Sunlight brushed the rooftops of the village, passing through drifting smoke from outdoor kitchens and wayward fog still not ready to go about it’s day. The village was positioned on the Northern edge of the great forest such that, though it had come out over an hour past, the sun did not reach the buildings at first. Mornings were bathed in blue light filtered through atmosphere and cloud.
Simon had been there for nearly a month. At first the blue mornings bothered him. He was used to bright orange porch sits with a big coffee to start the day. But that was another thing they didn’t do here, coffee. He had only brought a week worth of grounds and that had run out even faster because of the curious mouths of his new friends.
But what they lacked in orange light big coffee mornings, they made up for in sweet herbal tea orange late evenings.
The sun-eclipsing occurred so late in the day that kept time meant very little here. Simon had adjusted to the slow blue mornings and the 22nd hour sun-eclipsing life easily enough.
He hadn’t intended to stay for so long and yet they’d had a lot more to “talk” about than he’d expected. First of which was sorting out language. But as luck would always have it, a young man in the village had gone out into the world and brought back a surprisingly keen knowledge of Simon’s English.
They sufficed with translation, learning of keywords, and an effective amount of hand gestured and facial expressions.
What at first had felt cumbersome and irritating soon stretched their minds and Simon actually began to like the game of interpretive conversation.
Long lines of bright orange cut the village from dirt plazas up wooden walls to meticulously thatched roofs and down again. The blue had been replaced with gray tone as his eyes adjusted to the new color palette, and soon after the world was in full color yet again.
Villagers bustled about town. This society was something of an anomaly to Simon.
There was no baron, boss, or leader. Yet everyone followed the invisible rule of the Commons. There was a council meeting once a week in the center plaza, a space complete with cleanly cut and fitted slate stone floors and benches under stone-pillared wood-planked reticulated spiral roof. At the four directions were individual wells that served the village. Simon had sorted from a rather complicated interpretive conversation dance that the plaza was actually a cistern.
The four wells had been dug deep into the earth to draw water, and between them was dug and and stone-lined a great human-made pond That was then pillared and covered. The floor they walked on was the roof of the cistern, and each well had a hand-pumped spout that spilled over into a catch basin. The basin’s drained through troughs of charcoal and sand on their way to the great cistern such that either by over-flow of the villager’s bucket-filling process or the children having pumping competitions, the cistern was kept full.
Water from the cistern was used to feed animals and crops, and in times of heat or well repair as a replacement source of water.
There was something about this meeting occurring above, on, and surrounded by the village’s source of water that felt right to Simon. Though he couldn’t quite explain it yet.
At these meetings at the Center of Water the village navigated it’s path through resource use, social complications, seasonal party plans, defense and military priorities, and anything else that might need to be discussed.
But what struck Simon as interesting was that there was no official council.
Only a time and place was specified, and having seen three meetings already, fully welcome to participate, he gathered that though there were some usual faces nobody was expected to come or felt obligation to do so.
There was some sort of system of written record devised by which anyone who had been taught, Simon having seen a different person perform the task each time, would simply sit and record.
The end of the meeting was a five or ten minute process of reviewing the key points, writing a summary at the end of the page, and heading to the cellar for a pint.
From there anyone in the meeting could read the summary -and they did- and know exactly what was discussed. Any strong objections were brought up in conversation, notes were added, and the next meeting would pick up where the notes-from-casual-conversations left off.
Serious matters were put to a vote in a sort of tally system on a black-painted board for soap-stone chalk and that was that.
It was efficient, light hearted, and very matter of fact.
They had created no drama around the notion of management and therefore no formal leader was necessary.It was clear that particular individuals with a passion for any given area of activity could spear-head the process but even in these cases, if an individual wanted to get involved the spear-heading one would educate them, include them, and share the duties.
Simon had heard of a way of governing called ‘socialism’ but this was not that.
Likewise it had elements of democracy but as well, he had never seen a democratic village function so smoothly.
It reminded him of when he would meet with childhood friends at the right season and go hunting for bigger animals such as elk or bison. Each individual hunter was sovereign. They had their own gear, their own bow with arrows, dried food and tent; anything they’d usually use to hunt on their own.
But a troop would form -a sort of Cohort- and they would set up a large camp and go about the taught and remembered process of hunting animals far too large for one man alone.
In any given matter it was understood that someone in the cohort would have more experience than the rest, and it would be that person that led, only to be replaced with another when the task changed and a different source of expertise was present.
There was no need to formally set a leader. The one with the greatest knowledge was often obvious or called forward by his friends. The respect of granted authority was given because, ultimately, everyone wanted to go home with a full rack of meat for the season, and being the ruler of the small temporary camp was hardly a thing worth gaining at the expensive of the family’s protein source.
But that was six or seven men. A dozen at most.
The largest hunting cohort Simon had ever taken part in was over two dozen, far south, when years back he had be invited to a Buffalo hunt.
Simon had extracted through a clever system of counting to twelve with the bones of left hand fingers, collecting twelves on the right hand finger bones, that the village contained -including children- over a hundred people.
Some were visiting from afar for long stays to study and trade, but in general this meant a core community of well over 80 people.
Self organizing sovereignty, even down to the children, by way of this naturally flowing organically forming authority given by experience system of meeting at the Center of Water system had been exciting to witness and even more so humbling to have open invitation to contribute.
This was a true tribe.
Within less than a week they had decided they very much liked Simon. The young man with the impressive English had gone about extracting a detailed list of what Simon was good at. And within days other villagers he had not yet been introduced came up with questions about items on the list.
his knowledge of various subjects was extracted, appreciated, remembered, and distributed amongst the tribe. In some cases he was asked to demonstrate but Simon found that this system of organically aggregated wisdom created a villager that was a quick learner and an even quicker implementer.
These people were sharp as silver-tipped needles in fine cashmere wool.
But that did not in any way diminish their ability to settle down their minds and simply watch the world go about it’s day when the occasion called for it. And to that effect, Simon had been sent on an errand by a particularly honest old woman to learn how to “slow mind, remove shit from head, rest eyes”. She was not shy nor subtle about her observations and pantomime sharing of what she saw in Simon’s head with only careful observation of his mannerisms.
And she wasn’t wrong.
He did have a lot happening in his head at any given time. The speed of it was often a powerful tool. He could calculate and analyse quickly, plan and execute sharply. Simon felt his clever wit was a powerful tool.
As well, the old woman was not wrong in that it also never stopped. And once she had pointed the fact it was uncomfortably obvious that he was also constantly looking around; studying everything at once and thus sometimes nothing at all.
His busy mind was a blessing, but now obviously a bit of a curse.
But around another corner past a building built entirely of round plump river rocks mortared together between stout timber frames, Simon saw what he had been sent to find.
A short round house sat at the end of the road between the river rock hut and an open walled pavilion filled with all manner of textiles in process.
Colorful fabrics flapped in the breeze next to thick bundles of freshly spin wool, surrounded by fibers in various stage of refinement. Everything from basket making to loom weaving happened in this place. He had seen it before, but never noticed the unassuming round hut on the corner.
It was nothing particularly special, with round windows set deep in white limestone covered walls. It had a natural unevenness to it that when taken in as a whole was quite comforting. Irregular enough to fit in the natural world but refined and orderly as well.
Simon walked clockwise around the building under it’s high and wide eaves of cedar plank and thatch. The window glass was colored and dark such that he couldn’t see inside.
Five windows later he came upon a door. Average height with a round top, it was open a crack; the spicy smell of cinnamon and something he didn’t recognize wafting out of the gap.
He knocked twice and something between a squawking sound and a greeting replied. Simon pushed the door aside and stepped in to a room he did not expect.
The house was six or seven meters across, almost perfectly round, and lined with clean, perfectly fitted horizontal pine planks. If he had to guess the room had something like twenty sides, all perfectly matching in length and angles between, two meters high to a smartly reticulated ceiling. The rafters crossed one over the other until finally the last crossed over the first and the roof was essentially self-supported, leaving an opening in the center nearly 2 meters across. This was capped with a perfectly symmetrical eight-ribbed glass peak.
It was bright inside. And clean. White pine walls and floors with dark cedar roof and huge sky light center made this one of the most pleasant buildings he had entered in the village.
“Counting. Now counting. Walls. Glass.,” the old woman croaked, “Jan’et was true: your mind is busy and full of shit.”
Another feisty one. Yet as Simon turned to look at her sitting in her low rocking chair near the edge of the sun-light ring on the floor he could see and FEEL her kindness.
The older folks in the village were often very playful, it would seem.
“Jan’et is not wrong. My mind moves often,” he replied complete with gestures to his head and a chopping motion with his hands. He found the gestures gave them something to complete the conversation with and whatever English they knew was enough.
“Sit. Your pillow,” She said, pointing to a cushion on the floor.
Round and tall, it was surprisingly comfortable. Something dense filled the bottom while at the top a softer material cradled Simon’s weight.
“I said sit. Not thinking,” the woman scolded before a bout of light hearted cackling.
Simon scrunched his mouth and eyes in response which drew another cackle form the old woman.
Then as if ready for business she pulled her wool blanket tighter around her shoulders and sat up straight.
“Mind is strong. Good,” She began, “And mind is running. Bad. Teach mind to sit -sit like Simon sit- and mind soon is greater strong.”
Despite the broken English, which Simon had grown a fondness for, he understood. The villagers seemed to use English in a very particular way, probably similar to the grammar of their own language, and Simon had gotten used to how they built sentences. As best he could he mirrored theirs.
“Simon mind running. Always running. Quiet mind is a desired thing,” he replied.
“Quiet is ‘not running’ word”, he explained, cupping his hands around ‘not running’ to make it clearer.
“Ah!” she said with raised bushy eyebrows and a short cackle, “Queye-et. Good sound. Queyet feels same to ‘mind not running’. Fab’reh show Simon… quiet mind.”
Pleased that they had come to an understanding,Simon took his bag off shoulder and set it aside, pulling his own village-gifted wool poncho over his shoulders and settling his hands in his lap to signify he was ready.
“Good. Simon, please, small table to middle. Attentive to totem,” she requested pointing to a short table to the side.
It surprised Simon that some of the words they had collected and learned were not always the simplest options. But he had gathered that the community had a taste for efficiency, and in this way the complicated words like ‘attentive’ held an appeal because they contained subtle details that the village appreciated.
Simon pulled the table to the center, between them as she had suggested, and for the first time noticed the object sitting in the center.
The base was of cedar, he guessed, and sat flat but was itself round and curved on sides and top. Somewhat shaped like a pear it appeared similar to bits of wood he had found at the beach. Tossed in the waves for some time they were worn smooth; any angular bits taken off.
To the wider side was cut grooves and lines in a familiar shape: it was the rune of protection in one sense, but also in a fitting way, this mark represented control.
Mental stimulation and clarity yet in a way that is refined and directed. A process of inner growth and work.
It did not escape Simon that this was very intentionally chosen for this object in a place he had come because his mind was ‘full of busy shit’.
Standing upright in the grooves made by the rune was an object he had never seen before. It had three fins, like butcher’s blades, evenly fanned out from the center with their points up. Shapes were cut through them, as well as ridges across their surfaces. Markings strewn along their length reminded Simon of something he’d seen in the old man’s house.
Simon studied the lines and markings, trying to unlock the secrets of the object sitting quietly before him. Fab’reh studied him while he studied the object until Simon could feel her eyes and realized he had lost himself in thought again.
As he looked up with pursed lips that said ‘oops, I did it again, didn’t I?’ the woman was staring directly into his eyes. Another cackle.
“Busy mind, Simon. What ideas?” She asked casually.
Simon’s head spun with how he would translate the complex flood of thoughts that had just occurred into the simplified English the village understood. A moment later she cackled a deep belly laugh.
“Exactly true. Busy, busy, busy, busy, busy…” She chuckled half to her self.
After she’d gotten out a dozen ‘busy’s and a a bit of coughing from all of the excitement she cleared her throat, adjusted her blanket once more, and leaned forward to tap a finger on the top of the object.
“Totem for mind. Teaches Simon mind to be quiet,” she explained in a surprisingly sobering tone.
Simon tapped the totem hanging around his neck and with a side-tilted head that signified a curiosity asked, “Totem?”
“This totem,” pointing to his chest, “Is for body. Tells village who is friend.”
“This totem,” again tapping the top of the small shrine, “Is for table. Teaches mind to quiet.”
Simon understood. It was as he had thought. A tiny shrine of sorts.
“Focus, Simon,” she lightly scolded. She seemed to have a keen knowledge of when he was most definitely lost in his own thoughts. Was he that obvious?
She reached to the side of her chair and brought out what looked like a short and thin mud-covered stock of wheat. It was clearly rigid as it bounced in the air; end pinched between her knobby fingers. With the other hand she drew a small metal object from her pocket. Simon had seen nearly everyone in the village with these clever devices.
It was shaped like a child might draw a dog’s mouth, with wider flat parts at nose and chin. Held ‘throat’ down, a tiny wick protruded from the center like a tongue.
A quick pinching motion created a clicking grinding sound and in an instant the wick was lit with fire. It was genius.
She turned the tip of the mud-covered twig in the flame until it caught light. She blew out the dog-mouth fire starter and put it back in her pocket, eyes on the stick.
At some sign that was not clear to Simon, she blew the fire out and the smoke began to smoke instantly. The smoke was bright white and thick, but curled tightly like a ribbon before breaking apart.
The room filled with the spicy smell he had caught at the door. It was rich and thick with something heavy underneath the bright note of cinnamon.
She placed the non-burning end down between the Totem’s blades until it settled into a pin-hole at the bottom The stick was shorter then the blade tips which left the smoke ribbon to curl past them and upward. As the smoke danced gently she spoke in a tone that was now softer, and almost reverent. Something between soothing and commanding.
Body sit on pillow. Body… quiet.
Arms drop sleeping. Hands quiet.
Body by head drop. Quiet.”
The words came slow and clear. Simon glanced to the woman but as she was staring directly into the smoke Simon felt it was proper to do the same.
“Mind is running. Always running. Strong mind.
And… mind strongest if also quiet.
Simon eyes move. Not running. Only moving.
Move on wood. Move on metal. Move on smoking.
Move on Alg-hiz. Move on Urf’kah. Move on Ahp-itz.
Simon eyes move on Totem.
As Simon did as she instructed his breathing slowed. The smell of the sweet and earthy smoke filled his nose and then his lungs. Soon his body relaxed and the tension of his shoulders faded down his back and into the pillow as the smoke-smell filled his entire body.
He felt his body become quiet. His hands did not want to move. His legs did not need to shift. Even his head became comfortable in it’s throne atop his shoulders. As if commanded by the smoke and Fab’reh’s voice, every fiber of his body slowed to a timeless patient waiting.
“Simon eyes move slow.
Move on markings. Move on metal face.
Move on ettah. Move on ember.
Simon eyes move slow.
Simon mind follow eyes.
And mind leave eyes?
Simon move mind to eyes again.”
The clean lines of the room blurred in the background. Their details didn’t matter right now, strange as it seemed to Simon. The ring of light from the octagonal glass roof faded as well. Even Fab’reh drifted into the abstract stillness of colors that surrounded the only thing in the room that held sharp detail: the table Totem.
Simon understood acutely what she meant. As the world faded from his mind, the Totem became sharper. As thoughts came and lazily drifted into the unfocused-everything-else the lines and markings on the Totem became more refined. Details showed themselves that he had not noticed at first. His eyes moved over them methodically.
Neither fast nor slow, without haste and yet determined, Simon inspected every millimeter of the Totem. But it was not the inspecting of his usual way. Intense and demanding. This was something else.
He felt his mind moving at what seemed a normal pace while his body seemed to slow. Time bent around him like water in a river. At once he was both bodily drifting in the slowest motion, yet cleanly exploring the totem Totem with his eyes. His mind did not feel fast or slow. Only deliberate and patient. As thoughts came in, they were directly sent to sit patiently in the blurred unimportant blur of the small round room.
“Simon…” She said quietly.
“Simon mind to Fab’reh words.
Simon mind to table face…”
Her words came slow, echoing in from the everything-else. At first he could barely recollect their meaning but as his attention moved to her voice they became clearer.
“Simon mind to sunlight.
Simon mind to room…
Simon mind to Fab’reh.”
At that his attention expanded. At once the room was in focus and he squinted his eyes tightly for a moment. His body stretched tall as his arms reached for the ceiling. Tilting his head to the left and then to the right brought cracks. After a moment he looked to the old woman. She was staring into his eyes the moment he did.
A moment passed. She smiled. Simon took a deep breath and smiled in return.
Fab’reh spoke, “Good Simon. How feels Simon?”
He went to reply but his mouth felt gummy and slow. He sucked on his tongue to wet his lips, but as if reading his mind she handed him a small copper cup with water in it. He drank it slowly and handed the small cup back, noticing it’s cleanly rolled edge plated in tin, worn with age.
“Simon feels,” he tried his words which came easily enough,” Simon feels good. Simon feels quiet.”
“Yes,” she replied with a grin, “Simon feels quiet.”
As his mind came awake gently, he felt the urge to ask questions. What was the smoke? What happened? How long were they sitting there? But something in Simon told him that he simply did not need to know. At least not right now.
There was a stillness in the air. Or was it in him?
Simon focused his eyes on the woman, which he noted had never left her face as they usually would.
A smile in return.
The woman quietly cackled, then stretched in her chair and pulled her wool blanket tighter again.
“Simon. Now is time for food,” she grinned.
And at that he realized that he was quite hungry indeed.