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When they got older, they would leave creche and go to Junior and then on to the University. Once they went to Junior, they wouldn’t live in a school creche anymore. They’d move to a dorm with generations from all over Castor, and they’d all go to school together. After school, they’d work in the settlement and they’d see people of all different ages and work alongside them and be friends with them. Daniel had told them so.
The giraffe bud was very fat and swollen. Connie wished she could reach up and pop it, just for fun. She was tired of waiting for it to do something on its own. But once, when a boy named Jerry had pulled up three sweetleaf plants to see what their roots looked like, the whole generation had gotten in trouble. Jerry had to go to a special creche for unadjusted children, and the rest of them had had double classes in co-op life for three months.
“Mine’s opening!” Marta yelled. Connie sat up and examined her giraffe bud carefully. Sure enough, the tips of the petals were curling back to expose a single fat yellow seed, glistening and wet in the depths of the flower’s tube. Slowly the petals of the flower uncurled into a star shape. They gently quivered, although Connie felt no wind. A sweet fragrance filled the nap yard. The quivering continued as the flowers slowly turned on their stems, questioning the air around them. The children sat perfectly still on the moss, waiting and watching.
One by one across the nap yard the flowers stilled themselves. The stillness stretched out endlessly, but still the children remained motionless, waiting. All must cooperate for life to continue in balance. Gradually the yellow petals drooped and then fell from their blossoms to lie on the bare soil at the base of the plant. Connie watched in disappointment as the seed pod on her giraffe plant darkened, and then fell with a damp plop to lie beside the flower petals that had sheltered it.
“Looky mine!” called Angelo, and eleven heads turned to watch. Of all the flowers, only Angelo’s still quivered and strained. As Connie watched, the flower turned slowly until it faced away from Angelo’s moss patch. The empty moss patch beside Angelo’s was an unhealthy green that clashed with the uniform green of the other moss patches. The reason was obvious. The last windstorm that had lashed the nap yard had flattened the kifa patch’s symbiotic giraffe plant. Connie’s giraffe plant had suffered from the lashing of the wind, but under her care, it had survived. No child slept on that kifa moss; the giraffe plant had had no human to nurse it back to health. Already, most of its delicate fronds had been reabsorbed into the earth.
Angelo’s giraffe bud gave a final quiver as it oriented itself toward the dead giraffe plant. Then it, too, grew still. Slowly its delicate yellow petals fell, baring the fat green seed. Everyone waited in silence, but the seed did not fall.
“Well. What do you suppose will happen next?”
Connie started, as did the other children. They turned to find Daniel watching them all.
It was Teddy’s turn to speak an answer first, and he did. “The seed will grow where the old giraffe plant was.”
“That’s right, Teddy,” Daniel confirmed the obvious. “But not right away. Let’s look at everything that happened, in order. First, there was a big storm. All the plants had a bad day. Some were hurt. Then what happened?”
Silence. It was Angelo’s turn to answer, but he was staring at his seed.
“Angelo?” Daniel prompted gently.
“Oh. All the giraffe plants made seeds?”
“Right. Why do you suppose they did that?”
Connie’s turn. “Uh, maybe because they got kind of smashed in the storm, so they knew that maybe some of them would stop being alive.”
“That’s right. The storm was the biological stimulus that made them all make seeds. Today was a nice still day, with no wind, and all the seeds were ripe. So, what did they do?”
“Opened up.” Gabriel never spoke a word more than was necessary.
“That’s right. They opened up and then they all quivered. What did we notice when they quivered?”
“They were pretty, like dancers?” Marta whispered her answer. It was wrong. Marta was almost always wrong, but she still had to be given her chance to answer. And Daniel always tried to make it seem like she was kind of right. He was that kind of teacher.
“Of course, Marta. They were beautiful, like dancers, and they smelled pretty, too. And that pretty smell was how the giraffe plants say to each other, ‘I’m still alive and fine. Don’t send a seed over here!’”
Even Connie had to giggle at the funny voice Daniel used when he tried to be a giraffe plant talking.
“But,” he said, suddenly serious. “One giraffe plant couldn’t send that message.” He spoke quickly now, to get past the bad part. “It was dead. A seed was needed there. And when Angelo’s plant didn’t find any pretty smell coming from its direction, it turned toward the no-smell place. Now”—and Daniel’s voice suddenly got cheery again—“this is what will happen. Angelo’s plant will send the seed over there on a long stalk. We’ll all have to be very careful for a time, whenever we walk past Angelo’s kifa patch, to make sure we don’t step on that stalk or hurt it in any way. Soon the seed will get to where the old giraffe plant was, and the stalk will push it down into the dirt. Then a new giraffe plant will grow and that kifa moss will come back into balance again and be all healthy.”
Daniel looked at each child in turn. “Did you all notice that all the plants opened their flowers at once? That’s so they all have the same chance to spread a seed. But of course the chance always goes to the plant most likely to succeed.”
Everyone turned to look at Sherry. It was her turn to answer, but Daniel hadn’t asked a question. Still, it was her right to speak, but she could have waited until Daniel asked if anyone had any questions. Connie didn’t like it when people did things not quite right. It made her stomach feel funny.
“Do you have a question, Sherry?” Daniel asked, almost making it okay.
“What would happen if two giraffe plants sent seeds?”
“That doesn’t happen, Sherry,” Daniel said gently but firmly. “The sweet smell lets all the plants know where the next one is, and how big the cooperative patch is. The closest giraffe plant reseeds the missing place. And the outside plants don’t send seeds outward because the patches are always five plants by five plants.”
It wasn’t even Sherry’s turn anymore. Connie held her mouth tight, waiting for Daniel to get angry. Instead, he just sighed.
“Sherry, you should know why by now. The kifa moss patches are all part of Castor’s ecology. Too many kifa patches or too big of a patch would not be good for Castor. What do we say, always?”
“One planet, one ecosystem, one life,” the children chorused.
Sherry was going to open her mouth again, but Daniel said quickly, “Now, let’s all share with our kifa patches, and then we’ll go over to our weaving.” He immediately set an example, turning aside to urinate at the base of the pitcher plant that was at the northeast corner of an unoccupied kifa patch. All the children followed his example, sharing with their patches the fluids of their own lives. When all were finished, Daniel nodded, and they stepped out together, walking in their rows behind him as he led them off to the weaving shelter.
Of stars and the voids I sing, and of a kinless race,
Who suckled their Mother Earth dry, and wept not
At her barrenness, but abandoned her to death.
New worlds they found, and set aside their wolf’s teeth
To don the fleeces of sheep. But even sheep will overgraze
The grass. Their brown dung will spot the glorious green hillsides
In piles too large for the soil to kindly absorb….
John twitched in his sleep. No good, no good. Didn’t scan, and he wasn’t sure if sheep dung had been brown. Wouldn’t it be greenish, from their diet of grass?
“Write what you know!” the poetry master bellowed, and snatched John’s poem from his desk. The words flew loose, to scatter on the floor. “I don’t want to read about sheep or grass! Anyone can write some pastoral trash modeled on the old poets! Your task is to the poets of your own generation and time. Your poetry must be who you are and when you are and what you are, or it’s worthless!”
Dr. Crandall was panting with the strength of his emotions. John rose silently from his seat to gather the scattered words of his thoughts. What if I don’t want to be from this time, he wanted to shout. What if I want to know how my ancestors felt and thought and smelt? What if the only way we can really understand their poetry is to pretend to be them for a while? But he didn’t shout the words, not even in this dream.
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