The Costeàna-valley stretches from Falzàrego down towards Cortina. Forests and pastures are always changing there, and, over the soft tops of motionless larch trees, the forests of the Tof Ana rise, large and gloomy, to the sky. But from the other side of the valley the finely marked Croda da Lago, with its slender peaks, greets one mysteriously, above deep, fir darkened ravines. This is one of the most beautiful parts of the whole Dolomites: one's glance can stray freely to the sharp edge of the Lastòy del Formin, that enchanted upper plain from which the "Lastoyères" once used to come down, and up from the forest the winds blow and whisper as thoughtful reminders of long vanished wonders.
The most beautiful view is to be had from a little pasture hill, where a ruined hut is standing: this is the "Casòn dai Caài", but the pasture hill was formerly called "Col de la Merisàna". Not far from here the "Ru de ra Vérgines" (the virgin's brook) flows down from the Tofàna-mountains, and old, inhabitants of the Ampezzo-valley said that this brook was so called because water-virgins used to," live in it. In summer they liked to come over the Col de la Merisàna to spend the noontime there. They all wore light garments, and it was a real pleasure to see them walking over the forestmeadows in the full glare of the midday sun. But when the Casòn dai Caài was built there they were never seen again.
These forest and water virgins once had a queen named Merisàna. Merisàna possessed all that she could desire: flowers and grasses, trees and bushes bowed before her and listened to her words. The waves became calm as soon as she appeared on the shore, and she ruled the whole country from the pink coloured Monte Cristallo to the blue mountains of Duranni. And yet Merisana could not feel happy, because, having everything she wanted, she felt sorry for all the other creatures who were unhappy and in pain. But it was impossible for her to change this, and nobody could advise her as to what she should do.
Then it so happened that the "Réy de Ràyes" (the king of rays) who possessed a large and mighty kingdom far away behind the Antelào, came up one morning to the Costeàna-valley and rested on the Ru . de ra Vérgines. While looking at the water he caught just a glimpse of the beautiful Merisana for a moment. He was delighted and astonished at this, but he thought he had only seen an image, for he knew nothing about the water-virgins who were able to live in the waves. So he continued on his journey and finally returned to his kingdom. Many charming girls were there, but he could, not like any of them: they were indeed all beautiful and noble, but they lacked that look of perfect kindness and gentleness which had so attracted him in Merisana. A year passed, but the king of rays could not forget Merisana. One evening he paid a visit to the king of the Lastoyères upon the flat rocks of Formin, and they talked together about Merisana. Then the king of the Lastoyères said: "You always come to our country in the morning or the evening; come some day at noon and you will see Merisana wandering over the forest meadows."
Thus the king of rays learned that Merisana was a real, Iiving creature, and this news made him very happy. After a short time he saw her again and spoke to her, and on the seventh day, at noon, he asked her to marry him. Merisana replied that she could not say "no" but she was also unable to rejoice at the prospect of marriage.
"Before I shall marry," she said, "every being must become happy. No man must have cause to curse, no woman to complain, no child to cry and no animal to groan; they all must feel happy. Obtain that for me, and I will be yours."
The king of rays went away greatly troubled, for though he had tremendous power and could do many things, yet he doubted if he could succeed in making every creature happy. He asked his wise counsellors, but they told him that it was quite hopeless. Finally the rays king returned to Merisana, and asked her to give up this condition, or at least to modify it, as it was impossible to carry out. Merisana yielded, and now only demanded that on her wedding day all creatures should be happy.
Again the king left her, in great trouble, for he considered that a whole day was too long and this condition also seemed impossible. His advisers were of the same opinion: "A whole day I", they, cried, "that is impossible." The king then returned to Merisana and explained to her that the second condition was also impracticable.
At this Merisana became very sad: "Not even one day," she said, "and I thought that would be the least." Finally, however she yielded once more, this time contenting herself with the noon tide.
"Noon tide," she said, "is my dearest hour; at noon I wish to be married, and at that time everything will have to be happy: men and animals, trees and grasses."
For the third time the king of the rays departed, but this time he was no longer troubled, for he hoped to be able to fulfill the condition. And so, indeed, it happened. Men and animals, trees and grasses soon got word that on the approaching wedding day of the rays king and his bride all pain, even the slightest discomfort, would be abolished at noon. They were all delighted, therefore, and were loud in their praises of the kind and gentle Merisana. They also consulted as to how they should show their gratitude, and they decided that the plants were to keep their most beautiful flowers in readiness, and men and animals would make large bouquets and bring them to Merisana on her wedding day. Now on that day there were so many bouquets that Merisana and her servants were at a loss to know where to find room for them. Some magic working dwarfs, however, had come over' there from the forest Amarida, and they wondered at the large number of bouquets, and decided to make a tree of them. So they immediately began the work, and created the Larch. Soon, however, one saw that it was not a vigorous tree, for it began to wither. On seeing this, Merisana said she would sacrifice her bridal veil which was made of fine, pale green tissue. Immediately the larch began to sprout and grow, but the veil grew into it.
All the wedding guests wondered at the quality of this tree. Indeed the larch is the strangest tree of all. At first it looks like a needle tree, but its needles are not always green, like those of other needle trees, for they fade in the autumn and fall down, exactly like the leaves of the leaf trees. The cause of this is that the larch is composed of the branches and flowers of the different plants. When, in the spring, the larch begins to awaken, it looks like a green breath, and on the tops of its branches the tissue of the bridal veil can clearly be seen.
This strange tree was formed on Merisana's wedding day, and was dedicated to her. On the sunny side of the Costeàna-valley near the pasturehill facing the towering Croda da Lago, the first larch was placed. And in its mild, transparent shadow, which is neither of dazzling brightness nor of gloomy darkness, in this soft shade which breathes all the noon tide jovs of a peaceful forest, the wedding of the rays king and the beautiful, gentle Merisana was celebrated. And a brightness was in the air which was never seen there before, and there was a happiness over mountain and valley and a summer joy upon the high peaks of the Dolomites, for all creatures were in harmony, and the great noon tide was joyously filled with a grateful remembrance.
Innumerable years have passed since then but even today the shepherds
know about Merisana's wedding, and of the joy which all beings felt at
that time. This joy is still to be felt today: whoever walks under the
light larches in the great silence of a summer noon, and looks wonderingly
up at the coloured rocks of the Dolomites, still feels in a magic way,
like the caress of a fairy hand, the thoughtfulness of the gentle, kind