The river and the settler
* From the book Fábulas de la Naturaleza (Nature Tales), by Alfonso Mata.
San Jose, Costa Rica: Editorial UCR, 1998.

A foolhardy man was building his house too near a river.

“Don’t build your home in my bed,” whispered the river. “Remember that some
years the clouds become angry and it rains harder, and the banks you see now
are now wide enough for all the water that falls on my basin. Your house might
be flooded!”

But the man, who was sawing and hammering, paid no attention.

“Also, if on the mountains where I was born men have felled the forests, the
rainwater will run madly downhill, washing away the soil and pouring mud
and trees into my course that I will be forced to carry down to the sea.
Stop hammering and use your head!”

The river kept whispering until the man finally paid attention and said, “Hush!
Don’t you see that other houses
have been built next to you even higher upstream and nothing has ever happened to them?”

“I am warning you, this has happened before. Don’t make the same mistakes others have made.”

But the man ignored the river’s advice.

One year, the rains were the worst in living memory, and the river overflowed its banks, as it had done for thousands of years whenever
this happened. The strong current grew and grew like a voracious tongue lapping up trees and rocks and everything else in its path,
wrecking many houses and flinging them downstream. Nothing could stop it. The rubbish that people had been lazily throwing into the
river only made matters worse. Now the river did not whisper; it roared, angry at the rubbish and the foolishness of those who had not
heeded its warning.

“Stop, impulsive river!” cried the frightened villagers while trying to rescue at least a few of their soggy, muddy possessions. “Can’t you
see we are losing everything we have worked for so hard over many years?”


“I warned you in time,” the river roared. “It is the force of gravity that forces me to take this water down to the sea as quickly as it will go.
That is the way of Nature, and no one can go against it, not even me. This is the punishment she metes on anyone who disobeys her.
Will you ever learn?”

Most of the people in the village, sensibly, had built their houses on higher ground. As on previous occasions, they rushed downhill to
help their more imprudent neighbours.

After the flood subsided, the villagers got together and agreed to use the land more wisely by building in safe places, protecting the
river, and not using it as a rubbish bin.