonic preparation.
Within a short time, Old Wu opened his own ginseng shop. He became the only person on steamy, tropical Taiwan to have an unlimited supply of the root, which must be grown in cooler, arid climates, like those of Siberia, Manchuria, and Korea. He thus prospered and ended his days in comfort and with abundant wealth.
by Cang Dewu, Taiwan minjian gushi (Taiwan folktales); Taipei: Yongang Chubanshe, 1976: pp. 32-24.
For two other stories about, respectively, riding upon eagles and ginseng, see "The Gray Eagle," 8/16/07, and "The Ginseng Boy," 1/11/08.
Motifs: B375.3.1, "Grateful eagle"; B552, "Man carried by bird"; cB562.1.3, "Bird shows man treasure"; B580, "Animal helps human to wealth"; Q51, "Kindness to animals rewarded."