There once was a poor man, a sailmaker. He made beautiful sails for the local fishermen’s boats. He did such good work, that they not only paid for it, but also shared in their catch of fish. Between that and his small rice paddy, he had just enough to eat. Plus, whenever he was lonely, he would just walk down by the harbor and visit his friends.
One night, as he was walking along the harbor, he heard a strange sound, like someone in pain. Behind a big rock, he found a white crane, whose wing was bent behind her in an unnatural manner. He talked soothingly to her, until she let him touch her flank. He swooped her up in his arms and carried her back to his hut. There he bound her wing. For three weeks, he shared his fish and rice with her as she healed. At the end of the three weeks, he unbound the wing and she stretched it out, flapping both wings. She was so happy that she took off out of the door and and into the sky. She circled the hut three times, as if to say “Thank you for caring for me” and then she was gone.
The poor man smiled. His heart felt good, since he could help another, even if it was just a crane. As he sat down at his simple supper of fish and rice, though, he realized something. He was lonely. For three weeks, he had lived with the crane and she had kept him company. Now she was gone and he missed her.
The next day, there was a gentle tapping on his door. When he opened it, he found a beautiful woman with snow-white skin and dark, dark hair and wide eyes. She stepped inside, as if she had always lived there, and said she had their supper. She opened a small bag and brought out enough rice to feed them for three whole days. As he went to prepare the rice, she went into his workroom, his weaving room. She came out three days later, looking a little tired, but carrying the softest, shiniest white sail he had ever seen. She offered the cloth to him.
“This is my dowry, my present to you, if you will marry me and we live together,” she said.
Well, he was thrilled. Here he had just been thinking about how lonely he was and the next thing he knew this beautiful, talented, and creative woman comes to his door. It was as if she was an answer to his prayer. Of course, he said yes. They sold the beautiful cloth to one of the rich fisherman, who gave them a whole year’s worth of gold.
For that year, they lived simply and happily, mostly enjoying each other’s company, which was the most important thing. But at the end of the year, the rich fisherman came back. He asked if he could have another sail. The first had been so wonderful, he just had to have another one.
The husband looked at his wife.
“Oh no, you know not what you ask of me.”
“I know he will pay us two years’ worth of gold for this one thing. Why don’t you just try? Don’t be selfish.”
“This costs more than you know.” she said, but, in the end, she agreed.
She locked herself in the weaving room for a full week. When she came out, she looked very tired, with red rims around her wide eyes and a few gray hairs sprinkled through her dark hair. Yet, she carried a sail that was even softer than the first one she had made, with a fine thread of red dye flowing along the shining white.
The rich fisherman was thrilled and gave them three years’ worth of gold instead of just the two he promised. They lived happily and simply for those 3 years, enjoying each others’ company more than anything, which was the most important thing.
At the end of the three years, the rich fisherman came back. He wanted just one more sail. He offered them five years’ worth of gold. The husband looked at his wife.
“Oh no, you know not what you ask of me.”
“I know this man will give us 5 years’ worth of gold. Do you always want to be poor? We could be rich! Isn’t that the most important thing?”
“This costs more than you know. The first I made, because I loved you. The second was because you asked me. I swear this will take my all.” But in the end, she agreed.
She locked herself in the weaving room for two full weeks, saying that if he wanted her he should knock or call out her name. The poor man went along his business- tending the rice paddy field, mending some of sails owned by the poor fishermen and taking walks down by the harbor, like he used to. The sound of loom, the weaving machine inside the room, Click-Clacked quickly. Click-Clack, Click-Clack, Click-Clack. But then the sounds got slower and slower each day. Until at the end of the two weeks, he couldn’t hear anything at all. He was worried, so instead of calling out for her or knocking, he opened the door.
He didn’t see his wife inside. Instead, there stood a white crane, working the loom with one wing, while her beak plucked feathers from her other wing, feeding them into the machine. The white, soft feathers made the shiny cloth. It was dyed in red, from the blood which came each time she pluck a feather. When the Crane Wife saw her husband standing in the doorway, she spread her wings wide. She flew out of the door. She circled the hut three times, as if to say “Good-bye, my love” and she was gone. The poor man had learned his mistake too late. Because sometimes it is better to live simply and happy, enjoying the ones you love, than to be rich of pocket and poor of the heart.