SHORT #21: Rolling Up a Meadow
Standing in the meadow, Newton’s silver mop of hair whirled around, causing a lock of it to settle down over his eyes. The wind was playing games with him as he surveyed the land. About five meters by one-and-a-half. That should do it, Newton thought.
His sharpened shovel did the job well. Cut. Roll. Cut. Roll. Before half the day was passed, a whole swatch of meadow was rolled up neatly, and tied to his back with rope. As the old man and his meadow made their way to the road, the wind swept up again. This time, it helped push them along.
Newton arrived to his town in the next valley by foot around midnight. The site in the town square had already been prepared prior to his arrival. Five meters by one-and-a-half of bare soil. The unrolling of the meadow went quickly, and Newton was in bed before too long, lying down, staring up at the timber beam above his bed. Before he slept, Newton wondered, what the town would think tomorrow. This was likely the biggest triumph of his career as town gardener. An entire wild meadow transported into the town center. Far different from his normal yearly plantings, this meadow would long outlive him, progressing and changing on its own, providing beauty and joy and interest for generations. He slept deeply with that thought.
Shouts awoke Newton the next morning.
It’s the Blue Bucklewort! No! It’s the Orange Star Berry! Two kids were apparently bickering, about which flower was more beautiful. Newton, still in bed and worn out from the meadow moving, had a smirk on his face. This smirk shortly developed into a laugh, and this laugh eventually bellowed so, that Newton promptly fell out of bed and to his feet.
When he opened the front door, Newton found a crowd admiring the meadow. He shortly smiled and timidly bowed to the people, but his interest at this moment was the Orange Star Berry that the two kids had been arguing about. He hadn’t noticed it during the rolling up of the meadow, but in the morning light he spotted it instantly. Indeed, this was the very one. The ripples of bright gold and red were unmistakable. Having not seen one since childhood, he assumed they had all but vanished. This one would too, would die within a month. He knew this, because the roots of an Orange Star Berry needed to be several feet deep, yet he had cut the rolled-up meadow only a few inches down. Sad but inevitable, he thought. There’s no way to roll up an Orange Star Berry in a carpet of topsoil.
“It’s my favorite!” Tommy looked at the bright red and orange flowers, and then at Newton.
“It’s a nice one. Isn’t it?” Newton asked.
“Better than nice! It’s a stem sprouting golden shimmering suns!”
Poetic kid. It was likely his mother fed him those lines. But though the words were not his, they were also not empty. Newton could tell the child’s love for the flower was real. He couldn’t tell Tommy what he knew, about the flower’s impending death. Instead he nodded and smiled back. In a month, when he had time, he would again visit the meadowlands over the ridge to the west, to look for another Orange Star Berry.
He left for the meadowlands before the birds were up, expecting them to start their morning chatter by the time he caught site of the next valley. It had become frigid in the month that passed, and a now-bitter headwind battered his face and whirled at his hair. Gardener for fifty three years, tended to the town square, carried a whole landscape on my back, but that was the first Orange Star Berry I have seen since I was Tommy’s age. We’ll see if I can’t find another. He was resolute.
But Newton’s final few steps up to the ridgeline—the point that divided his agricultural valley from the next valley, and what were called the meadowlands—brought no birdsong. The absence of even a crack of song somehow told him the likes of what he would see in the next valley. There was no meadow. Instead, thousands of new empty parking spots, and foundations for buildings, all widely-spaced from one another. In between it all was bare, graded dirt. A landscape erased of life.
Newton couldn’t find the strength to step further into the erased landscape. He turned around before even crossing the ridge, and although the soft wind was at his back now, the walk down into his own valley felt even more difficult. He carried no meadow, but his feet dug into the ground as if he carried a mountain.
At some point in the trudge home came the first crack of birdsong. It was a Jibak, perched atop a roadside Persimmon tree, filled with brilliant orange fruits. The Jikbak cracked a song once and then twice as it jumped to take flight. The force of her launch sent a Persimmon tumbling down to the fertile valley earth.
If anything can help my condition, I suppose a fresh Persimmon can, thought Newton. Picking up the fruit, Newton spotted the Jikbak, now off in the distance, and nodded a thank you. The bird cracked song for the third time, and out in the field, Newton spotted it—a tiny stem, sprouting golden shimmering suns.
This story was inspired in part, by the work of the late Helen and Newton Harrison, and their project Endangered Meadows of Europe, where they did in fact, roll up an endangered meadow in Bonn, Germany, and move it prior to the land being developed.
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