INDEX - CULTURE
SUBJECT: TALK STORY
SOURCE: JUAN WILSON email@example.com
POSTED: 3 FEBRUARY 2004 - 4:30pm HST
An Ecological Children's Story
image above: illustration by Kinuko Y Craft for Lotus Corporation
Earth Mover and Earth Tender
by Juan Wilson in 1993 in The Gobbler
Once upon a time a couple lived together just as you might find couples living today, except they weren't folks like you or me. You see they weren't folks at all, although one of them was much like a woman. She was the Earth Tender. The other was much like a man. He was the Earth Mover.
Some people today might say they were gods. Well nothing could be farther from the truth. They hadn't made the world. They just lived in it and to some degree changed it. Other people might call them giants and make up fairytales about them. But they weren't really the giants of fairytales either, although they were big and could get a lot done in one day if they set their minds to it.
Earth Mover and Earth Tender spent most of their days working and their nights relaxing and having fun. During the day they worked on current projects. Sometimes they worked together, and sometimes apart. Often they worked on different parts of the same project.
At night they would rest. Most nights they would talk about what they had done that day, or their plans for the next day. They talked as they watched the sky while the world revolved slowly across the moon and stars. Earth Tender especially liked it when Earth Mover told funny stories about his day's work. Earth Mover liked best hearing from Earth Tender about what a good job they were doing and how much she loved doing it.
Their jobs consisted of making the world beautiful and a better place to live in. They searched the world for unfinished places, and places that could stand a little improving. It was hard work, but it had its satisfactions. Earth Mover usually started the new projects they worked on together. If he was in a lake building mood when he woke in the morning, he might spend half the day wading through a virgin timber forest as high as his waist until he found just the right spot. When he found it he would check around the site to see if his first intuition about the place was right, and then he would begin work.
Once he started it was hard to distract him. He would work in a frenzy. He'd kick down rows of trees. He'd scoop out the earth in a broad flat bowl-shape with his bare hands. He'd pitch unwanted boulders over his shoulder. He'd pack the ground hard and flat with his feet. Finally, he'd use a large tree trunk to scratch out new paths for the surrounding streams. When he was done he would sit down leaning against the trees at the edge of the forest. For a while he'd watch the streams trickling in to fill his new creation. Then he'd usually fall asleep. He called this napping.
Often this is how Earth Tender would find him. She'd come across Earth Mover during one of his siestas. That's when she'd begin her work on the project. In the case of a lake, Earth Tender would usually start at the bottom, planting grasses and weeds to feed the fish and other creatures who would live in the lake. She'd mend the rough edges of the shoreline where there were dead stumps. She'd hide them in fresh cattails. She'd spend hours planting wild meadow flowers and find the best places to put little sandy beaches. She'd even smooth out the jagged broken stones, turning them to rounded pebbles. She'd cover the boulders with moss and lichen. By the time Earth Mover woke from his nap she'd be done and ducks would be landing in the sparkling water, and the deer would be sniffing its coolness from beyond the tree line.
Earth Tender will tell you, as nice as Earth Mover's work was, he'd always leave a real mess behind him. Sometimes he'd leave muddy streams behind him all stirred up. She'd calm them down and make them clear again. Sometimes when he was working on new land he'd underestimate things and cover much of a newly finished rain forest with steaming lava. You can be sure, if you've never dealt with steaming lava, its quite a mess.
he'd say, and look at her out of the corner of his downcast eye. Then she'd have her hands full.
Although Earth Mover would never say so, Earth Tender had a tendency to go a little overboard in her own way. She seemed to have a weakness for bright colors. Occasionally she'd just smother a hillside in magenta petalled flowers, and Earth Mover would just shake his head. And if a particular creature pleased her, she'd just make millions of them. Sometimes it was bunnies, other times butterflies. It usually fell on Earth Mover to fix things up if they got way out of hand. Like with the dinosaurs. They were just too damn big. If things got too bad he usually made it very dry, or very wet, or very cold, or very hot for a while and then the trouble would just go away on its own.
Earth Mover and Earth Tender passed century after century working together this way, and thousands of years passed. All in all, the world was getting more beautiful all the time. He would cut and fill the hillsides and she would blanket them with life. They were both very happy. But, as is usually the case when things are just about right, trouble was coming.
It all had to do with the people. Oh yes, people were around even then. There weren't many of them. Mostly they ran around with pointed sticks yelling at each other. At night the people made fires and told scary stories to each other. They didn't know much about Earth Mover and Earth Tender and didn't care. Frankly, this was because they were stupid.
Of Earth Mover's work they would say,
"What did we do to deserve this?" or "Maybe it's God's will!"
Of Earth Tender's forest work they would say,
"Cut'em all down! Don't worry, they'll grow back."
or sometimes, when pressed about a nasty mistake they would say
"Time heals all wounds."
They went about hunting down everything in sight and making at least as much of a mess as Earth Mover himself. When a place was ruined they would simply move on to the next place.
As I said, they were pretty stupid. But Earth Tender had taken quite a liking to the little creatures anyway. When Earth Mover wasn't around she'd make sure it was easier for them to get along in the world. She thought it was cute the way they fell in love and cared for their young. Soon the little pests were everywhere.
She spent time that might have been otherwise used to complete unfinished projects, to make sure people had plenty of animals to hunt and plenty of nearby fruit trees to pick. Instead of planting a sturdy stand of trees against the rough alpine slope of a new mountain, she'd be watching her pets build bigger villages.
None of this was of serious concern to Earth Mover... until they started getting underfoot. One blissful summer evening he was just settling back to rest. He planned to tell Earth Tender a particularly funny adventure he'd had while carving a cliff face for a new waterfall. Then it happened. A group of people had made a big fire right behind him. First he smelled the smoke. It reeked of burnt game. Next the smoke was in his eye. Confused, he roared and tried to roll away. In so doing he crushed out the fire and several of the little creatures as well.
Earth Tender was furious. She called him a brute. Unfeeling. Insensitive. Earth Mover felt terrible. So next, he tried to rebuild the fire for the people that survived and only succeeded in burning down a fairly large section of forest. Earth Tender didn't speak to him for a week. And the people were furious too. They had never been too happy with his work anyway. Soon they were calling him a wrathful god. A fire god. A thunder god. A volcano god. An earthquake god. As Earth Mover saw it, he wasn't a god... Just a guy trying to get his job done.
To make up to Earth Tender he tried to stay as far away from people as possible. He walked far from their settlements to start his day's work. These hikes to distant places must have inspired him, for he did some of his most dramatic and breathtaking work in these remote parts of the world. But staying out of the way of people proved impossible. Earth Mover couldn't even finish a new part of the world before the people were underfoot again. They would make more fires and wave even sharper sticks at each other and occasionally even torture one of their own number thinking this would make Earth Mover happy. He thought they were crazy.
As their numbers grew, the people spread out, moving into more of the earth's places. This began to be a real chore for Earth Tender. Now she was spending half her time trying to clean up after new cute little people in places she had thought were just about perfect until they arrived. Earth Mover and Earth Tender began to argue a lot. He said she wasn't getting her work done. She said he didn't care about anything but himself.
Finally, one night when Earth Mover was feeling tense and unhappy about the way things were going, Earth Tender asked, "What's wrong with you? Are you upset? Tell me what you're feeling."
At first Earth Mover was silent. He knew that by asking him what he was feeling usually meant she was going to argue with him. But this time he sensed something different about Earth Tender. So, he decided to go into it one more time.
"It's those people of yours. They're underfoot all the time. They are making a holy-hell of the places we completed millennia ago. New work is getting almost impossible to do. Those people are even moving into unfinished areas. They seem willing to live anywhere, as if it didn't matter where they were. To get anything done now I'd have to flood their overflowing villages, or bury their teeming cities."
When he finished he hunkered down, waiting for her angry words. But they didn't come. Now it was her turn to be silent for a moment.
She turned to him and said;
"You're right. I've known for some time that they were spoiling their own nests and ruining things for other creatures. There are too many of them and they don't seem to know what they are doing. Sometimes I even think they may be stupid or something. They certainly don't seem so cute when there are so many of them."
"Okay! Let me turn the heat up on them then," he interrupted.
"Not yet!" she answered, "Before we do anything rash, let me talk to them. If they won't listen to me then we'll just start all over again. And this time, if there are any people, we will make sure they don't spread around so much, make such a mess or ruin the fun for all the others."
Earth Mover was glad to hear this and drifted off to sleep, dreaming about digging out a valley he'd been thinking about in his spare moments. Earth Tender was glad too. She resolved to get up early the next morning to tell the little creatures about the new rules. As she drifted off she was sure they would listen.