fiction

Sung Home: Chapter Forty. {fiction}

Frank, Victorio, Noah and I set out early the next morning with our three guests.

Frank and Noah took the lead, since they knew the route to the Forest People’s home. Our visitors rode behind them, and Victorio and I brought up the rear. It had been nearly a year since I had ventured so far from our neighborhood, on my hunting trip before I came home to my rodent-ravaged pantry.

The easy nighttime chill lifted as soon as the sun cleared the eastern horizon, the late summer rays quickening our blood as we sauntered through the fragrant ponderosas, broad, dense junipers, and flat-palmed cedars. The surrounding mountains thrust into the iridescent turquoise sky and the air smelled of the lazy river algae, pine needles and the rich soil steaming from a night of rain.

Fat jays squabbled over bunches of plump juniper berries while hawks circled above. Two squirrels raced up a Douglas fir, scolding us as we passed. Farther along we encountered tiny purple and yellow wildflowers perched atop delicate green stems amidst their minute leaves, scattered in festive swathes across a broad hillside.

As the sun rode high in the sky, we came upon a thick stand of yuccas sheltered against a steep north-facing slope and stopped to fill canvas bags with their delicately flavored, cream-colored blossoms. Later, Victorio and I paused at a deep eddy in the river to spear several Gila trout.

The river bank wore a thick carpet of purslane, so we pulled up several handfuls of that, rinsing it in the river before stashing it with the yucca blossoms. When we stopped for lunch, Barbara came upon a cluster of wild oregano, some of which she draped in small bundles across her saddle to dry.

My chest swelled happily as we penetrated more deeply into this riotous, bubbling cauldron of life that was our mountainous home. This home that fed, housed and protected us, so superbly, so richly.

Around the campfire the first night, Frank sat close to Noah and they spoke in low, somber tones while we all ate a delectable stew of fresh fish, yucca blossoms, wild oregano and purslane. After dinner, Noah and Frank ceased their serious exchange while Barbara, Daniel and Sarah entertained us by singing some folk songs brimming with rich harmonies and heart-rending lyrics.

“I came from a very musical family,” said Barbara, face flushed with her happy exertions when they had finished, “I have tried to keep the songs alive by teaching them to our group. It would be a shame to lose all our songs.”

“That’s the thing, isn’t it?” asked Frank, “How do we hang on to as much of what we had as possible?”

“Maybe we shouldn’t hang on to everything,” said Noah seriously, then turning to smile at Barbara, he added, “just the good things, like folk songs!” Serious again, he continued, “I mean, is metal, for instance, good or bad? What does it cost the land, the water, to mine it? Is it really worth it?”

“There are so few of us left, humans, and so much in our landfills, we wouldn’t need to mine new metal, just dig it out of our dumps, and scavenge it from all the dead cars and empty homes,” said Victorio.

“But how long would that last? If we rebuild a way of life that requires metal, and our population expands again, we’ll be right back to where we left off. Mining more and polluting more and destroying more habitat,” said Noah.

“For centuries, people used metal that was easy to get to, and that didn’t cause so much harm. Few people, a little digging here and there, limited use. The earth heals easily from that,” said Frank.

Sarah chimed in, “Some of our group are of Amish descent. Their parents and grandparents never did get into technology much, though they did use a minimal amount of metal.”

“Some of our group too!” laughed Victorio. “No, really though, the Apache side of my family was living just like we are right now, right here, camping, just a few generations ago. We also used metal that we found on the surface. We had a strict prohibition against mining it though. We were taught not to ‘grub in the earth’. We don’t think it’s such a big deal to go back to living that way.”

“But you aren’t going back that way, are you?” countered Noah.

Victorio flushed. “You know that Grandpa Joe isn’t as healthy as he used to be. He spent his whole life here in the Gila riding horses, but he hardly ever gets on a horse any more. He’s just not strong enough. He sleeps a lot and gets tired fast. He built that cave with his own hands, right here in our traditional homeland, just in case something happened. Which it did. I’m not taking him anywhere.”

“Well, what about after…?” started Noah.

“After he dies, you mean? I don’t know. I think our life in the caves is pretty low tech. I don’t think a few solar panels makes that much difference,” said Victorio.

“Yeah, it’s just that now we have a chance to start over, without too many people, using too many resources.” Noah’s tone softened and I detected a slight pleading, “We don’t have cattle destroying the soil, and we do have wolves back. The mines aren’t draining our water table, or poisoning what’s left. That’s a good thing. I’m afraid we’re going to make the same mistakes that got us into the situation we were in.

We could create a great world, for humans and for everything else. But we can’t do that if we live the way we were living.”

“Yes,” said Sarah, “That’s been a big question in our village. How can we move forward without recreating the problems of the past? There’s a lot of debate about that, but we all agree that things weren’t good before, and that we can do better.”

“I think you’re right. We can’t live the way we did before. But we also don’t all have to live the same way,” I said.

“Yeah, okay, I know…” said Noah, letting the matter drop.

Other than a brief encounter with a mother bear and her two cubs, which we handled diplomatically by quietly changing our direction until we had safely passed, and a sharp stone that had lodged in Barbara’s horse’s hoof, which Victorio skillfully removed, our trek proceeded without incident. Victorio and I made our bed out of earshot of the others each of the two nights out.

We arrived around midday on our third day of travel, crossing a short steep valley and up the other side to a broad meadow protected by a tall, curved hill that hunched inwards on the other three sides. The spacious circle of tipis and yurts sat near the hillside, the corral and stable for the horses to the west and the goat enclosure to the east.

Their late summer garden bloomed gaily on the near side of their home site, along with a large corn patch, near the spring.

The backs of several gardeners huddled amongst the greenery indicated that their harvest was proceeding as rapidly as our own. Long, stout tables stood next to the plot topped with knives laid out neatly at one end and drying screens woven of thin cordage stacked next to those.

As we walked past the garden, I spotted a shallow flint knapping pit a dozen yards away, set about with low stump stools and occupied by three youngsters and an older man, all of whom had been focusing intently on the stone in their hands until they heard us coming and looked up in interest.

Barbara whistled shrilly and a stir ensued inside the circle of shelters as a score of people — large, small, old, young, quick and slow — gathered to watch our arrival. One man in particular, broad-shouldered and raven-haired, strode forward to meet us. All but one of us may as well have been invisible to him because, once located, his eyes never left Noah’s face.

Noah dismounted as soon as their eyes met, tugging his horse impatiently so as to join his lover as soon as possible. The two embraced each other and kissed passionately and long as everyone laughed and cheered. Noah’s horse stamped and huffed as the rest of us passed.

As I rode by, I overheard Juan-Carlos whisper to Noah, “I was so afraid you wouldn’t come back…”

Yazmin was right. We had to make friends with other groups. We needed each other for more than food and technology. We needed each other for love.

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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