hill at night with torches

Full Moon at Meadowlark Hill with Torches, September 2017

For Bruce, who was the first contributor to this story, a lifelong guardian of the earth, and beloved of many. His spirit remains with us as we carry his torch onward. 

After the great separation, the mother spirit looked upon the earth and upon all that was to come, and she saw that her love for all life would one day no longer be enough to balance the forces of destruction. She saw that there would come a day when the people could no longer feel her presence—the presence of unity—when they would forget the veins that connected all things together just below the surface, pulsing with their shared lifeblood. She saw that there would be a day when the only voices the people might have a chance of hearing would be human voices, speaking human languages. So on that primeval day when the earth was still young and time had not yet been invented, when the sounds of the sea creatures and the lush ferns and the animals that crawled upon the land and the very first humans still blended together in a synesthetic symphony, the mother spirit decided she must lend her own voice to the people that were to come.

It was not an easy task to choose, for although her voice was great, so too would be the numbers of humans upon the earth, so too would be the vast expanse of history throughout which she had to distribute her voice. How could she ensure that once her voice was gone, her message would endure? After pondering this for some time, she decided she would assign to each willing person a plant or creature or other living thing, and for that person’s whole life, they would be its voice and its protector, and when each person drew their last breath and returned to the soil, their voice would pass on to a new guardian.

These are the voices of our days:

To Bruce she gave the voice of the maidenhair fern, who has graced us with her feathery crown since ancient days.

To Nancy she bestowed the voice of sneezeweed, full of radiance at summer’s end, all its body metamorphosing into a blaze of dazzling flowers.

To Kayla she imparted the voice of the wise and ancient box turtle, who is at home wherever he may wander, and who, when his time on earth is done, offers his shell as a vessel for our gratitude.

To Bob she bestowed the trillium, queen of the woodland draped in robes of white velvet.

Martha and Lew she gave the indigo bunting, among the chosen few given dress of deepest purple, whistling songs of gratitude to any who will be their audience; and also sweet and fair wild hyacinth.

Jean she made the protector of pretty rose-breasted grosbeak who serenades the woods with operatic melodies in summertime.

To Anh she gave the showy orchid’s voice, whose sweet perfume enchants the waking wood at winter’s end.

Cameron would be caretaker of the red cedar trees that climb slowly up the cliffsides, branches bowed in reverence over rushing water.

Amy she made keeper of the humble lichen that grows on gray granite.

To Betty she gave the eastern wahoo, its scarlet hearts burning bright when Venus dances across the autumn sky.

To Fern she gave the voice of the trout lily, its gentle flower and iridescent leaves like troutskin tattooed upon her heart.

To Aaron she gave the voice of that spry gymnast columbine, perched sideways and upside down from cliffs and boulders.

To Crystal she gave the voice of the partridge berry, tiptoeing along the quiet forest floor, oft unseen till dark midwinter draws our eyes there.

Lewis she made guardian of the mighty red oak, tall sentry of the forest.

To Debi she gave the princely gray fox, that elusive night-dancer who makes its home in high and hallowed trees, who on still midwinter nights sometimes overhears the whispers of the ancient Pleiades.

And to Anne she gave the voice of the stones, because she understood that stones, too, move and live, although few among humans can be still enough to know this.

And the voice of the water she gave to the ten thousand guardians who would be willing to stand together in the heat of summer and frigid winter winds until the end, for without water there can be no other life.

And what of those who speak for the beings wiped out by disease or destruction? What of the little girl born beneath a canopy of American chestnut trees, who gave their shade in summertime, who showered their harvest each autumn, whose fallen wood fueled the winter fires, or built the cabins now reddened with age? Now she is an old woman, now there are no chestnut trees that can survive the blight, but still she is their voice. Her tears remind the other guardians of the importance of their task; her tree-memories are everyone’s memories.

When the mother spirit was nearly done naming all the living things, she realized that she had forgotten something—the humans themselves. For although they would become the most powerful of all the creatures, they would bring the same destruction upon each other that they inflicted upon the earth. And those people who already shared her spirit, who understood how to maintain the balance of all things, how to take from the earth but not too much, how to honor the dead, how to tend and heal the land—those people needed guardianship, too.

And so, what little of her voice remained, she divided among the famers, the miners, the hunters, the woodcutters, the brewers and winemakers, the blacksmiths and bakers, the midwives, the teachers, the protectors of children, the abolitionists, the men and women who hurry out in the night to help the dying, those who tend the cemeteries, the soldiers and the nurses who dress their wounds, the saints and monks who never cease their prayers for peace.

But she did not share her voice with kings and generals, nor with bankers or barons or landlords who believed it their right to own what can belong to no one.

When her voice was gone, she waited in everlasting silence.

And when the day came that the inventions of humans allowed some voices to resonate louder than others, when little could be heard over the shouting of the bankers and barons, when the protectors of the people forgot that everything taken from the earth is a gift and not a right, when the voices of the people-protectors and the caretakers of the animals and the tree guardians and those who shed a hundred thousand tears for the water, when their voices all rose in an indistinguishable cacophony of despair—on that day, the mother spirit wept. For it is a misconception that the spirits do not weep as men and women do. And she knew that until the voices that she had distributed among the millions began to join together in one song, balance would not be restored to the earth.

Still, there was a seed of hope buried within her, for she knew that it is the nature of the universe to restore balance, and it is the nature of humans to sing. She had seen it across the ages, around the campfires that were lit wherever people gathered in number, in Bedouin deserts and boreal forests, on vast plains and misty moors and icy fjords, the fire would be ignited, and one small voice would rise in song. Then another would join and another, and before long, with shining eyes gazing upon each other in the flickering light, all the peoples’ voices rose into the dark night as one, singing the symphony of life to which no human alone knows the score, but which is etched in our shared memory.

She waited in silence for the first spark, the first note.