An Ethiopian folk tale that has been made into a children's book by Jane Kurtz. It is filled with stunning watercolor paintings that richly evoke Ethiopia's beautiful landscape and rich history.

The story goes like this: Alemayu, a young peasant boy who lives in the mountains of Ethiopia, was suddenly orphaned. In order to support himself, he moved to the city and hired himself out to a rich man and herds his cattle.

One night, the rich man held a feast and bragging to his friends. He said that once he stayed all night on a cold mountaintop, but huddled up against his donkey and somehow managed to survive. Alemayu heard this and replied that in earlier years he had often spent nights on the mountain with only a thin cloak to protect him against the cold.

The rich man was angry that Alemayu embarrassed him in front of his friends like that, and so bets Alemayu that he cannot stay all night on the mountain without a fire. If Alemayu succeeds, he will receive a bag of gold. If he fails, he will be fired. Alemayu accepted the challenge and walks off to the mountain.

The night is bitterly cold, and Alemayu passed a wretched night. Nevertheless, early the next morning he returned to collect his reward. The rich man could not believe that Alemayu stayed on the mountain through the entire night, and questioned the boy about how he survived.

Alemayu explained that it got colder and colder, and he was just about to give up and go back when he caught sight of a fire on a nearby mountain. He looked at the fire and imagined that it was his fire, and that he could feel its warmth, and gathered his strength and stayed the rest of the night.

The rich man was triumphant. "Ha!" he said. "I knew you could not go through the night without fire. Go say your farewells to the other servants, you leave tomorrow!"

That night the rich man held a feast in order to brag again to his friends. The servents prepared the finest injera, the most succulent dishes, and the mouth-watering smells filled the air. Yet no food was brought to the table.

Growing frustrated with the slowness of the servants, the rich man called for entertainment until the food would be served. A master bard came out and passed his fingers over the lute, pretending to play -- yet he did not touch the strings, and no music filled the air.

The rich man was angry. He called his head servant and demanded to know when the food would arrive, and when there would be music. The servant replied, "But master, tonight you have been filled with the finest meal we have ever prepared, and listened to the most beautiful music that could be made!"

"But we ate no food, nor heard no music!" the rich man rebutted, growing angrier as his friends cast him annoyed looks.

"Ah, but you could smell your favorite foods, and you could see your favorite tunes being played," the servant said calmly.

"What kind of man can be filled by smells?" the rich man demanded.

"The same kind of man who believes that looking at a fire on a distant mountain can keep a boy warm," the servent returned, smiling enigmatically. All the servents began to laugh behind their hands, and the rich man's friends laughed outright.

Knowing that he had lost the bet, the rich man gave the bag of gold to Alemayu, who used it to start a herd of his own. Alemayu grew up to be quite a rich man himself, but he always (in typical storybook fashion) shared what he had with the people of the city.

Fire On the Mountain
Lyrics: Robert Hunter
Music: Mickey Hart
© 1978 Ice Nine Publishing
Recorded on: Shakedown Street, Dead Set and Dick's Picks Volume 6


Long distance runner what you standing there for?
Get up, get off, get out of the door
You're playing cold music on the bar room floor,
drowned in your laughter and dead to the core
There's a dragon with matches loose on the town
Take a whole pail of water just to cool him down

Fire - Fire On the Mountain
Fire - Fire on the mountain

Almost aflame still you don't feel the heat
Takes all you got just to stay on the beat
You say it's a living, we all gotta eat
but you're here alone there's no one to compete
If mercy's in business I wish it for you
More than just ashes when your dreams come true

Fire - Fire on the mountain
Fire - Fire on the mountain

Long distance runner what you holdin out for?
Caught in slow motion in your dash to the door
The flame from your stage has now spread to the floor
You gave all you got, why you wanta give more?
The more that you give, why, the more it will take
to the thin line beyond which you really cannot fake

There's a fire
Fire on the mountain


The Grateful Dead first performed this on March 18, 1977 at Winterland Arena, San Francisco. It followed Scarlet Begonias, closing the first set. These two songs, like so many others in the Dead's rich repertoire launched extended improvisations as "Scarlet" sprouted wings and flew, generated a fractal consciousness and burned, its ashes forming phoenix-like in to "Fire." Forever after the two became known as "Scarlet Fire" on the cases of tapers everywhere.

Also, Mickey Hart recorded a percussion instrumental version with his Diga Rhythm Band on their album Diga, naming it "Happiness Is Drumming". Even if you don't normally listen to this type of music because you think it is just glorified drum circle tripping, buy it anyway because it's pretty yummy stuff.

A few years ago when weekend mornings meant hours of peaceful plodding, I used the first two lines of the song as a mantra when the alarm went off around 2 or 3 a.m. It's not a bad song to roll in your head as you lope down the road.
CST Approved

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