fiction

Sung Home: Chapter Twenty Eight. {fiction}

One day, soon after the group agreed that Tochuku, Frank and Ching Shih would take a trip into Silver City soon, Yazmin accompanied me on my pilgrimage to the library.

We rode side by side on our usual mounts, a young roan called Grannie and a pinto called Beans, both named by Beto.

It was late spring, not summer yet, but I felt the evening’s condensation evaporate by mid-morning, hinting at the heat to come. The grasses turned from pale avocado green to emerald, their slender leaves reaching hungrily towards the sun and thickening stiffly. A Cooper’s hawk swooped lazily on a breeze rising above us as if surveying our short journey through the woods.

Tying the horses outside, we lugged the slack, empty saddlebags into the cave, to be filled with books as if they were pirate’s booty.

“Here’s the book, about the library of Alexandria,” I said, handing her the hefty volume I had told her about. Yazmin already knew the story and understood its significance immediately.

“Yes. It’s easy to take for granted what information we have. You might be too young to remember, but the internet made any knowledge available at any time to anyone with a modern phone. But that’s all gone now.” She paused, staring at the book in her hand for several long seconds.

She looked up at me again, eyes shining, voice low but dense with emotion, “After a brief, magnificent flowering of knowledge all across the world, that brilliance was suddenly extinguished. While this library includes more knowledge than any one of us could hope to digest, what we have here contains only the tiniest fraction of what was available to virtually every one of the 8 billion people alive just a few years ago. We were now infants stranded on an island of ignorance!”

Clearly, she had given this a lot of thought, while I was just beginning to grasp the scope of the problem.

“Do you mean that we could sink into a Dark Age again?”

“Yes. In fact, I think it’s inevitable to some degree. How bad it gets depends on what we can do to counteract it. It could be much worse than the last Dark Age in Europe, since this is happening all over the world at once.”

What we did now would affect the trajectory of our descendant’s lives in immeasurable ways. Our ability to conserve and spread knowledge accumulated over the millennia would make the difference between my great-grandchildren living lives of ignorance and squalor, or of possibilities fueled by information.

We had to do everything we could to restore as much knowledge as possible before weather and the soporific advance of generations made recovery impossible.

“What about cultures that never had books? They had good lives, right?” I asked.

“Yes, that’s absolutely true, Lakshmi. It’s also true that those cultures all had strong oral traditions. They passed on their knowledge verbally down countless generations. Many so-called myths and legends include valuable information.”

“Couldn’t we just do that then?”

“In a few generations, sure, somewhat. We aren’t trained to remember so much. We also don’t have the volumes of stories and teachings that contain all of what we know. We’d have to create those before we could pass them on,” she said. “Much of that sort of knowledge is passed down in a sort of code, condensed in the stories.”

“What about the Apaches, Navajos and Pueblo peoples? They have those traditions, right?”

“Yes, but a lot of their knowledge was destroyed, just as surely as the burning of the library of Alexandria, and just as deliberately, by the colonizers from Europe. It happened here in north American and also in South America, where I’m from. We indigenous people still have a lot, but it’s not going to be a substitute for this knowledge, here,” she said, gesturing towards the rows of books.

“Besides, their knowledge is specific to their location and culture. We’re going to have to decide ourselves what we want to pass on, and how.”

Yazmin continued, “Even if our community had access to all the knowledge that had been created, there aren’t enough of us to ingest it. The billions of people in the world before the virus came served as storage containers and transmitters of knowledge of all kinds, and not just those who were considered well-educated.”

Yazmin held my gaze as all that she said sank in.

“You’ve got an important job, Lakshmi. And not just important to our little group here, now.”

As I had once grieved the loss of abundant and varied foods, I now grieved the knowledge that no longer had enough people to learn it.

We might be able to retain electricity and all it could power — lights, machines, maybe even vehicles, computers and the like — but how would the loss of people who were experts at astrophysics, indigenous forms of agriculture, social systems and mathematics change our collective conception of the world, the universe and ourselves?

How could we retain the breadth and depth of understanding, of vision, unless there were people to learn about the countless subjects we had absorbed jointly and who passed on that learning?

On top of that, as I had scanned the non-fiction books, I realized that a lot of them were completely beyond my ability to understand. I was familiar with the Periodic Table of the Elements, but I didn’t understand the book that described using the various plants or minerals to create those in their pure forms, much less what I might do with those substances.

I loved the book on the basics of aviation, but we didn’t have a book on how to actually build an airplane. As much as I treasured what our small library contained, it was obvious that there were huge gaps too.

Nevertheless, much of what humanity had done, thought, and created was intimated in those books. Our library didn’t contain all the information generated by humanity. But it did contain the seeds of that knowledge, enough that we wouldn’t have to start completely from scratch as we rebuilt human society.

On the one hand, we needed more people to learn the information and pass it on, but on the other hand, it was risky to let others know where we were, and especially about this library. Very few people had come across the cave community in the eight years since the virus. That’s how limited the population was in the general area, and how remote the caves.

Most of the Cave People believed that others would inevitably come, however. That’s why they had agreed to stay hidden from any new people who came to the area until they had proven that they were not a threat, and that they could care for themselves. It hadn’t occurred to them that any of them might actually know such a new arrival.

They assumed that anyone specifically connected to that community would have made it there soon after the virus had passed. That’s why they had debated my own appearance so heatedly.

During the first community meeting held after my arrival with Victorio, they amended the agreement so that if someone in the group knew the person who had shown up, they could advocate for their inclusion in our community, or recommend against it.

This is an ongoing series from a forthcoming fiction novel by Laura Ramnarace.
Tune in weekly for the next chapter in ‘Sung Home’.

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Laura Ramnarace, M.A. was driven to earn a master’s degree in Conflict Resolution while on her quest to find out why we can’t just all get along. She has published a book on inter-personal conflict, ‘Getting Along: The Wild, Wacky World of Human Relationship’, published a newspaper column also titled ‘Getting Along’, and submits regularly to Rebelle Society. Since 1999, she has provided training to a wide variety of groups on improving personal, working and inter-group relationships. ‘Sung Home’ is a work of eco-fiction set in southwestern New Mexico.

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