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

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Shape of Past and Future

I keep thinking about that snake I saw the other week. I've been in parts of earth that look like this--rural areas with patches of woods--but I've never seen a predator like that there. I mean, coyotes and foxes, but no wolves and mountain lions. Surely a python that big is more the equivalent of a wolf? I've asked about it, and yes, that thing is what they call an apex predator, the baddest beast in the jungle. So why is it here, in this sleepy little farming community?

I've been wracking my brain for a week, trying to think of why this seems so strange to me--just like I've been trying to think of why those chains of flowers look so strange. It's an issue of things about Earth I don't know that I know--but that are recognizably different here. The way moving around feels different, even breathing feels different, because the oxygen concentration is marginally greater than an home, and the planet as a whole is marginally less massive. My first week or two here I kept stumbling around, dropping things, falling over myself, because the gravity was not quite what I expected it to be. I knew enough to have an expectation, but if I hadn't known ahead of time what the difference was, I never would have identified gravity as the thing that was different.

The flowers are still puzzling me, but I think I've got the thing with the snake figured out.

The issue is size; I mentioned how the network of forest corridors they have around here made is possible for them to keep major predators while we lost most of ours? Well, I don't think those networks would have worked if there weren't a large number of very large preserves somewhere around here, and I don't see how a people as purely pragmatic about nature as these people are would summon the political will to protect so much land.

Or, rather, I didn't see it. I talked to Dan, and he explained it to me.

The short version of the tale is that the local people didn't protect the land, the Imperials did, back when this was part of their empire. They had some notion of this continent as an untouched wilderness, millions of local inhabitants notwithstanding, and while they generally sucked the land as dry as they could otherwise, they set aside huge tracts of land as protected wilderness. Actually, there were three separate systems: there were game preserves, for recreational hunting and forestry; there were wilderness preserves, from which no resources were extracted; and there were People's Preserves, for hiking and what-not, since the country people were excluded from the game preserves. And since the country folk were excluded from the game preserves, they did their best to maintain privately held forests for timber extraction and hunting--and as a place to hide from the Imperials in case it came to war. Which, of course, it did. After the revolution, all three Imperial systems were dismantled, but most of the land remained protected, for forestry, hunting, watershed protection, and also for its own sake. The huge amount of forested land is the legacy of four separate systems of land management by two different peoples living in the same country.

Of course, after the revolution, the Imperials didn't leave any more than the British left America after the American revolution. The long generations of colonialism had created a new people, both through simple divergence and through close contact and intermingling with the locals. Sometimes it seems like there are two separate cultures in this country, sometimes it seems like there is just one. For example, even though there are ethnic Imperial families and country families, and there are the two different languages, almost everybody speaks both languages fluently. Dan was raised in an Imperial family, and his name follows Imperial conventions, but his first language was the country language. He learned Imperial at school. The whole thing is complex.

We got the test back, by the way; Dan is, or will be, a male flyer. He is both tickled to death and not surprised; he says he can feel his wings now, feel his body as it will be. It's like how you know where your limbs are, even if you can see them. When humans (and Myrmeiods) lose limbs, we can sometimes continue to feel as though we have them, to feel our bodies that they are supposed to be. Well, Dan can feel his body as it will be. If he covers his antenae with a sheet (like one of us closing our eyes), he can fool himself into believing that he is a flyer already, feel the wings, the smaller legs, the huge thorax and shrunken abdomen. Then he shakes off the sheet and feels the air currents responding to the shape of his actual body--the second post-pupal body he has had for thirty-four years. It no longer feels like him.

But now, at least, he can start looking for jobs, since he can prove to employers that he will have wings. He's not sure yet what he's going to do, but he's thinking he wants to go to sea.

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