Words and art by Heidi Hansen, copyright2016
We open this book with a crisis. We open this book with a sound, a horrible crack and cackle carreening through the air and up against the sunrise attic windows. Rattling the glass, blowing out the latches and bursting open the only window of that cerebral topspace of The Muse Academy Swirling gusts of blackish moldy fumes that took shape in the hidden sky only because the sun was starting to rise.
“He’s not here,” growled the Head Vacuus in disgust and fury.
“Where did he go?” shrieked the icycle sharp Vaccus.
“I hate you!” yelled the thick stubby Vacuus, slamming the work table — the artist’s work table — against the far wall, scattering paints and brushes and pens and books and a clock and a telescope and the cat who had been sleeping there, now perched high in the rafters with her fur sprayed out like a spiny sea urchin. She hissed dewey spurts in confrontation.
“He’s where you will not get him,” calmly stated the Attic Keeper from a resting chair near the fireplace. The small glowing burm had not gone out when the Vacuus burst in, but had been reduced to flickers and twinkles.
“Curses!” shouted the Head Vacuus and started to leave out the open window. But then, stopped briefly and turned sneers towards the Attic Keeper. “But we will, you know. heh he heh heh.. We will. We always do.”
The Vacuus swooshed out through a slurping black hole which briefly sucked the oxygen out of the attic. For a moment, everything in the room, including the cat, became muted as the sound, textures and colors of the artist’s attic room became mute. Almost frozen although it was not cold. Just empty. Just a heavy pervasive nothingnessin the wake of the Vacuus.
The Vacuus storm could be heard in the distant outdoors, traveling east over the lower grounds of the Muse Academy campus, towards the woods in the distance.
“Please, Zeke,” the Attic Keeper murmered to herself as she winced and grimaced, closed her eyes tightly and raised her head toward the sky. Her hands caught the cat jumping down onto her lap. “Keep safe.”
Zeke Worthy loved storms. Although his task today was weighty, serious, perhaps even life-threatening, he began his adventure journey with a certain merriment that is common to storm lovers. A tingling sense of curiosity lifted his steps. An appreciation for the spontaneous unknown kept his boots moving at a brisk pace.
Electrity zinged in the air, over long, reaching branches of the Big Leaf Maple. The lacework of lichen and mosses that grew on them twitched a bit.
Then, a black form suddenly caught the back of Zeke’s head with a swirling cusp, and briefly he turned sharlply cold and stiff. All was not well with this storm. He had just been brushed by the tail end of a Vacuus and it was time to flee.
“Quickly now. Not dilly dally. Get to safety. The safety of the woods ahead. Quickly, Zeke, move fast and with wits about you,” the Attic Keeper murmered over the open sketchbook in front of her. She sat at her worktable, now, preparing a quill pen and ink bottle to draw apatch of Fairy Slipper.
The Attic Keeper was talking to Zeke. From the Attic, with windows closed and latched, unseen and unrecognized even to Zeke, her presence and communication was felt and heard through the most powerful tool — sometimes a weapon — an artist has. Her sketchbook.
The Attic Keeper had set her worktable straight, fed the cat a can or reassuring tuna, and was sitting at it with her sketchbook open and iluminated by a hearty, warming morning fire. Pages of native plant flowers, root studies, bulbs and leaves and trees and berries and birds and warblers, woodpeckers, squirrels and frogs were stacked up on her work table.
She turned to a fresh page in her sketchbook, and there was Zeke, in real time, running down the path with one hand holding his hat on. Flailing with his walking stick, backpack of sandwiches and sketchbook and pens, running down a trail over the campus yards and towards the woods.
The Attic Keeper drew on the sketchbook page. She drew an extension of the path, and with the quill pen drew in pebbles and ferns, then a strong hedge. A thick Blueblossom hedge, with lattice work of Western Red Cedar for a canopy overhead.
Frightened and brave at the same time, knees quivering but eyes roaming ahead, Zeke followed the pull. The silent voice that spoke to his feet with a genuine friendliness, as though he were being invited to a grand party of old friends, feasts of foods and platters of tasties made just for him.
Odd, he mused to himself. Am I running from the Vacuus, or going to a party?
“Welcome to Nativica, Zeke,” said the Attic Keeper with a sigh of relief, speaking to the image of Zeke on the sketchbook page. . “Now, to find the solution that will save The Muse Academy. Make it possible for muse students to return. Get back the Ideas that The Vacuus stole. So we can have commerce again using our ideas.
“I will help you, Zeke. You don’t know me, and you don’t know I’m here for you through this sketchbook. Nobody knows I am here in the Attic. Everyone thinks the buidling is empty. Nobody knows you stayed on, either. Hiding out in empty classrooms and empty dorm rooms trying so hard to think of a way to save the Muse Academy. Keep it open. So the Muse students can return.
“Here we are together, trying to do the same thing, but unknown and unseen to each other. I’ll help you through this sketchbook. But, Zeke, there is someone else who knows where you are. The Vacuus.”
Nativica knew, too. The native plants and animals and a hodge-podge of habitats of the North West are fully observant and responsible for their woodswalkers.
They perfectly knew Zeke was here.
“You can talk?” Zeke wasn’t all that surprised, you know, that the plants of Nativica could talk, but he was surprised they knew his name.
A bunch of bright Red Osier Dogwood, that were hugging the banks of a salmon spawning stream, said softly, “Of course we know your name. We know just about everything about children of creation. We’ve been around a long time, you know. Native plants of the north west. We’ve been here forever. We’re old pro’s.”
“Why are you whispering?” Zeke bent down close to the Red Osier Dogwood, and could see, nestled by its roots sitting in the streambank, vibrant pink pink salmon laying their eggs.
“WWOOOSH!” A thundering rattle shook the ground and trunks of the trees. A chill, the kind that sticks to your neck and locks your jaw, grabbed the air around Zeke.
They did not.
“No worries, Zeke,” said a chipper voice. Nativica calmed and returned to being the balm of wild orderliness it was before.
Wild is right! That chipper voice belonged to a bike!
Free Range Bike, from Portland, Oregon, leaned up against a Paper Birch Tree. He nodded a hello to Zeke, and another nod to a frog sitting in a paper coffee mug with a funky logo that said, “Hilla Beans Coffee.”
“You okay, Barista? Zeke, meet Barista, my partner,” said Free Range bike. “She just finished putting on a training workshop for the frogs that live here in Nativica. They are learning new techniques of measuring toxins in the air as well as the water.”
“Frogs do that?” asked Zeke.
“Oh sure.” Free Range beamed at Barista with pride. “That’s their job. They’re skin is so porous — so very thin – air and water toxins can easily be absorbed, and measured with it. They report back to Barista, and Barista reports any kind of polution to the Big Guys in Portland. The human children of creation whose job it is to keep air and water clean for everyone. Frogs and people both and all in between!”
“Wow. Never knew!” Zeke shook his head with information overload. Far off, far away from Nativica but so loud he could still hear it, roared a Vacuus storm, angry at their failure.
Like any good woodswalker facing a violent storm, Zeke sat down to write a poem. Not wanting to peel away the Paper Birch’s lovely curled bark, he opened his sketchbook and took out a pen.
As soon as his pen met the page, Nativica started talking.
The old Doug Fir croaked, “Words change things, Zeke.”
“Comfort changes things,” said a native northwest Snowshoe rabbit, pure white all over and fluffy and twitching her nose as she sniffed at a Fairy Slipper. This tiny little native northwest orchid is the first to bloom in spring, sometimes poking right out of the snow!
“You can change things.” Whispered the Attic Keeper.
She watched Zeke’s pen draw and write words that danced over like Glowbugs and took the form and texture and pattern of a poem.
Cheering happily, a great throng of twinkling lights flew up and around Zeke, his sketchbook and took his hat and flew off with it. Zeke gave chase after the Glowbugs with a merry laugh.
“Hey, give me back my hat!” Zeke ran up a rock to grab at the mischevious Glowbugs. Some were stiped, some were polka dotted, some had round wings, some had triangle wings, some had straight antennae, some had curly-cue antannea. They could not be caught but tossed back the hat.
Zeke jumped down off the rock. “You’re not native northwesterners!” he scolded the Glowbugs with a smile. “You’re just scamp -erners!”
Words change things. That stuck in Zeke’s mind.
Several kinds of seeds, bulbs, rhyszomes and nuts were gently tucked into Zeke’s backpack by the native plants — and the Western Gray Squirrel that had met him outside tthe Blueblossom hedge.
“Adapt and evolve.” Zeke mused to himself, as he plucked a handful of small native northwest blackberries and popped them in his cheeks. “Now, there’s a solution.”
Old Doug Fir said, “Observe all around you. We are all children of creation. It’s just in us to survive and be even better than before. Even if grimey greedy foul forces try to suck the life out of you, you’ll find a new way of adapting and evolving.”
“Unless there’s too many toxins,” Barista cautioned. “There’s only so much a living thing can adapt to.”
“You can do it, Zeke,” Free Range Bike said. “Don’t let the Vacuus tell you who you are. Only you get to say who you are. What you create. Your ideas, what you want to do with them, how you can contribute to your ecosystem. Don’t forget, you are also one of this universal and equalizing gift: Our planet.”
And, from a distance, the Attic Keeper whispered, “The Vacuus can’t really do anything significant to you, Zeke. Whatever they do can only be temporary because no matter what you lose or is taken, you always have your Self. That remains. Whatever you had to begin with, that’s where you begin again.”
The Vacuus were howling closer now, and the sun was setting lower in the sky.
“Better get home, now, Zeke,” said Free Range Bike, “C’mon, I’ll give you a ride.”
Zeke said his thank you’s to all, and was made to promise to return very soon to Nativica. Especially to attend the Fall Leaf contest.
Free Range Bike checked the Hilla Beans coffee cup (must be a Seattle store, Zeke mused to himself) to see if Barista was situated safely, which she was. He motioned for Zeke to climb on his seat. “Remember, I do the pedaling,” said Free Range, “but hang on ’cause we’re gonna make a beeline home for you. Stay outta range of those filthy freaky whisps out there.”
A few Glowbugs lit their path home out of Nativica, as the Attic Keeper — cracking open a can of tuna for the cat — watched from her sketchbook.
“Nicely done,” she said to Zeke. “You didn’t need me so much after all!”
Free Range bike was hufffing and pufffing a bit as they rode up to the steps of the empty, quiet, darkened Muse Academy.
“My tires are a little flat.” he wheezed to Zeke. “Any chance you gotta tire pump in there?”
“They’re might be one up in the attic,” Zeke replied as he hopped off and skipped up the front steps. “I’ll go see. Be right back.”
Zeke zoomed up Four flights of stairs, pulled himself up the wall ladder to the attic trapdoor, and hoisted himself up and over. When he stood up, Zeke found himself face to face with an artist.
An artist holding out a big red tire pump. “Will you be wanting this, by any chance?” she said with a grin.
As they got to know each other that evening, over tuna sandwiches and cold milk and honey crisp apples and a comforting fire, Zeke and the Attic keeper hatched a plan to save the Muse Academy.
It involved unwrapping and dusting off an old paper printing press from the storage shed.
And, what Zeke discovered in his backpack.
When he opened his pack to show the Attic Keeper the seeds and bulbs and cones and nuts given to him from Nativica, he found several stacks of worn-out, bulging, frayed sketchbooks. The Muse’s ideas that had been stolen by the Vacuus! Given to him by Nativica!
“Somebody loves you.” The Attic Keeper looked at Zeke as he spread out the volumes of stories, poems, plays, songs, inventions, innovations, recipes, dance routines and drawings and doodlings and all manner of simple words from many languages sliding around.
All of that, became a book.
Stacks of beautiful, shiny new books. Books with drawings. Color drawings.
And guess who delivered those stacks of new tomes to the independant bookstores around the cities of the north west?
You gottit! Free Range Bike. With his partner Barista doing the geo-thermal -navigation.
The commerce from those booksales funded the Muse Academy from then on. The Muse students returned, learned, graduated and went out to plant the seeds of talent and knowledge that had helped them so much.
Zeke planted the seeds of Nativica. Everywhere that was sensible, and where he couldn’t plant seeds of plants, he planted seeds of knowledge and inspiration.
He taught everyone he could about native plants so they became popular and protected. So they can be used in the manner they were made for: To protect, preserve and inspire the children of creation and make conscious, careful wooksdwalkers of us all.
______________________________by Heidi D. Hansen, copyright2016, all rights reserved. Permission required to reproduce. email: firstname.lastname@example.org .