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

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Birds and the Bees.

It's spring, I have belatedly realized. It's been spring for about a month, now. I should have figured it out--I knew the winter solstice had passed and that the days were getting longer, but the weather has been warm, and everything has been green. I hadn't thought about seasons--I think I assumed that this area was tropical, a place with no winter. Actually, we're about at the latitude equivalent of maybe Maryland. Cold is no problem, and the short days slow plant growth, but not by enough to hurt the plants. The problem is that even that slight slowing means that leaves grown in the winter often can't make enough food for the tree to cover the cost of growing the leaf in the first place--not before the leaf is half-eaten by bugs. So the trees stop putting out new leaves for two months. Now, new leaves are coming out, along with a lot of flowers, and the old leaves are being dropped--we've got fall and spring at the same time! They call it the color season.

Would you believe Ka'te explained this to me, about the energy budgets of leaves? She talked someone at the next farm over into lending her a textbook on botany, and even though she's only seven, she's puzzling her way through it and giving mini-lectures on the subject to any adult who will listen.

Incidentally, there's little to no artificial global warming here; this planet is naturally hot. I believe the reason is that no continental mass exists straddling the equator. Warm equatorial water just goes around and around the planet--it never gets diverted towards the poles, so it never cools down. Or something. I probably sound like some kind of idiot, all the things I don't know even about my own planet. I'm starting to forget that there is any expertise at all in relating socially to people who look like ants and talk by touching my fingers, that not everyone could do what I am doing--living in a strange place and learning a new culture all by myself. But I am not by myself--I have Dan and Ka'te, and several other friends I haven't mentioned yet, and even my pet, Jim. I'm starting to seriously need some prop for my ego other than the fact that I spend time with my friends and have two part-time jobs doing manual labor.

Hold on, Dan is here--he just waved hello, he's gotten me to teach him some human gestures, and waving is his favorite. He'd like to try flipping the bird, too, the rudeness of it sort of tickles him, but his forelegs don't rotate at the elbow. He can't turn the back of his forefoot forward. Anyway, he only has two fingers per foot, which generally precludes sticking up the middle one. Maybe I can think up some other manual insult....

I assume he came to talk to me, but he's playing with Jim instead. Jim likes Dan, and leaped from my knee to go wrestle. do do do do, doodling until he's done, do, do, do....

Ok, it's been about two hours. Dan wanted to talk about sex, would you believe it? It seems he's starting to notice female flyers. I said that suggests he's going to be a male flyer, but he said not necessarily--flyer, yes, male, maybe not. Not all flyers are "straight," to use our terminology. The casual way Dan reminded me of this surprised me--there's no word for homosexual in either of the Myrmeoid languages I know, so I had assumed that either there are no gay Myrmeoids or that they are pretty seriously homophobic as a culture. Turns out it's just a complete non-issue. Male and female flyers have almost identical social roles, so nobody cares who they have sex with.

Anyway, male or female, Dan is trying to sort out these new feelings, and none of his friends have sexual feelings, so he can't talk to them. Really--before the last molt, Myrmeoids are sexless in a way that even our children aren't. Their sex organs don't even connect to any bodily opening. I told him he could talk to Nades, but he just giggled; apparently the idea of asking the eminent Dr. Nades about something as inherently private and vulnerable as sexuality is still beyond the pale. Having met Nades, I kind of understand; the guy is intimidating. So, Dan came to me, and we had something of a "guy talk." Which was totally weird, because Dan is as ignorant as a teenager but he's also forty-six years old, and mostly more mature than I am. I didn't really know how to talk to him about it.

Dan's personality is starting to change. He's becoming more driven, more willing to risk, more restless. It's like he looks around him and doesn't see the farm or my house or anything, only the adventures and possibilities out there waiting for him. His body is changing, too--nothing I can see, of course, his exoskelleton hasn't changed, but he's eating more than he ever has before--and in smaller meals. His digestive tract is actually shrinking, making room for reproductive organs and probably the larger heart and lungs of a flyer (all these organs are in the abdomen, by the way, the "tail" end of a Myrmeoid's three-part body. The chest area, or thorax, is all muscle). He won't get the blood test back until next week, but we're sure he's a flyer. The fact that he wants to badly now to be one is itself a sign; two months ago, he didn't care one way or the other. I'm jealous; he's mature enough to actually be able to talk intelligently to girls and he's going to grow wings. When I went through puberty, all I grew was zits.

It's a beautiful day. It feels like spring...I'm going to try to talk somebody into letting me stick my hands in the dirt and do something useful. Everything is growing and moving and buzzing about. I even saw a new animal today--when I walked Dan out to the path I saw this thing hanging from one of the trees, maybe five feet up, snapping at the bees visiting the meadow flowers. At first I thought it was a good-sized snake, maybe four feet long, but the thing has a neck, like the urdles do, so it isn't a snake. Also, it has feathers--bright blue, red, and green feathers. I never cease to be amazed at how alien this place is, and yet how like Earth it is, too. There are no vertebrates with legs on this planet, other than me and the other ambassadors--I've got the best legs of any man in the country, I guess! So, obviously, there are no birds. No legs means no wings, no birds. Yet this brightly-colored feathered snake-thing looked at me and it sang.

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