Once upon a time there was an old, wise man. The old man lived in a small hamlet in a distant valley, in a house made of wood and stones. He had lived many years, and year after year, he had become wiser and wiser, according to the people that knew him. His wisdom was the reason why he had so many visitors. Many people, in every season, went to his house to ask his advice on one subject or another. There was no greater happiness for the old man: men, women, families, adults and children kept going to his house to relate their stories and hope for some wise words. The old man listened to everybody, and he offered a word to everybody.
“He is so wise!” people used to say.
But it hadn’t have been always like that. Years before, many years before, that same man had arrived in the valley and built a small house there. That year, however, the winter had decided to show its raging strength. It had been a very bad winter. He had tried to endure in every possible way. He had gathered wood for the winter, but it wasn’t enough, and so, when he was hoping he had gotten through the coldest nights, he found himself enduring more cold than ever.
So, he decided to cut down the tree in front of his home. It was a beautiful tree; in spring it was covered in white, and in summer it was full of dark berries. He had always have looked at it with fondness, but not in that moment! He was cold. He had to cut it down.
That was not a wise choice, he knew, but he was so cold. He was so cold.
He exited the house and went towards the tree, with an ax in his hand. He was about to hit the trunk, when a little bird landed on a branch. He stopped. He waved his arms to make the bird go away. He had to cut the tree down; he did not want to do so, but he had to. However, he did not want to hurt that little creature, yet he knew he must cut the tree down. The bird flew away. The man rose the ax again, but, again, the bird appeared on another branch. The man tried again to shoo it away. The bird flew into the air. For the third time, the man tried to hit the trunk, and for the third time, there was the bird! The man was chilly, tired, and now he was also mad at that little creature. He needed that wood. He knew it wasn’t the proper wood, maybe it wouldn’t even warm him up. But he did not know what else he could do. He let himself fall to the ground, he hid his face in his hands and let a tear stain his face. After a while, he felt something tapping on his hand. He opened the eyes, and saw the little bird. He watched it and he realized that the bird was doing the exact same thing, bending its little head a bit.
“Why won’t you let me cut the tree down? Why?” the man screamed.
“Because if you don’t do it, I will offer you a gift greater than a few logs of unseasoned wood!” replied the bird. Impossible! He had just heard a voice, and that voice came from that bird’s beak. No! No! Impossible, that must have been a dream! No, it was a nightmare. It was because of the cold. He was losing his mind. The cold he suffered was too much.
“It is true, I tell you again, if you don’t cut this tree down, I will offer you a great gift!”
“I’m losing my mind!” the man screamed, as if he wanted to let the entire Earth listen to his discouragement.
“Calm down, you are not losing your mind—listen to me, and I will offer you a great gift.”
He didn’t know what to think; he didn’t know what to do, but yet, down in his heart, he felt that the decision was the right one. He took a minute to decide, a minute that seemed to last for days, and then he said: “All right, I won’t cut this tree down.”
“Thank you,” said the little bird, “The oncoming night will be the last cold night of this long winter!”
“Is this the gift?” the man asked. “No”, the bird replied, “Today you have shown yourself to be a good and righteous man and, starting tomorrow, the news will spread across the whole valley and everybody will know that in this small hamlet lives a wise man, one who they can listen to.”
“And is this the gift?” the man asked. “Yes, this is the gift”, replied the little bird, and it flew away.
He went back inside his home, cold and incredulous, and he tried to get as warm as he could to endure the night. And he fell asleep. The night passed away, the morning came, and it seemed to be less cold to the man. Towards noon, he heard someone knocking at the door. He opened it, and there stood a man and a woman. They had heard that a wise man could give them advice. He listened to them, wondering how he could helped them. At the end of their story, as he was thinking of a way to help them, he gazed towards the window, and he saw the little bird watching him. Finally, he found the right words, as if by magic, and the man and the woman found the peace they were looking for.
That was the first of many encounters: men, women, elders, and children went to his home and some of them stopped there to spend some time at his table, always ready to welcome travelers and wayfarers.
The little bird never spoke again with the wise man, but it stayed with him through the following days, months, and years; flying and dancing lightly among the clouds, and landing on branches to feed on the juicy berries of the tree.
Today, that wise man is gone; his wife and children are gone; but this is another story. However, in that valley, you can find his descendants and a table, actually more than one, ready to host you; and perhaps, while sitting in the meadow, if you are lucky, you may see that little bird too, to whom the old wise man gave a name in the ancient language spoken in that small alpine hamlet: lou pitavin.