The Old Woman Who Became a Woodpecker
by Phoebe Cary
A Legend of the Northland
Afar in the Northland, where the winter
so short and the nights so long, and where they
harness the reindeer to sledges, and where the
children look like bear's cubs in their funny, furry
clothes, there, long ago, wandered a good Saint on
the snowy roads.
He came one day to the door of a cottage, and
looking in saw a little old woman making cakes,
and baking them on the hearth.
Now, the good Saint was faint with fasting, and
he asked if she would give him one small cake
wherewith to stay his hunger.
So the little old woman made a
VERY SMALL cake and placed it on the hearth - but as
it lay baking she looked at it and thought, "That
is a big cake, indeed, quite too big for me to give
Then she kneaded another cake, much smaller,
and laid that on the hearth to cook, but when she
turned it over it looked larger than the first.
So she took a tiny scrap of dough,
and rolled it out, and rolled it out, and baked it
as thin as a wafer - but when it was done it looked
so large that she could not bear to part with it -
and she said, "My cakes are much too big to give away,"
and she put them on the shelf.
Then the good Saint grew angry, for he was
hungry and faint. "You are too selfish to have a
human form," said he. "You are too greedy to
deserve food, shelter, and a warm fire. Instead,
henceforth, you shall build as the birds do, and
get your scanty living by picking up nuts and
berries and by boring, boring all the day long, in
the bark of trees."
Hardly had the good Saint said this when the
little old woman went straight up the chimney,
and came out at the top changed into a red-
headed woodpecker with coal-black feathers.
And now every country boy may see her in the
woods, where she lives in trees boring, boring,
boring for her food.