Tag Archives: trees

Korean saying: Monkeys Falling from Trees

Nationality: Korean
Primary Language: Korean
Age: 50
Occupation: Country Branch Manager
Residence: Seoul, South Korea
Performance Date: 16 February 2024

Tags: monkeys, trees, falling, humility, Korean, proverb, saying


“원숭이도 나무에서 떨어진다.”

Literal: ‘A monkey can fall from a tree.’

Meaning: ‘Everyone, even experts, can make mistakes, so you have to be humble and careful in whatever you are doing.’


R is a born and raised South Korean. This is one of the sayings R taught me when growing up in Korea, along with a plethora of other proverbs and lessons. Apparently he had heard it from his father before him and so on, and it’s a pretty common Korean saying. The first time R said this to me was when I had a clarinet concert coming up and was feeling a bit overconfident due to the apparent ease of the music, in which R said this to make me feel calm and make sure I still practiced caution.


Korean culture puts humility and the importance of being modest in very high regard, to the point where boasting about one’s abilities and accepting compliments is seen as rude in most social settings. I find it interesting how monkeys are the first animals to be brought to mind within the context of this saying, as monkeys aren’t often synonymous to Korean culture. Obviously we have monkeys in Korea, but they aren’t brought up as much compared to other Asian countries and such.

Eglė, Queen of the Sea Serpents — Lithuanian Tale


“The story starts with Eglė. Her name means Pine Tree. She has twelve brothers, and she’s the youngest of three sisters. She’s swimming in a frozen, cold lake with her sisters. They get out, and they’re like, ‘Ooh, I want to put on my clothes.’ Eglė gets out and goes to put on her shirt, and there’s a serpent in her shirt.

“The snake proposed something first, and she said no. Then he tells her, ‘I’m not getting out of your shirt unless you marry me.’ And she was like, ‘Yes, okay. Oh, I have to ask my family.’

“She gets her shirt and goes back to her family and they’re like, ‘Okay, you’re not going with him, because he’s a serpent, first of all. And second of all, you’re not marrying someone who we don’t approve of.’

“The family hides her away. But the serpent gets a thousand snakes to bombard the farm, and they’re like, ‘If you don’t come with us right now, we won’t leave.’ And so then she’s like, ‘Okay, I’ll go because I don’t have any choice.’ And so she goes.

“He takes her to the bottom of the Baltic Sea, which is the body of water near Lithuania. And then he transforms into a beautiful, handsome prince. They live in this Amber Castle under the Baltic Sea, and she falls in love with him. They have three sons — Ąžuolas (Oak), Uosis (Ash-tree), Beržas (Birch) — and one daughter, Drebulė (Aspen). 

“Then Eglė is like, ‘I really want to go back home. I want to have my kids meet their grandparents and their whole family. But we live at the bottom of the Baltic Sea; we can’t just go.’ 

“And so the snake is like, ‘Ok, I’ll let you go, but you can’t tell them where I am. You can’t tell them how to find me.’ He sets up a way for them to summon him by saying a certain phrase at the Baltic Sea. Then if the sea foam is white on the waves, he’s alive, and he’ll come. If the sea foam is red, he’s dead. 

“I think she also has to do all these impossible tasks before he lets her go. Then she goes to her family, and all of the 12 brothers are like, ‘Tell us where he is.’ They’re literally torturing the children — that’s the more extreme version of the story; just interrogating the children is more polite — and they’re like, ‘Tell us how to find your dad. Tell us where he is so we can go kill him.’ They’re questioning, they’re questioning, and then the only one who gives out eventually is the daughter. 

“Then they go, they kill the dad, and then the mom is like, ‘Let’s go home.’ She yells into the sea, and the seafoam is red. She’s like, ‘Shit, they’re probably going to try to kill my family next.’ I think the implication is that now that the snake is dead, they would want to kill the children of the snake. 

“Now the wife has powers because of how much she loved the snake. So she turns herself into a pine tree, and then turns all of her children into different kinds of trees based on their names.  And that’s how those trees originated in Lithuania.”


IZ is a 21 year-old college student from Lisle, Illinois, living in Los Angeles, California. Both her parents’ families immigrated to the United States during World War II and remain connected to their Lithuanian roots through strong immigrant communities in the US. 

IZ first encountered this story at Camp Dainava, a Lithuanian camp in Manchester, Michigan. For IZ, the camp provided a way to bond with other people of Lithuanian background, and share language, culture, and folklore.

“The first time I remember seeing this story depicted was in a mural at my Lithuanian camp. It was on the back wall of the dining hall.

“It’s a story that’s so ingrained in Lithuanian kids’ memories that I couldn’t even tell you when I first heard it. But I do know I was in a play depicting the daughter. I was literally a tree. It’s a very big thing. Everyone who’s Lithuanian, unless you really are not connected to the culture at all, you know this story.”

IZ said this story is told to preserve the culture and folklore of Lithuania and pass it down to the next generations. 

“I’ve never read it,” IZ said. “It’s always been told to me or I’ve seen it in a play. And every telling of the story is a little bit different. People include or don’t include certain parts.” 


This story is an oikotype of ATU 425. It bears a lot of similarity to other tales, the most widely known being ATU 425C, the tale of Beauty and the Beast.

However, it is unique from some of the other forms of this tale in that it also contains a creation story accounting for the origins of birch, ash, oak, aspen, and pine trees in Lithuania.

This story also functions to promote certain views of marriage, specifically that it requires family approval, and that the absence of family approval is cause for violence.

Some common motifs in this tale, from the Thompson Motif Index include:

  • A2681.2. Origin of oak
  • A2681.4. Origin of birch trees
  • B268.7. Army of snakes
  • C421. Tabu: revealing secret of supernatural husband.
  • D391. Transformation: serpent (snake) to person.
  • D215. Transformation: man to tree.
  • D525.1. Despondent mother curses herself and children into trees.

Another motif in the tale that does not appear in the index is amber, which is a very culturally significant in Lithuania. Baltic amber can be found on the shores, or it can be mined. It is sometimes referred to as “the gold of the North.”

This tale can also be analyzed using Propp’s method of syntagmatic structuralism, which looks at specific plot elements and the order in which they appear. 

In the initial scene, there is a violation, as Eglė attempts to avoid marrying the serpent. Then there is complicity as she goes with him, marries him, and has his children. Then there is her departure and the struggle of her children to protect their father’s location. There is the return to the sea, and the transfiguration into trees. 

However, this tale somewhat disproves Propp’s structural ordering. For example, Eglė receives her magical powers at the end of the tale, despite this being listed fairly early in Propp’s list of 31 functions. Also, the wedding in this story does not occur at the end of the story, as Propp says it should. 

Lastly, IZ’s retelling of this tale exhibits multiplicity and variation present in different performances of the story. For example, she acknowledges that some may describe the interrogation of the children as torture, or chose a tamer word, depending on their audience. She concludes her own retelling with an acknowledgement that everyone tells the story a little differently.

The Balete Trees

Intv: “I was hoping I could ask you a little bit about some of your folklore from when you lived in the Philippines.” 

X: “Yeah definitely, have you heard about balete trees?”

Intv: “No I can’t say that I have.”

X: “Oh! Well where I’m from, and I think throughout the Philippines there’s one where, when you enter a place where there may be a spirit or deity or a forest with balete trees you should say ‘tabi tabi po’ (“excuse/pardon me or like move to the side, please”) or else they might hit u with an illness or misfortune”

Intv: “Oh interesting, so are balete trees specifically capable of holding spirits? Or could it be any forest?” 

X: “It can be in any forest, but I believe it has to be a balete tree specifically.” 

Analysis: I think the message of saying “tabi tabi po” can be viewed in two different ways. First as a sign of paying respect to the dead, or as a sign of respect to nature. Perhaps it could be both as it involves a communion of spirits and nature that’s combined to a sort of humble reverence. The Aswang Project, a web service dedicated to preserving Filipino folklore, has this to say in relation to the balete trees. 

“Regardless of physical appearance, trees are quiet noticeably mentioned throughout our own mythology and lore. Some are associated with engkantos and other nature spirits while others play a vital role in the shamanistic/animistic culture of our Babaylan. Perhaps more than just a source of physical materials such as wood, paper and even medicine, trees can also provide impalpable treasures that we must learn to conserve and protect.”

Guzman, Daniel De. “Down the Roots of Mystical and Sacred Trees in Philippine Lore • the Aswang Project.” THE ASWANG PROJECT, 2 Feb. 2022, https://www.aswangproject.com/mystical-sacred-trees-philippines/. 

Aspen Panty/ Underwear Tree

I: Informant, M: Me

M: So the first one I wanted to ask you about which I’ll ask {name blanked for privacy} about too when I have my interview with her is about the Aspen Panty tree because we saw it when we were going and I thought that would be really fun because I didn’t see anything about it in the archives.

I:Well that that was a. Long ago well I wouldn’t say long ago. It started theoretically in Aspen that’s the reputed legend. It was a tradition that was started by some woman who had gone to a party and decided she was going to have some fun with one of the other party goers and the guy that she met, I guess they got together and had some fun {referring to sexual relations}. Next day, to commemorate the experience with her he took the bra that she was wearing that night and as a skiier going up the mountain the next day, threw it into a tree as a goof.

M: Yeah

I: And so that everybody else, his friends going up the mountain that day would know that he had met this girl and that they had had some fun.

M: Yeah

I: So that turned into a thing, a tradition in Aspen and other people saw it and thought it was funny and started doing the same thing except it wasn’t restricted to just to bras, there were other things thrown out there, things that would get a little more risqué, and then

M: Like what?

I: landing in the trees. So you’d get bras, panties, and you know in Mardi Gras

M: Did you say ties too?

I: Ties, they are throwing all kinds of things in the tree. Hats.

M: Now is it only the people who um only the people who get laid sort to say and it has to be the opposite sex {or partner} to throw it or can you throw your own?

I: As I’ve learned it is as you go up the mountain you are supposed to take this off while you are on the lift.

M: Oh

I: You are not supposed to…literally if you are a woman you are supposed to reach under all your layers of clothing, pull you bra off and throw it over onto the tree. Now the funny thing is, the people in Aspen are a very, let’s just say not risqué community. They you know like to have fun and ski, maybe drink a little too much.

M: yeah

I: But they don’t allow things in town. Like they don’t like vaping. Vaping is banned.

M: Yeah

I: They consider it to be inappropriate because of the damage it does, particularly to the kids.

M: Yeah

I: So when they saw that this was going on, the ski patrol everyday would go up and take all of the stuff out of the tree.

M: uh-huh (Yeah)

I: Which was a pain because they had to climb up the tree. They actually developed a rig that would hang off of the lift, they stopped the lift and hang off the lift and pull the stuff out of the tree.

M: Yeah

I: And that’s a big nuisance. Well by the end of the day, people were already throwing stuff back at the tree. SO they eventually just cut the tree down.

M: *laughing because I know how this ended up working out according to the legend*

I: and instead of it stopping there, they just went to the next tree another 50ft up the hill and made that the panty tree. So they realized after a while that they weren’t going to win this war and it has held ever since. It’s been going on for 3 or 4 decades 

M: Is it on a specific ski route?

I: Yes, it is on Bell Mountain.

M: Uh-huh (agreeing)

I: What happened afterwards, it kind of fell out of vogue because when you got on the gondola, they built a beautiful enclosed gondola, there was no way for you to reliably wad up your panties or your bra and throw it out the window and actually make it to the tree. It was almost an impossible throw. It’s too far away so nobody did it anymore {correction: less people did it}. So they only way you could do it was if you took the outdoor, very old, kinda scary to ride Bell mountain chair lift specifically to go over that tree, which I do, but I do it to ski- I’ve never thrown anything in the tree beside Mardi Gras beads and uh it kind of a thing. You have to be kind of wanting to do it and wanting to go through a little bit of pain because you are outside and it is cold, the wind is blowing, to do that. Whereas most people are in the gondola enjoying a nice warm ride up the hill that goes a lot faster.

M: Yeah

I: So you gotta be motivated.

M: mkay

I: You gotta want to do it.

Context: The informant learned about this underwear tree by seeing it in person in Aspen and asking the locals about it about 6 years ago. We both see this tree every time we go skiing in Aspen and take that particular ski lift. It’s mainly been covered in bra the last few times I went.

Analysis: This Underwear tree is a perfect example of monogenesis with diffusion as this very specific custom, started specifically in Aspen and then spread to Vail and from there, spread to other ski mountain. The underwear tree has now become a staple in many ski mountains. Additionally, this piece of folklore shows how folklore can have multiplicity and variation and different meanings to different people because while I have been told about this legend twice with similar details, when I researched it, I found out that initially started as a protest of the hiring of the 1st woman ski patrol (more competition for the job openings). To the patrols and mountain management, the underwear tree had a different story and meaning entirely than it did for the party crowd of Aspen. Nonetheless, both parties participated. This folklore also shows how folklore can evolve to be inclusive of the times, as we progress in time, women have been taking much more pride and ownership of their sexuality and gender equality has become much more prevalent. Thus, as this developed, the underwear tree needed to progress as well. So there is now also a tie tree right next to the underwear tree- the tie symbolizing the men in the sexual encounters.

Du siehst den Wald vor lauter Bäume nicht

“Du siehst den Wald vor lauter Bäume nicht.”

“You do not see the forest for the trees.”

Context: The informant went to school on a military base in Weisbaden, Germany, and spent the majority of her childhood there. She heard this proverb from her friend when she was upset. She continues to think of this proverb in stressful situations.

Interpretation: This proverb is meant to help people when they are wrapped up in small problems. It teaches the audience to see things from a broader perspective rather than focusing on specific issues that will not matter in the greater scheme of things. It also works to soothe people who are upset or overwhelmed.This proverb also tells the audience about Germany’s environment. One-third of Germany is covered in forestry, so it is fitting that a well-known German proverb utilizes the forest as a symbol.