'The Mountain Guardian' | Circle Round 136

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(Sabina Hahn for WBUR)
(Sabina Hahn for WBUR)

Close your eyes and picture a buffet: a long table piled high with all your favorite foods.

Now picture yourself taking a big heaping scoop of everything and digging in.

You eat and eat but soon you fill up! There’s still plenty of food on your plate, but no room in your belly. Because — as many of us do from time to time — you took what you wanted, and not what you needed.

In today's tale, we’ll meet one character who takes only what she needs, and another character who does not!

Our story is called “The Mountain Guardian.” Versions of this tale come from the Tibetan people of East Asia.

Voices in this episode include: Feodor Chin, Faith Salie, Alonzo Bodden and Audrey Hsieh. Look for Audrey Hsieh in the new comedy, Here Today, as well as Netflix’s upcoming music-driven film, Mixtape. And listen for Alonzo Bodden on the podcast, Who’s Paying Attention, and the NPR quiz show, Wait, Wait… Don’t Tell Me! Grown-ups, you can see Alonzo’s fourth stand-up comedy special, Alonzo Bodden: Heavy Lightweight, on Amazon Prime Video.

This episode was adapted for Circle Round by Rebecca Sheir. It was edited by Supervising Producer Amory Sivertson. Original music and sound design is by Eric Shimelonis. Our artist is Sabina Hahn.

Coloring Page

(Sabina Hahn for WBUR)
(Sabina Hahn for WBUR)

ADULTS! PRINT THIS so everyone can color while listening. We’re also keeping an album so share your picture on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and tag it with #CircleRound. We'd love to see it! To access all the coloring pages for past episodes click HERE. Our resident artist is Sabina Hahn and you can learn more about her HERE.

Things To Think About After Listening

Have you ever thought about the difference between a “need” and a “want”?

A need is something we must have to survive — like food, water, and shelter. A want is something that’s fun to have, but we can live without — like a chocolate bar or a new scooter.

Find a piece of paper, and draw a chart with two columns: label one of the columns “needs,” and the other one “wants.” Talk with a grown-up about things you have in your home — and whether they’d count as needs or wants.

Then either write those items in the columns on your chart, or draw a picture. And once you’ve filled out your entire chart, you can make a new one... if you want!

Musical spotlight: The Dranyen (a.k.a Dramyin)

A Tibetan woman teaches dranyen at the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts in Dharamshala, India.
A Tibetan woman teaches dranyen at the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts in Dharamshala, India.

The dranyen (a.k.a. dramyin) is a long-necked, fretless lute popular in traditional Tibetan music. It’s usually made from a hollowed-out piece of wood and is played by strumming, picking or plucking, often with a plectrum (or pick). Experts say the dranyen dates back at least 1,000 years!


NARRATOR: Out in the valley, beneath a towering mountain covered with trees, there lived a young shepherdess. The shepherdess shared a ramshackle hut with her grandmother — a frail old woman who had raised the shepherdess from the time she was a baby.

One winter, the temperatures dropped especially low, and the snow fell especially fast. By spring, the shepherdess had lost every sheep in her flock; the poor creatures all had vanished in the deep and frosty snow drifts.

SHEPHERDESS: I can’t believe this! All my beloved sheep — gone! And with them, my livelihood! How will I ever get by now? And provide for Grandmother? I suppose I could ask my uncle for help; his business in the capital city is always booming!

NARRATOR: So the shepherdess set off for the capital city to see her uncle... a well-to-do businessman who resided in a magnificent mansion. His sizable yard was brimming with orchards and gardens, and his spacious house was bustling with butlers and maids.

But when the shepherdess reached the palatial mansion and began explaining her woes, Uncle didn’t even let her finish her sentence.

UNCLE: Okay, niece, I’m just going to stop you right there. Look, I’m really sorry you lost your sheep, but honestly, what does any of this have to do with me? Was it my fault it snowed so hard this winter? Was I the one who told you and your grandmother to live out in the boonies? There’s nothing I can do for you, kid.

NARRATOR: The shepherdess’s face was pinched with sorrow as she trudged back to the valley. Standing outside her hut and gazing at the mountain, she noticed how the harsh winter winds had knocked many branches from the trees that grew up and down the slope. As a result, the ground was littered with sturdy boughs of all sizes.

And that’s when the shepherdess had an idea.

SHEPHERDESS: I know what I’ll do! I’ll collect some of those fallen branches from the mountainside and sell them at the market — as firewood! That should bring in enough money for me and Grandmother to get by for a little while longer, anyway...

NARRATOR: Now you may be wondering, why wouldn’t the shepherdess chop down an entire tree and sell that? After all, wasn’t the towering mountain covered with strong, leafy trees…?

Well, you see, ever since the shepherdess was a little girl, her grandmother had told her countless stories… about the Mountain Guardian.

GRANDMOTHER: My child, you must remember… in this land, each and every mountain has a guardian! A powerful spirit, a protector! So everything on the mountain is sacred, because it belongs to the guardian. The plants, the animals, the treeseverything.

NARRATOR: So… with Grandmother’s words etched into her memory... the shepherdess found a big basket, then started up the mountainside to collect branches. Before long, she had gathered a nice bundle, which she sold at the market the following morning.

SHEPHERDESS: This is terrific! I’ve made enough money for Grandmother and me to get by for at least one more month. Thank you, Mountain Guardian!

NARRATOR: The next month, the shepherdess climbed higher up the mountain and found even more fallen wood - which, again, she promptly sold at the market.

SHEPHERDESS: Thank you, Mountain Guardian!

NARRATOR:  The next month, she climbed even higher.

SHEPHERDESS: (even more grateful) Thank you, Mountain Guardian!

NARRATOR: The next month, she climbed even higher!

SHEPHERDESS: (even more grateful) Thank you, Mountain Guardian!

NARRATOR: And then, one fine summer day, she found herself at the very top.

SHEPHERDESS: Wow! Check out this view! From this lofty summit I can see for miles and miles and --

LION: Who... are... you????

NARRATOR: The shepherdess gasped and spun around.

Sitting before her… was a lion!

A large, fierce lion carved from smooth gray stone — like a statue! And yet, before the shepherdess’s very eyes, the stone lion opened its mouth and proceeded to speak!

LION: Alright, if you won’t introduce yourself, I’ll get the ball rolling. I am the Guardian of the Mountain. I look after everything that lives here — the plants, the animals, the trees… So I ask again: who are you?

NARRATOR: It took a moment for the shepherdess to find her voice.

SHEPHERDESS: Me…?!?? Well, I’m just a humble shepherdess who lost her flock. I lost everything! So now I’m gathering wood from the mountainside — from your mountainside — so I may sell it at the market and buy some food and clothing for me and my grandmother.

LION: I see…

NARRATOR: The lion’s stone eyes seemed to glitter.

LION: But what are you doing way up here...? Where so few dare to tread...? There are plenty of hale and healthy trees much farther down the mountain. Chop just one of those beauties down, and its wood will bring you a pretty penny!

SHEPHERDESS: I know that, Mountain Guardian. But those “hale and healthy” trees of which you speak — they aren’t mine to chop down! They belong to you, and you alone. So I only gather dead wood, branches and boughs that have been brought down by wind and storms. And for that dead wood, I thank you, Mountain Guardian — from the bottom of my heart.

NARRATOR: The lion was silent for a moment. Then his stone mouth curled into a grin.

LION: Your answer pleases me, shepherdess. And I would like to reward you for your care and compassion. Come. Empty your basket, place it below my mouth, and I will fill it with gold coins. But take heed — the moment the basket is full, you must tell me. Not one piece of gold can land on the ground. Do you understand?

SHEPHERDESS: I understand!

NARRATOR: The shepherdess did as she was told and held her empty basket below the lion’s mouth.

A moment later, the lion opened its jaws wide and let out a mighty roar! 

LION: [roar]

NARRATOR: And as he did, a cascade of gold coins came tumbling out, each one glinting in the sunlight and landing in the shepherdess’s basket with a clink!

The shepherdess kept her eyes glued to the waterfall of coins. Once the basket was nearly full, she held up a hand and cried:


NARRATOR: And just like that, the stream of coins ceased, like someone had turned off a spigot.

LION: Very good, shepherdess. Now, take your newfound riches and use them wisely. But promise me one thing: you will continue taking care of my mountain, respecting my trees and my land.

SHEPHERDESS: Of course, Mountain Guardian! I promise!

NARRATOR: The shepherdess got to her knees and bowed to the ground. When she stood back up, she saw the lion had frozen up again, like a statue. You’d never know he had spoken at all — but the shepherdess had a basket of gold to prove it.

And the shepherdess used that gold wisely — buying seeds to grow crops, tools to fix up her hut and a whole new flock of glossy, woolly sheep.

Before long, the shepherdess was prospering. And when word of her good fortune reached her uncle in the city, the businessman was perplexed.

UNCLE: How is my niece suddenly living so high on the hog? A new farm, a new flock of sheep… last I saw her, she was down to her last penny and her final crust of bread! I must discover the secret of her riches — and use it for myself! (villainous laughter)

NARRATOR: What do you think Uncle will do next?

We’ll find out what happens, after a quick break.

NARRATOR: Welcome back to Circle Round. I’m Rebecca Sheir. Today our story is called “The Mountain Guardian.”

NARRATOR: Before the break, a goodhearted shepherdess was collecting dead branches for firewood when she met the Guardian of the Mountain.

In exchange for sparing the trees that grew on the hillside, the talking stone lion gifted the shepherdess with gold coins.

When the shepherdess’s rich uncle learned of his niece’s prosperity, he was overcome with jealousy. Determined to learn the shepherdess’s secret, he mounted his horse and galloped from his mansion in the city to his niece’s house in the countryside.

SHEPHERDESS: (surprised to see him) Well, hello there, Uncle! I’m surprised to see you traveling ‘round these parts! (good-natured) You did say that Grandmother and I live “out in the boonies,” after all…

UNCLE: (trying to sound as sweet/innocent as possible) Oh! Did I say that...?

NARRATOR: Uncle batted his eyelashes.

UNCLE: I don’t know what I was talking about! I mean, look how beautiful it is out here! This rolling valley, this tree-covered mountain… not to mention this fancy new farm of yours! And those magnificent sheep! Tell me, niece — how is it you’re faring so well?

NARRATOR: So the shepherdess told Uncle the story of the Guardian of the Mountain. She told him how she had collected fallen branches and boughs for firewood… and how pleased the Mountain Guardian had been.

SHEPHERDESS: …so, he offered me a reward! He told me if I placed my basket below his mouth, he would fill it with gold coins! And when the basket was nearly full, all I had to do was tell him --

UNCLE: Gold coins, you say...?!?

NARRATOR: Uncle rubbed his hands together.

UNCLE: A big stone lion gave you gold coins...?!? Just for collecting firewood?!?

SHEPHERDESS: Well, not just any firewood, Uncle! He was rewarding me because the trees are like his children, and instead of chopping them down, I --

UNCLE: Yes, yes, yes, whatever! And all you had to do was put a basket underneath his mouth?

SHEPHERDESS: Well, like I was trying to tell you, Uncle — I had to tell him when the basket was nearly--

NARRATOR: But that’s all Uncle heard. He had already hopped back on his horse and galloped off toward the city.

The next morning, Uncle rummaged through his gardener’s shed for a great big basket and sturdy axe. He loaded these items onto his horse and trotted to the mountain where the shepherdess had collected her wood.

UNCLE: Okay. With all of these hardy trees growing on the hillside, I should have no trouble chopping enough firewood for the Mountain Guardian. Better get to work!

NARRATOR: As Uncle made his way up the mountain, he chopped down one tree…

NARRATOR: ...then another…

NARRATOR: ...and before he knew it, his basket was filled with firewood.

Firewood from living trees!

Now remember, the shepherdess had tried telling Uncle what Grandmother had told her — how sacred the trees were, how they were like the Mountain Guardian’s children… But he hadn’t listened, had he?

So now, he took his enormous basket full of wood and lugged it to the mountaintop… where the large, fierce-looking stone lion was waiting.

UNCLE: Hmmm… my niece told me this was a talking lion. But it looks just like a statue to me!

NARRATOR: Uncle made a fist and knocked on the lion’s side.

UNCLE: (to the statue) Um, hello!? Lion!? Wake up! Wake up!

NARRATOR: To Uncle’s delight, the lion sprang to life, its massive stone jaw opening and closing.

LION: Who... are... you? And what are you doing way up here? Where so few dare to tread?

NARRATOR: With visions of gold coins dancing in his head, Uncle flashed the lion a grin.

UNCLE: Why, I am none other than the beloved uncle of the young shepherdess who visited you a few months ago… the one you rewarded with all those gold coins...? I’ve brought you this great big basket of firewood! I chopped it all myself, you know!

NARRATOR: The lion narrowed his eyes.

LION: Oh! Did you, now...?

UNCLE: I did! Just a few hacks of my trusty axe and I must have cut down half-a-dozen trees! Just like that! It was like, “Timberrrr!” “Timberrrr!” “Timberrrrr!” “Tim --”

LION: Yes, yes, I see. Half-a-dozen trees...

NARRATOR: The lion clenched his jaw.

LION: And now I assume you’re expecting the same reward I gave your niece...? Very well then. Come. Empty your basket, place it below my mouth, and I will fill it with gold coins. But take heed — the moment the basket is full, you must tell me. Not one piece of gold can --

UNCLE: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Look, can we just get started here? I haven’t got all day!

NARRATOR: Uncle turned his basket over and dumped out all the wood. Then he held the empty basket below the lion’s mouth. The lion paused, fixed Uncle with its round stone eyes… then let out that mighty roar.

LION: [roar]

NARRATOR: And just like that, a stream of gold coins began tumbling into the basket.

UNCLE: Oh my gosh! It’s true! I’ll be rich! Or rich-er, anyway!

NARRATOR: The coins plinked, clinked and plunked, filling the basket higher and higher. But when they finally reached the top, do you know what Uncle did?

Or what he didn’t do, rather?

You guessed it!

He didn’t say “Stop!”

Instead, the pile of coins grew so high that… at last… a glistening piece of gold teetered off the top of the heap… and went plummeting to the ground.

Immediately, the lion’s cascade of coins came to a halt.

UNCLE: Um, Lion? What’s going on? Why’d you stop? I want my coins!

NARRATOR: The Lion shook its head and let out a little cough.

LION: (little cough) I’m sorry — it’s just that the rest of “your” coins must be stuck in my throat! Please... put your hand in my mouth and help me pull them out!

NARRATOR: Uncle did as he was told. He dropped the basket of coins and thrust his hand deep into the Lion’s mouth.

But the second his fingers were inside, do you know what happened?

The Lion’s mighty jaws clamped together...

NARRATOR: ...and trapped Uncle’s hand in their unyielding grip!

UNCLE: Hey! What’d you do that for? Now I’m stuck! Let go, Lion! Please, let go!

NARRATOR: But the Lion would not let go. He couldn’t! The creature had become a motionless statue again, staring straight ahead with round, vacant eyes of stone.

Uncle wiggled and wriggled his arm, trying to set it free.

UNCLE: Oh man! What am I going to do? I’ve got this big beautiful basket of gold coins, and now that I’m stuck, there’s no way I can take it back to the city and — (stops, as he looks down at the ground, where the basket is) Oh no!!!

NARRATOR: Uncle’s face fell as he stared at the basket he’d dropped on the ground. A few seconds ago it had been brimming with coins, but to his dismay, he saw it was now brimming with something else entirely!

UNCLE: Stones...!?!?!

NARRATOR: It was true! Each and every glittering piece of money had transformed into a nugget of rock… as smooth and gray as the Lion himself.

UNCLE: [groan]

NARRATOR: Uncle clenched his teeth as he jostled and jiggled his arm, in hopes of prying it loose.

UNCLE: Come on, come on, come on!

NARRATOR: He jostled and jiggled all morning…

UNCLE: Any second now! Any second!

NARRATOR: He jostled and jiggled all afternoon…

UNCLE: Gotta get free! Gotta get free!

NARRATOR: … and by nighttime, he was downright exhausted.

UNCLE: [exhausted sigh/groan]

NARRATOR: He was also... ashamed.

Slumping against the Lion’s smooth, cool body, Uncle lowered his head and let out a sob.

UNCLE: (as he cries) Oh, what a fool I’ve been! I never should have tried to deceive you, Mountain Guardian! You gave my goodhearted niece exactly what she deserved… and now I suppose you’re giving me what I deserve, too. I am sorry, Mountain Guardian. So, so sorry!

NARRATOR: The moment Uncle uttered his heartfelt apology, can you guess what happened?

Just like that, the Lion’s jaws sprang open!

NARRATOR: Then the stone creature threw back its head and began...

LION: (laughing)

NARRATOR: laugh!

LION: (laughing)

NARRATOR: It laughed and it laughed, its deep, cackling rumble echoing all the way across the valley.

LION: (laughing)

NARRATOR: Uncle didn’t waste a minute. Now that his hand was free from the lion's mouth, he sprinted down the mountainside as fast as his legs could carry him and vowed never again to let his greed get the better of him.

Once Uncle was gone, the lion quieted down again. It closed its mighty mouth, straightened its majestic head, then froze… its body turning back into smooth, cool stone… its eyes fixed on the mountain it would do anything to protect.

Headshot of Rebecca Sheir

Rebecca Sheir Host, Circle Round
Rebecca Sheir is the host "Circle Round," WBUR's kids storytelling podcast.



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