Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Founders' Day

John Michael Greer, of The Archdruid Report, is running a contest for short stories depicting a post petroleum future. The winning stories are to be published as an anthology, the second of its kind. After Oil, the first anthology, is a collection of entertaining, thought provocative visions of what our future might look like, and can be purchased at Amazon.

With the hope of being included in the second book, here is my submission, "Founders' Day:"

Skylar awoke to the sound of rain driving against the windows and to the roll of distant thunder. Her whole body smiled in response. What a good omen for Founders’ Day! The drier years could still be quite lean, but the rains had been plentiful this season. This year, there would be abundance.

She stretched and slid out of bed, knowing that further sleep would be impossible. Founders’ Day had always been her favorite day of the year, but this year would be unique. This year, they would open the time capsule buried back in 2015, fifty years before. Anticipation had been building all year, and now the day had finally come.

Feeling her way in the darkness, Skylar donned the clothes she had laid out the night before — the simple, linen tunic, the ceremonial cloak of faded greens and browns, and the beaded Rope of Memories that she hung around her neck. Her feet, as always, were bare. With practiced fingers, she combed and braided her long hair, tucking flowers into the graying strands as she worked. When they came for her at dawn, she had long been ready.

The sun broke through the last of the clouds, painting pink, purple, and orange ribbons across the sky. Raindrops caught the early light and reflected it like jewels hung from trees and flowers and blades of grass. More good omens! She led the procession down the narrow paths and across the wooden bridges, over the marshy swales brimming with the night’s rain. It was a happy, noisy crowd that banged on drums, rattled gourds, and blew shrill notes on pipes of reed. It wasn’t music that they played, but it was a joyful sound all the same. Then they came to the stone circle, and Skylar made her way to the cob bench under the shelter. She arranged her cloak around her as the people settled into their places, not seeming to mind the wetness of the grass and ground. The youngest children sat at her feet, the older ones behind. Adults stood at the very back, or sat in chairs brought from home. She waited. When the crowd grew still and quiet, she began in her clear, steady voice, the ritual story of Founder’s Day.

“Today we gather together to honor the Founders. You all know their names.”

Barbara, Pam, Kathy and Ken. Steven, Rick, Mary and Lynn, came the children’s response. Bright faces glowed with anticipation and she smiled at the sight.

“Yes, and their story starts as all stories should.”

Once Upon a Time.

Skylar nodded. “Once upon a time, the founders were sitting together drinking tea and coffee and talking about the world at large.” Skylar pantomimed drinking from a cup and the children did the same. They might not know what tea and coffee were, but it did not matter.

“‘We’re wasting the gifts of Gaia,’ they said. ‘We’re poisoning the land, the water, the sky. We’re even killing the Bee People. What kind of world are we leaving our children? Hard times are coming. We must change.’” She put down her imaginary cup and the children did the same.

We must change. We must change, they chanted, pounding small fists on small knees.

“So they went to the Government and said, ‘We’re wasting the gifts of Gaia.’” Skylar gave an exaggerated shrug, signaling the indifference of the Government. “‘We’re poisoning the land, the water, the sky. We’re even killing the Bee People. What kind of world are we leaving our children?’” She shrugged again. “‘Hard times are coming. We must change.’”

We must change! We must change!

“But the Government didn’t listen.” And they all clapped their hands over their ears and shook their heads.

“Then they went to the State and said, ‘We’re wasting the gifts of Gaia. We’re poisoning the land, the water, the sky. We’re even killing the Bee People. What kind of world are we leaving our children? Hard times are coming. We must change.’”

We must change! We must change!

“Did the State listen?”

NO! And they all clapped their hands over their ears and shook their heads.

“At last, they went to their friends and neighbors and said, ‘We’re wasting the gifts of Gaia.’” This time, Skylar nodded vigorously, in obvious agreement. “‘We’re poisoning the land, the water, the sky. We’re even killing the Bee People.’” They all clapped their hands to their cheeks in mock horror. “‘What kind of world are we leaving our children? Hard times are coming. We must change.’”

We must change! We must change!

“And what did their friends and family say?”

We will be the change! Be the change! the children shouted with obvious gusto.

“And that’s exactly what they did. They hired big machines to come in and tear up the streets.”

The children responded with a cacophony of rumbles and roars. It always tickled Skylar that they were able to imitate a sound none of them had ever heard.

“And they dug swales and built cisterns to capture the rain. They made hugelkulturs six feet high; then they planted trees, and vines, and flowers -- some just for the Bee People. They got chickens, and ducks, and rabbits and goats. They wrapped their houses in straw bales and sealed them with earthen plasters. They took the apartment building and made it into shops like . . .” Skylar pointed at one of the boys sitting at her feet.

“Uh, uh, a WEAVER!” he shouted.

“and a candle maker,” the girl next to him squealed.

“a Fix-It shop,” “a basket maker,” “a potter,” the responses came as Skylar’s pointing finger snagged answers from other children in the crowd. She smiled and continued.

“When they were finished, they had turned their subdivision into a sustainable town. Other HOA’s saw what they had done. Some of them said:”

Cool! Let’s do it, too.

“And some of them said:”

What weirdos! That always got a giggle.

“And then the hard times came.” Every face looked sad. There was no glossing over the hard times. “There was still rain.”

But not enough.

“There was still food.”

But not enough.

“There was still medicine.”

But not enough.

“What had been neighborhoods and farms turned to desert.”

The children nodded. There wasn’t one of them that hadn’t visited nearby ruins, exploring, scavenging, and poking around in the dry, dusty corners.

“Even in the oases like ours, times were hard, and a lot of people were called Home. Then Gaia sent the plague.” A few of the adults in the back wiped tears from their faces. “That was the hardest time of all. But in the end, it saved them.”

Skylar paused to regain her own composure, thinking about the irony of it all. The plague, with all the grief and all the suffering that it had brought, had also brought an end to the industrial age. If it hadn’t been for the plague, humanity would likely have wrung every last bit of fossil fuel from the ground and sent the carbon into the air, destabilizing the climate to the point where earth might have become unlivable. If it hadn’t been for the plague, mankind would likely have fished every last fish from the seas and polluted every last drop of water. Hell, if it hadn’t been for the plague, Village Estates would likely have been overrun with refugees, and they might have all starved to death . . . if not worse. But the plague had been a dark angel of sorts, bringing both death and the possibility of renewed life.

“There was still food . . .”

and now it was enough.

“And because people had planned for the hard times, things got better.”

On cue, all the children cheered and the smiles returned to their faces.

“And that, my dear children, is why we celebrate every Founders’ Day. But this one is special. Who can tell me why?”

A sea of hands shot up in response. Skylar pointed to one of the shyer children in the crowd. “Why is today special, Althea?”

Althea sat up straighter and said with shining eyes, “Because we open the time capsule. You helped make it. You were in . . . in . . . fifth-grade.” She stumbled over the unfamiliar term, but ended with confidence.

“Very good, Althea! Fifty years ago, my fifth-grade class filled this time capsule and buried it here in the stone circle.” She picked up the metal cylinder which had been dug out of the ground the previous day and cleaned for her benefit. “Are you ready to see what’s inside?”

Yes!! came the shouted response.

Skylar broke the seal and unscrewed the lid. There was an audible pop, followed by a whoosh of air. A nearby rooster crowed, heralding the event more appropriately than any drum roll, and the crowd laughed in response. Skylar reached in and pulled out a letter. She was surprised to find her hands shaking as she tore open the envelope.

“‘To the people of 2065: My class of fifth-graders has been thinking about the future. Their parents are busy changing the neighborhood, getting ready for ‘the hard times,’ but we want to think about the world as it could be — what we want it to be like in fifty years. In fifty years, they will be the age of their grandparents now. It’s hard to imagine being that old when you are only ten, and it’s hard to imagine what the world will look like, but we want to try. So each child drew a picture of what the world might be in 2065. We hope you enjoy their pictures and their gifts.’ Signed, Mrs. Taylor.”

Skylar found it hard to read the letter. She had to stop a time or two to steel her voice against the tears. She still remembered drawing her picture. She remembered her teacher and her classmates. She looked around the crowd and found the face of Emily — the only other survivor from that class of ten year-olds. Well, there might be others. Not everyone had stayed. But only Emily was here with her today.

With a deep breath, she reached into the cylinder again and drew out the stack of pictures. As she held them up, one by one, the crowd oohed in amazement. Even Skylar had forgotten how bright were the colors of simple crayons and how smooth and white was the paper, even now only slightly yellowed. The pictures were simple and not always easy to understand, but labels told of flying cars and people living on the moon or at the bottom of the ocean. There were pictures with aliens from outer space and pictures with angels. Emily’s picture featured a zoo-like assortment of animals and herself in the middle with a big smile.

“Oh, here’s mine!” Skylar held up a drawing of huge windmills surrounded by big squares of black. “Those are solar panels,” she explained. “I wasn’t sure how to draw them.” She looked at the blank faces of the younger children. Solar panels had disappeared when the batteries failed and could not be replaced. The panels had long since been recycled into more useful items. There were still windmills, but they were small and not used much anymore.

Finally, she came to the last picture and laid it gently in her lap. “So,” she asked. “What do you think?”

A young boy raised his hand. “Yes, Billy?”

“Gramma Skylar,” he said quietly, addressing her by her honorific, “how many pictures are there?”

Skylar counted them quickly. “Twenty-seven,” she answered.

“Twenty-seven . . . and all by kids ten years-old?”

“Some of us might have already turned eleven, but yes, most of us were ten.”

Billy, his eyes wide, looked around at his friends. He couldn’t imagine twenty-seven children all the same age. Skylar didn’t tell him that her class had been only one of three fifth-grades.

“But there’s more,” she continued as she reached into the canister again. She pulled out a handful of green and yellow boxes, slender things about the size of a deck of cards. “These are crayons,” she told them. “This is what we used to color the pictures. There should be twenty-eight boxes. We each put in one, and so did the teacher.” There was an audible gasp from the crowd as the children shared looks of excited amazement. Then she pulled out a thick pack of white paper, curled from its long confinement. “And here’s the paper. I’ll give all this over to the librarian, and she’ll figure out a fair way to share. And one last thing.” Skylar couldn’t contain her grin as she reached for the last bundle and pulled it into the light.

A murmur went up from the crowd as first the children and then the adults realized what it was. “Seeds!” “It’s seeds!” the message passed from one person to the next. “I wonder what kind of seeds? Maybe something we don’t have anymore.” Maybe for something that had long since died out.

“Okay, I know you’re all tired of sitting and ready to get to the games,” Skylar announced. “So let’s close.” She looked out at the people gathered together, the children who listened with so much enthusiasm, and there at the back, her life-long friends and neighbors. She felt her heart fill with a great warmth towards them all. Okay, it was hard to like Frank sometimes, he could be so contrarian. And there was Rachel, who found more things to complain about than one would think possible. But they were still her people, and she was theirs. She stood up, and with great feeling, led them in the closing chant:

Rejoice and give thanks, for we are the human child of Gaia, brother and sister to all her tribes.
Rejoice and give thanks, for we are the hands of Gaia, and through us may all be healed.
Rejoice and give thanks, for we are the heart of Gaia, living in joy and centered in love.

Blessed be. Blessed be. Blessed be.


Al Sevcik said...

Thanks for the unpretentious, beautifully written story. I especially enjoyed the kids' forecasts and the implication that anyone's forecast 50 years into the future is likely to be way, way off. Your story highlights what many of us forget -- while the teacher misses (or at least remembers) the "old times", to the current crop of kids everything is perfectly normal. Each generation builds its life from scratch. There is lots to contemplate in your tale, thanks for posting it.

gaias daughter said...

Al, thanks for your kind words!