The personal blog of the cultural ambassador to the newly discovered planet of the Ant-people (the Myrmeiods).

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Trees, Big and Deep

Dan finally took me on a walk in the woods this week.

You may remember I wasn't supposed to go alone. It's a hard thing for a man to accept protection from a being less than a tenth his size, and I'm almost grateful that the reason I need protection appeared almost immediately; a twelve-foot python, which I probably would have stepped on, or otherwise antagonized, if Dan were not there to warn me of it. He can't see images, but he is very good at spotting movement and changes in pattern, and he spotted the animal's tongue move. It ignored us, other than tasting the air in our direction, and we avoided it. Dan says his people have nothing to fear from large snakes, as Myrmeoids are too small to be worth eating. I am big, so Dan carried a kind of poison-tipped spear so he could protect me, if necessary. I offered to protect myself with the dart, but Dan won't let me carry a weapon until I know enough not to step on snakes. I don't think he wants the animals to get hurt, either.


The woods behind the La'heli's farm have a curious legal status, and curious trees. Mymeoid navies are made up of wooden sail-craft, as wood is so much cheaper and simpler to work. More specifically, navel vessels are big, dugout trimarans; the main hulls of these things can be eight feet wide and sixty feet long. Military preparedness thus means having ready access to very big trees. It's warm over much of the planet, so trees can grow fast, but it still takes two to three hundred years for a tree to get big enough for the navy to want it. Of course, commercial vessels need to be in the same size range to cross the ocean, so there is fierce competition for the largest trees. Sorting out who gets which trees, and protecting enough trees for long enough that they can get big enough, is a major challenge for every major government on the planet. The La'heli's farm is part of this country's solution to the problem.

Simply ordering people to leave alone certain trees would not work; there is no practical way to prevent timber poaching when a single tree can bring the equivalent of a quarter of a million dollars or more. That growing navy trees requires generations of foresters to refrain from selling their product does not help. The government has to make trees more valuable to landowners alive than dead, and they do it with some serious tax incentives. This is not as simple as protecting individual promising trees, by the way. Large trees need the protection of the surrounding forest—the more forest the better. The tax breaks start when you set aside ten percent of your land as un-cut forest. After that, the size of the deduction increases with the contiguousness of the set-aside forest, the size of the surrounding buffer forest (which owners may cut), and the degree of connectedness to other forest patches. Essentially, your tax break depends on where you put your forest in relation to that of your neighbors. Most rural land owners actually pay no property tax at all, no property tax, no farm gains tax, and no sales tax when they buy land. It's almost impossible to sell land that is not enrolled in the program, so all land is. This means that land-related taxes really only exist on paper, unless someone poaches trees, but taxes abated work better politically than fines imposed. Local services are paid for by fees, not taxes.

The La’heli’s farm is thus part of a vast network of patches and corridors of forest in a variety of successional stages, including old-growth. That is why there are large predators in the woods sometimes; our woods are too small to support such beasts, but big animals can pass through on their way between larger reserves. The people permit these dangerous animals passage, even though occasionally someone might lose an urdle or two, because an intact ecology is necessary for the forest, and the forest is necessary for the navy. It’s a matter of money and of national patriotism and pride.

All of this kept striking me as familiar, and I couldn’t figure out why. Last night, I finally figured it out; this is exactly the kind of network our kind tried to build two hundred years ago, at the beginning of the Meltdown. The Myrmeoids succeeded where we failed, even though they don’t seem to have anything we would call environmentalism. No one protects trees and animals for their own sake. They do it for practical reasons, and for cultural reasons. It’s all politics.

So Dan took me to the grove of big trees. It’s only a few acres , and the La’heli’s own less than a quarter of it, but it’s been protected for a hundred and fifty years, ever since the law was passed. Some protected plots were open field when they were first enrolled in the program, but this one was young forest, so it had a head start. One of its trees is actually navy-size, the others are close. They are amazing.

The light is different. The air is different. The insects sound different—a more complex sound. And these trees…remember, the eight foot diameter does not count the thick bark, and it has to be eight feet across at the midpoint of a sixty-foot log. That means forty feet up the tree. Near the ground, at the height where I’d hug it, if I hugged trees, this thing is fifteen feet across. It’s two hundred feet high. I know Earth has trees this big, but I’ve never seen one. The biggest tree I’ve ever seen on Earth would fit comfortably under this tree’s lowest branches.

When I said these people are not environmentalists, I did not mean they have only mercenary feelings about the woods. As we stood there, looking at the tree, I smelled an odd pheromone from Dan, a mix of emotions I’d never smelled before. I bent down to talk to him.

“This is why I became a farmer,” he told me. I am not quite sure what he means.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Teachers and Students

Finally, I get to talk about something other than the farm!

This past week, Dan took Ka'te to meet his old mentor, an electrical engineer named S'Nadesinoru. The "S" is an honorific analogous to our "Dr." Mentors, as I think I mentioned, are more important than parents. Dan is Ka'te's mentor. He mentors several other kids, but they are older; two have already molted to second instar and gone off to school, and the third is about to go this year. Ka'te is the only one he is leaving behind, and she is young for it. I think Dan wanted to reassure her by showing her that he and his mentor are still in touch; she's not going to get abandoned. He asked me to come with on general principles, and because I hadn't been to the University campus yet, and wanted to go.

Dr. Nades is a male flyer in his sixties. He must have been very young when Dan was born, but Dan was only seven when Nades left the family to go to college. The school was in the same town, so they saw each other a lot, but I'm sure it must have been hard. I'm trying to think of Dan as a child, a little red-brown ant-child sponging up whatever he could learn. And in less a year he'll be a third post-pupal, maybe a male flyer like Dr. Nades, exoskeleton glossy black under the four membranous blades of the wings. I think Ka'te is not the only one Dan wants to reassure. What must it be like to go through puberty in your forties? And I'm not sure Dan in really close to any of the La'heli third post-pupals, and as happy-go-lucky as he acts sometimes, Dan has his dignity. When Dan crawled out of his pupal skin, the first moving being he saw was a twenty year old clerical worker named Nadesinoru--a volunteer, of course, these things are not left to chance. The young worker gave him water, taught him to eat, to talk, everything. Myrmeoids are born knowing nothing except how to walk and how to follow their mentors. To eat, food must be placed against their mouths. Nades did all this, and forty-six years later it is to him that Dan goes to talk.

Dr. Nades is a bit of a local big-shot, I think. He certainly caries himself with dignity, and his speech to me was quite formal--Imperials often stand on ceremony, I've noticed. But Dan ran to him like a puppy. Dan and Nades see each other a few times a year, but Ka'te had never met Dr. Nades before. She'd never seen Dan as anything other than a casually competent adult. Myrmeoids can't have three-way conversations, so I told Ka'te what they were saying to each other. It was nothing very dramatic, but she was curious. Dr. Nades spoke with Ka'te next, and afterwards told Dan that she seemed very intelligent, for a country-kid, and that she ought to go to a school in town, not the family school the neighbors run. He was obviously trying to compliment Dan on the child, though the conversation seemed kind of strange to me.

I had a favor to ask of Dr. Nades. I'd always wondered what Myrmeoid classes are like, but I can't fit inside any of their classrooms. The solution, as usual, was Dan's. My netpad has a cell insert, of course, but I have no occasion to use it here. It's small enough for a Myrmeoid to carry, though, and Dan's idea was that Dr. Nades could use it to get video of his classroom. He graciously agreed, though he looked funny walking off with it in his jaws like a leaf-cutter ant with her leaf. I could see him itching to figure out how the thing works, and I doubt anything in it is beyond him--Myrmeoids have their equivalent of quantum theory--but it has no tactile readout. From his perspective, it's inert. Playing around with it would tell him nothing. I've sent in a request for a batch of translated literature on the subject. When it comes in, I'm going to have to get Dan to find a way to print it out in tactile notation and send it to Dr. Nades.

I've watched the video. The sound is poor, but there's not much to listen to. Fifteen second post-pupals take their places at desks and read hand-outs and begin work on something. Dr. Nades moves from desk to desk answering questions. He can't lecture, so the whole thing looks like a supervised study hall. I guess this explains the Myrmeoid emphasis on practical learning, and also the expense of education; all teaching must be essentially individual when you can't talk to more than one person at a time.

Dan and Ka'te spent the night with Dr. Nades and I set up my tent on the campus green--campus looks exactly like one of our college campuses, by the way, except the buildings are smaller and papered rather than brick, and the trees are some weepy thing with strings of yellow flowers, not American elms. They're flowering now, and the scent is heavy and sweet, especially at night. The odd thing about them is that one flower grows out of another in a chain--I'm not sure why, botany is not my thing, but there is something distinctly alien about those flowers. I didn't get much sleep because students kept coming out to ask me questions, but the night was lovely.

Dan told me Nades is why he got interested in engineering to begin with. When Nades was in school, Dan would go up to campus to see him every few days, and Nades would do his best to explain what he was learning, just so the child would feel involved. And Dan understood it. By the time he was ready for high school he knew things some of Nades' classmates did not. The family was very disappointed when Dan didn't go to college; he could have gotten lineage easily, and college carries a great deal of weight with Imperials.

But Dan was approached by the La'heli's within a month of high school graduation. They were upgrading their distillery at the time, and they needed an engineer to help them upgrade their capacity. Dan never looked back. College doesn't mean much to country-folk; they seem to exist outside of Imperial society as much as they can, and Dan has dedicated himself to his adopted culture. He invented a pulley and press system they use all over the country now; he has a National Office patent,which is not easy to do in this country, and two years ago he received an award for his work that carries a huge cash prize. He divided it among the kids he mentors, and kept none for himself. So Ka'te can afford to go to any school she wants to, when she gets older, including college. And she is smart. Her thing is botany; she figured out on her own that crab-apples don't breed true, and she's already talking about learning how to graft in case she spots a useful new cultivar. Half of what she says is over my head.

But somehow, I don't think she's going to college.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Of Wasps and Pinwheels

What looked like a large wasp just flew into my house. They do have wasps here--a lot of our animals have their analogues here, creatures so similar to Earth-animals that you'd have to be an expert to say otherwise. For some reason, both insects and spiders show up on both planets--all the same orders, and most of the same families. So it could have been a wasp, except it was four inches long.

I've seen wasps almost that big on Earth, so my first reaction to this thing was fear. I'm not phobic about wasps, but really? A four-inch-long wasp? Then I smelled confusion--the scent Myrmeoids use to express confusion or startlement. Jim uses the same scent-system, as do most pseudoinsects, but the true insects don't. So this thing must not be a wasp--it must be some wild equivalent of the house-wasp. A reassuring thought, since none of the pseudoinsects sting.

But I still had it in my head that this thing was a wasp--like a non-stinging wasp, but I figured it would act like an insect and fly upward to the apex of my tipi-shaped house where it would buzz around until it died or I caught it. I was trying to figure out how to catch this things, since my house is way too tall for me to reach the ceiling. Maybe I could talk one of the La'heli flyers into going after it for me?

But then--it didn't fly upward. It landed on the wall, clinging to the paper, and looked around. I could see it waving its antenae the way Myrmeoids do when they're trying to get a better sense of their surroundings. Then it flew straight out the door.

A bird won't do that, never mind a bug! This animal sat there and looked around and thought about how to get itself out of the jam it was in. Of course, if it is a wild house-wasp, it is closely related to the Myrmeoids themselves. It's probably as smart as a monkey. I've been here eight months now, and I'm still making Earth-based assumptions.

Dan has just arrived--several minutes have passed between my writing this paragraph and the previous one. He confirmed my guess that the animal that flew into my house is a wild relative of the house wasp, but it's actually more closely related to the Myrmeoids--like an ape, rather than a monkey. It's funny how I never think the Myrmeoids actually are ants or wasps, the way I thought the monkey-wasp was a wasp, despite the similar shape--I guess it's because they're so much bigger. Ants can't be eight inches long. Hold on--Dan wants to write something. I've been teaching him to type in English.

helo earthpeopl how ar yu i am dan yu shulld pey yur ambasssador morr

Now he's giggling (emitting a scent I equate with giggling) about sending a message to the aliens. He actually can spell well in his own language, I should point out. I'm going to have to cut this message short, since I have company.

A few notes, first, since Dan has brought me news and a present. The news is a big deal, and concerns Dan himself; he thinks he is getting ready to molt. I should explain this. Myrmeoids have five life stages, not counting the egg; larva, pupa, and three post-pupal stages or instars. The larval and pupal stages are something like pregnancy is for us--they count their age in number of years from pupation, not number of years from hatching. Larvae don't even have central nervous systems. The first post-pupal instar is childhood, and lasts twelve years exactly. Dan is a second post-pupal, a young adult--except that this stage can last anywhere from twenty to forty years. There's no way to know when one is going to molt until the body actually begins to shift, a physical and hormonal process that begins six months before and continues six months after the molt itself. Dan thinks he has about three months to go--he says he's been feeling weird for a while now, and he's started getting clumsy because his body feels like it's a different shape than it really is.

There are a couple of implications here. The one I'm most concerned about is that molting is not a safe process--it gets safer each time, but still about half of one percent of people in Dan's position don't make it. And there's nothing to do about it; molting problems can't be predicted, and once they occur they can't be treated. But, there is no sense worrying about what can't be changed. Assuming Dan makes it, he'll be a mature adult, and his life will be very different. Myrmeoid families are partnerships among small groups of third-post-pupal instars, plus their children and their second-post-pupal employees. Technically, Dan is an employee of the La'heli's, and no one expects him to stay once he molts. He'll want to move on and form or join a family of his own, so he'll leave here before I will. He's already told the children he mentors, and now he's telling me.

The third issue is strange for me. As I think I mentioned, Dan is not really male; Myrmeoids don't have gender until they molt for the last time, and there is no way to know which they will be until the shift starts. He's 46 years old, and he is about to become either male or female for the first time. Not surprisingly, Dan does not find this strange at all; male and female don't matter much to them. What matters is caste; the third post-pupal instar is divided into two castes, flyer and layer. Flyers can be either male or female, and can reproduce sexually. Layers are females who lay eggs without mating. Flyers and layers differ mentally and physically, and so what Dan will do with the rest of his life depends on which caste he ends up being. Now that the shift has started, Dan will be able to get a blood test so he can start considering his options.

After all this...that Dan has thought to bring me a present when so much is suddenly up in the air for him is startlingly sweet. He has brought me an extra pinwheel, carrying it in his jaws as he walked the path to my house. I have a double row of red and silver-colored aluminum pinwheels lining the walk up from the main path to my house. It's a local custom I've adopted--to have pinwheels or sun-catchers about, along with wind-chimes. Myrmeoids can see color, after all, and they have an eye for beauty. I've added to the custom by planting a pair of flags; the flag of the United Nations, and the flag of the United States of America. I figured that's appropriate for an ambassador's residence. I had the flags custom-made, and they cost a fortune--I didn't think to bring any.

I am so obviously an alien here-I can't tell a bug from an ape! But it's a beautiful place. I can look out my door and there are my pinwheels and my flags and my wind-chimes, and beyond that the beautiful green of the fields and ground cover and trees, all singing with insects and amphibians--and here is my friend with me, who came to tell me his life is changing even before he told his employers, and who brought me an extra pinwheel to brighten my spirit.

Monday, January 9, 2012


So, I’m sitting here in my hammock with my spider, Jim, on my knee, and it occurs to me that you don’t know anything about my daily life.

I’ll start with Jim, as he’s on my knee. As I explained last time, Jim is not actually a spider, he’s a jumper. Like Myrmeoids, jumpers are part of a group of arthropods with an insect-like shape but mammal-like brains. They have three body-parts and six legs, each leg tipped with two claws they can grasp things with. The reason jumpers look like very large tarantulas is that their necks and waists are short and broad and their legs are very long and thick. Yes, it gives me the heebie-jeebies to have a pet that looks like a spider, but he eats real spiders—and yesterday he broke out of his crate and went after a big one right over my hammock. I had just fed Jim. He didn’t do it because he was hungry, he did it because I’m afraid of them—maybe he even knew the big spiders are dangerous to us. Either way, Jim gets to sit on my knee now, any time he likes.

I live in a sort of a tent. The basic construction is the same as the La’heli’s house, though the interior is different. Picture a tipi, except with one central pole rather than multiple poles around the side. The walls are not leather or cloth but strips of light brown paper laid on cables strung from the central pole; it’s like paper-mache, except the “glue” they used was a synthetic polymer that made the paper translucent and waterproof. There’s a thing like a wagon wheel around the center pole about ten feet up that spreads the cables and makes the lower walls nearly vertical. I store extra clothing up there, like on a shelf, and I hang my kitchen implements from it on hooks.

Normally, a house like this would have several of the wagon-wheel things, and each would be papered over to make a floor; a house of this size could have four or five stories, plus generous attic and cellar space. The wheels are anchored to both the central pole and the cables, which are pulled bar-hard and anchored to hooks set in concrete, so they’re relatively strong and stable floors.

Inside the tent is a circular pit ten feet across and four feet deep. There’s an inner pit four feet across and two feet deep in the center. This way the house is eight feet tall on the outside and fifteen feet tall on the inside. Both are lined with concrete and, in my house, carpeted with the pelts of some large legless animal with feathers—something like a pale blue shag carpet. Normally, the inner pit would be space for a cistern and also a composting unit for food and bodily waste—it’s aerobic, so there is no bad scent. I have separate privy and water storage, so the inner pit is simply floor space for me, surrounded by a bench. I cook outdoors on a wood-burning stove, and I sleep in a hammock strung across the one room of my house—that way, I can take down my hammock and stow it when I want more space.

It sounds primitive…and I’m not sure there is anything wrong with primitive. Dan would say (actually, has said) that only a fool would abandon a design that works. But the physical artifacts of my current life are very carefully designed and built—I don’t think it is primitive so much as advanced in a different direction, and of course my being human does play a role; a house like the one I live in back home would cost a fortune to build here, because of its size, and it would have to be custom-built for me.

They did build my house for me, actually; a local construction company did it in only three days, and they did it without robots, motors, or even any machines, unless you count the burner of the hot-air balloon that brought in the building supplies. They built everything by hand, through team-work and various pulleys and leavers—there must have been two hundred of them here, all working together. Scurrying soundlessly around the building site, stopping occasionally to cross antennae, carrying proportionately huge bales of cable or paper in the jaws, they looked…like ants. Except, ants don’t use synthetic chemicals or hot-air balloons.

It was really amazing to watch—they all worked so fast! And they wouldn’t let me help. Team-work is such a refined art, here, and they had no idea how to work me into their choreography.

Watching gave me an idea, though, and I ended up asking the foreman for a job. Our money can’t convert into theirs, because our worlds do not trade with each other; I stayed initially as a guest of the government, but as a good-will gesture I wanted to earn my keep. So now I’m a construction worker. Two to four times a month, now, I go to dig the foundation-hole of a new house or barn. The others do everything else the next day or two. Of course, I had to have my pick-mattock and shovel custom-made. The foreman insists on paying me as much as the workers I replace would earn, so that I can’t compete unfairly with native workers for work, and it’s just as well, as my living expenses are very high.

More recently, I’ve gotten a second job as a delivery-man. There’s a great demand for this because transportation is very expensive here. Everything has to be carried by hand-cart cart or by balloon, and the loads are never very heavy, since Myrmeoids are so small. I can carry sixty pounds in my pack and I can cover a route of ten to twenty miles four days a week. A cartload is twenty pounds, by contrast. It keeps me in shape and gives me a reason to get to know the neighbors.

I’m going out today, just as soon as I send this to the spraft for relay. I’m going to start out with the fifty pounds of urdle jerky the La’heli’s made over the past week, plus ten pounds of dried egg. I’ll take both the five miles into town to the dealer for sale, then do a little shopping for the family—a pound of copper wire, half a dozen chemicals I don’t understand (I have a list to give to the store clerk, like a little illiterate kid) and a few ounces of bedding. Then, I pick up orders for my clients—bags of toasted grain, pet food, salt, and sugar, bottles of soap, fruit juice, alcohol, vinegar, oil, packages of dried fish, rolls of paper, and packets of seed. There’s a number of tools I need to pick up, too; the Haneni’s, who raise far more urdles than we do, want to get back into crab-apples, and need to prune their trees. I’ll take the long way back so I can hit all my stops, and hopefully I’ll get back before dark.

When I get back late, Jim starts to worry. I’ll bring him some dried fish, if I can find a good price.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Guest Post from Myrmeoid counterparts

Greetings! I am Kadetino(S)Laheti, Co-Ambassador from Takelinoru, writing on behalf of myself and my colleagues, Kadetino(S)Kanetino and Laneti(S)Canel. My given name is Laheti. I belong to the Kadetino family, which encompasses the faculty, administration, and staff of the Kadetino College of History, Public Policy, and Social Sciences of the Imperial University, Lesser Island Campus. “S” is an honorific prefix roughly equivalent to your “Dr.,” except that it denotes professional rather than academic achievement.

Many of you will have seen us on talk shows, or learned of us through the news. We have been on your planet for the past three months, meaning we arrived approximately when Ambassador Kilmon wrote the previous entry on this blog. You have seen us, but because we cannot vocalize you have not yet heard our words, except through our exceptional valet, Jon Grisholm. I imagine this, together with our alien appearance, has interfered with your forming a complete impression of us as people. Here, on this blog, we may possibly meet more as equals. My words will come to you exactly as do those of any other writer. I plan to post here perhaps every third or fourth week; it is important that you receive Ambassador Kilmon’s impressions of our world, so we do not want to compete with him for space here.

I can anticipate some of your questions. I am writing this myself; I am fluent in written English, and I type using a standard keyboard. I am big enough to depress each key with a foot, and I had Mr. Grisholm affix Braille letters to each of the keys. I read over what I have written using a tactile device originally designed for the blind. I have been told my English is unusually formal, which is doubtless partially due to my having little experience in casual conversation. But then, I am relatively formal in my own language as well; I am a formal person. I believe it supports the dignity of my office.

Our task on your planet is to be examples of our people, and also to describe what we learn of your people to ours back home. We are doing the same thing the regular author of this blog does. But in writing to you, I have a more difficult task than he does. We have a saying in our language that I translate as “the first thing a teacher must know is what the student doesn’t.” It is meant to be funny, and in one sense is an exact parallel of one of your popular jokes;

Q. What must you know to train a dog?

A. More than the dog.

In a deeper sense, though, a teacher must not only know a thing that the student does not know, he or she must also know that the student does not know it. I cannot teach you about my people, because while I certainly know what you do not, I do not know what to teach. There are many things I take for granted of which you know nothing, and which I will not think to explain.

I will therefor leave describing my people to the capable hands of Ambassasor Kilmon. To you, I will describe yourselves. In writing to you of my experiences on your world and my impressions of it, I will doubtless betray a deeper knowledge of my self, my culture, and my species than I could ever think to describe. You will see the reflection of my world, if nowhere else, in the pattern of things I get wrong about yours.

We understand this is your major holiday season. Principally, it is the end of the Christmas season. We do not understand this holiday. Christianity itself seems similar to our Doctrine of the Inner Empire, which I do not subscribe to, though (S)Canel does. I am certainly familiar with many of the writings of that philosophical school, and some Christian sayings are startlingly similar; (S)Canel would agree that the Kingdom of Heaven in within. But organized religion is an alien concept to us, and we also see no clear connection between the struggle for the Inner Empire and the presentation of wrapped objects.

Mr. Grisholm cannot explain this to us, though our questions made him laugh, as he is a member of a minority religion with an alternate holiday. He celebrated Chanukah with us, explaining that it is a minor holiday celebrating a historical event wherein his culture survived an invasion attempt. This makes intuitive sense to us, for we, too, value cultural continuance and solidarity. I, personally, was very interested by the historical dimension of the festival. I am, or at least was, a professor of history, and it seems the Jews are a deeply historical people.

We also enjoyed the celebration. Mr. Grisholm lit candles and later translated and explained the prayers for us. He also told us the story of Chanukah. He prepared traditional holiday foods for us, and gave each of us chocolate coins wrapped in gold-colored foil, one per day of the festival. He said his mother put such coins in his lunch when he was a boy. I am inordinately fond of chocolate, and I have never been so delighted to be small; the coin that is a mere treat to a human boy is as large around as my head. I still have four of my coins left, and the wrappers are pretty.

Today is the first day of your civic year, and last night, of course, was another festival, one we could very much relate to, since it seems fundamentally to be a celebration of solidarity. You all watch a clock strike midnight together, and for twenty minutes or so prior to that hour, you all are united by the same activity. For one person to watch a clock is mundane, for an entire nation—even an entire world—to do so together is powerful. From such simple agreements—when to start a new year, how to count time—are nations built. And look! You are people who can traverse the stars! Together, you can conquer distance and time!

I get carried away. But we were united with you, too. It is a simple thing—the changing of the year—simple enough that we can understand and participate. We do not have to be Christians or Jews or Americans to understand the changing of the calendar.

We were invited to go to Times Square, but decided finally that it was too dangerous. We are small, and if one of us were to be lost an accident could easily result in tragedy. Also, the night was chilly, and our bodies are so shaped that we cannot wear clothes. Instead, we held a small party in our apartment with several human colleagues and watched the ball drop on a wall screen Mr. Grishold borrowed for us. Of course, we could make no sense of the screen, but Mr. Grisholm had a supply of paper trumpets that he gave out. When the humans blew the trumpets we knew that the New Year had come and we flew around and around the room pouring out happy pheromones. Then, we drank Champaign. I enjoy Champaign, and had rather a lot before I flew into the coat rack by mistake and became trapped under somebody’s hat. But I understand this, too, is traditional.