Javier and the Making of Las Médulas

Hundreds and hundreds of years ago, in a land called Leon, to the west of Asia and to the east of still undiscovered America, there was a range of tall green mountains. Wolves, foxes, wild boars and hares, and even the occasional lynx made their home on the steep slopes and in the valleys between them. But what made the region so different from anywhere else were the people who lived there.
These people were so very tall, and so very big that some might consider them giants. Fortunately,
these giants were of the harmless variety. They lived a quiet life in mountain caves.  Only rarely was their presence noted in the valleys when strange and gigantic shadows fell across the treetops as they scavenged for food. Until one momentous day when a giant named Javier found something new.
Javier was digging a new addition to his cave for the new baby his wife had on the way. This was because giant babies, like their parents, take up more space than average sized people. But even for a giant, Javier was very strong, and very big, so hollowing out the clay rock with his massive paws was easy-peasy until….
“Ay!”Javier got a big chunk of something heavy and sharp stuck under one gigantic fingernail.
“Cari,” Dear “¿Estás bien?” Are you well? At the sound of yelling and falling rock, Julia, Javier’s very pregnant wife came running. Muttering grumpily under his breath, Javier nodded and frowned.
“¿Qué pasa?” What happened? Julia tried again. Javier showed her his bleeding finger. “Ah…” she responded as she very carefully pulled the nail back to reveal the strange and sparkly yellow rock… “Whatever could this be?”
“ No sé y no me importa.” I don’t know and I don’t care. “It’s slowing down my work on the addition for el bébe.”
“No te preocupes, Javi.” Don’t worry. “ The baby won’t take up so much space, at least not for a few years.” Julia tried to comfort him while she giggled at his wrinkled forehead and clenched fists. “Quizás” maybe “it has some value and we can trade it for other things. Look at it sparkle. ¡Es precioso!” It’s beautiful!
With his fists balled and his brow still creased, Javi shook his head. “No lo creo.” I don’t think so “it’s just a rock with shiny bits to it. We can’t eat it. Why would anyone want it?”
“ Nunca se sabe” you never know…Julia smiled knowingly and rubbed her huge belly. “We can talk to your Tia, Aunt Mariona. She is very wise about such things. Perhaps she knows how to help us make use of this strange stone.”
While working on the nursery, Javier unearthed many more pieces of the yellow substance. At Julia’s insistence, he left the chunks of dirty rock piled in a corner as he went, and tried to keep his loud oaths to a dull roar.
When Tia Mariona was finally able to make a visit, she brought ten bushels of carrots, all of the onions and potatoes she could carry and twenty rabbits. Besides the fact that they were giants, and could be expected to have “giant” appetites, Tia Mariona knew that Julia was eating for two, and was well aware that Javier routinely ate ten times that. She planned to make her favorite nephew and his wife her specialty, rabbit stew.
While her nephew built a fire under the heavy cauldron, Tia Mariona examined the strange rocks. “ ¡Que curioso!” How curious. “It would make a pretty necklace were someone to string a few pieces together.”
“Es cierto” It’s true, chimed in Julia. “Perhaps some of the other families on the mountain would want to barter for them.” Javier raised his eyebrows, but wisely kept his mouth shut for the time being. If the necklaces brought in more food, that would allow him more time to be with his wife. Whenever he went to forage, he worried that he would miss the big event, which was coming any day now. After Julia, Javier and Tia Mariona sat down to a hearty meal of rabbit stew, Julia and Tia Mariona went out to make the rounds and gossip with the neighbors about their discovery.
So began one of the world’s first gold rushes. At first, what Javier had dug out was plenty to make necklaces for the neighbors who wanted to trade vegetables or wild game for them…but in no time, Javier was finished with the nursery and had traded away all the gold or “oro” as they called it. Finally finished, and exhausted, Javier had no desire to dig for more.
Unfortunately, a large group gathered at the mouth of his cave daily, clamoring for more oro necklaces. Facing the crowd, he stoutly declared “No hay más,” there is no more and began to turn around and stalk back into his home, when, rushing past him, a neighbor ran straight to the back of the cave and began desperately clawing at the walls of the new baby’s room.
“¡Sí que hay!” Yes, there is! He squealed triumphantly. Pushing past Javier, and nearly knocking Julia down, the crowd ran to the back of the house to continue digging where Javier had left off.
It was in that moment when Julia’s water broke. Like any other woman in this stressful situation, Julia took swift and drastic action. “¡Ya está!” That’s it! She screamed. “ I am going to have my baby now, and if you want more gold, surely there is more elsewhere ¡Fuera!” Out! Cowed and Ashamed, the greedy visitors left.
After many hours of the sweat, tears and heavy breathing that is labor, Julia gave birth to a beautiful, 50lb girl. “Que mona..” how cute, said Javier. In awe just like any other first-time father, he held out his arms for the baby. As he cuddled her close to his chest, he whispered in the newborn’s ear “Tú eres lo mejor de mí” you are the best of me. “Raising you will be a joy and an accomplishment.”
Julia smiled. It was true. Educating their child to be compassionate, responsible and strong would be their greatest work. It would be difficult to achieve un equilibrio, a balance between treasuring their little girl and disciplining her. But together they would do it. “We can call her Rosa, like your mother,” suggested Julia. “Mira,” look “she has her eyes, golden hazel like the oro the neighbors are so crazy for.”
“And it is the only oro we need. The neighbors are not welcome back. Let them destroy their own caves in search of shiny rocks,” grumbled Javier. Julia grinned and nodded. They had no need for gold. Javier was right, they couldn’t eat it, and they didn’t need shiny necklaces to survive.
Their neighbors had other ideas, and with time, what was once a mighty mountain range peppered with the cave dwellings of its giant people became a strange landscape, heaps of rock reduced and rebuilt into towering piles of rubble. Many of the caves were destroyed forever in the search for gold, collapsing upon their owners.
So it was that greed left its mark on the landscape today known as Las Médulas de Oro. As the giants of the past became fewer and farther between, a new people came there to live, smaller and more like the people we see today.
But a few giants, the more sensible ones, among them, Javier, Julia, Tia Mariona, and Rosa, survived. Even now, in the valley around Las Médulas, sometimes there falls a sudden silence and a long shadow looms as Rosa’s great-great-great-great-granddaughter comes down from the cave that started it all to watch the tiny people ooh and awe at what they consider “the work of giants.” Laughing softly to herself, she whispers with the wind, “If they only knew.”
First published in “The Tipton TImes”

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