My blindness has made me comfortable with knowing nothing of the world except what I can remember and what is told to me by others who still see. It’s an awareness that well suits my current chore of relating this history, and I find that my second-hand accounts take on a inner life for me that I sometimes suspect is rather richer than whatever we agree upon as reality. And to tell the truth, there is much I am told that I am glad I did not have to see firsthand. But there are moments in our time here that I am rather wistful about and wish I could have witnessed myself. And more, that I could have participated.
Allow me to explain an expression that is very important to us, an idiom or slang, perhaps, but a concept of deep and unique meaning to our society. The term “treetops” doubtless has roots in some hidden, unbidden racial recall of earlier stages of our development. But it is also a word tossed out lightly as air. I have learned a few phrases in your world that have similar significance: “on Cloud Nine” is one example and “Easy Street” another.
It’s a highly positive response to somebody inquiring how your life is going or how you are feeling. The suggestion is a peak of rapture or exhilaration, of being at the limits and close to the sky: a springy, open, joyous situation. The Ascensionists have made much of it, and its use does support their ideas of rising up through the trees to reclaim our primordial pleasure and freedom. And it is an expression I hadn’t heard any of us use since they began to round us up and “qualify” us for our flight on the ship.
It was certainly a heart-lifting experience to hear it uttered, perhaps for the first time in our new settlement under the Oak, by Star, her eyes large and shining out of the fiery glory of her fur and crest as she yelled “Treetops!” into my face.
I had no idea why I was laughing at her, or why she was laughing back and waving her nose close to mine with her mouth and eyes wide open and gusts of happy laughter shaking her whole body.
I even less idea of what feelings that same display would have evoked earlier from Greater Than when she swung over to him, a red flash through the green and yellow trees, and in an ecstasy of high-level motion and shouted, “Treetops, you old grump! We’re in treetops here!” But she did tell me he almost seemed to be smiling. Which I very much would like to have seen.
Star had fallen into a pattern of shadowing the Trinchan patrols of the surrounding woods, especially since Greater Than’s surveillance had moved more toward an active search for dangerous animals and beings capable of the mass scale death-dealing indicated by the remains in the clearing on the day the dogs came so close to attacking. Dash told us that she had become very sure and silent, at home on the woods and quite capable of spying without being detected.
Furthermore, she was becoming increasingly arboreal, choosing to move rapidly through the trees where they would only hear a whisper, see a flitting shadow of her. Greater Than made no further move to dissuade her and Dash admitted that he was glad of her company, such as it was, on their patrols.
The two males, however stuck to the ground and marched through the woods in a quiet, solemn formation. Trudging was the signal characteristic of the Trinchan character. Until Star beguiled them with the first of her seductions.
One evening when Paren was talking about how much she liked the wild strawberries from the woods, Dash mentioned that he’d eaten some just a few days before, under very unusual circumstances. He was standing by the edge of a tiny tributary to our creek, being lectured by Greater Than about looking for signs of activity on the banks, when he heard a high-pitched whistle and looked up to see Star standing on a branch, juggling three strawberries, and grinning at them both with red-stained teeth and whiskers. She’d called out, “You two ready for some refreshments?”
She caught all the berries and held them up, licking her lips, and motioned for them to come to her where she waited on the low-slung branch. Dash had glanced at his leader and was surprised to get a nod, along with a pained head-shake. He scrambled up the tree and out to where Star stood, a pile of juicy red berries at her feet. She lobbed one to him and he caught it in his mouth.
They snacked noisily on the berries, competing in slobbery shows of culinary enjoyment, then Star whistled again and Greater Than, who’d been squatting to examine some flints by the stream, looked up in exasperation. “Come on up, Biggie!” she yelled. “I’ve got some really tasty ones here with your insignia on them.”
He turned back to his examination without a word and Star chortled. Then handed Dash the rest of the berries and told him he’d just have to take them down to Mister Groundbound. She’d picked the word up from Point and knew it rankled Greater Than a little. But he ate the berries, then tipped his tchurix to her in a characteristic Trinchan salute and moved on up the little creek.
That incident initiated a change in the patrol patterns. Dash learned that Greater Than would not object to him zipping aloft to frolic with Star unless there was some specific task or alert at hand. The thrills of tearing around the branches of trees with an adult was a stimulant to the young cadet and Star, very playful by nature, was delighted in the expansion of her playground by the inclusion of a daring and athletic kit. The two of them spun through the trees with élan, soared through the leafy sky around them. But Dash never strayed too far from Greater Than, who lumbered along below them as they zoomed around overhead. He repeatedly refused invitations to come up and join them, except on two occasions when he climbed up to get a better overview of the area, and they buzzed around taunting him with their greater speed and agility. Dash was an accomplice in Star’s second seduction.
The next time the Trinchans looked up at a shrill whistle, they saw something hiding behind a tree trunk, peering out at them from a big white skull with long fangs. It jittered and rattled at them. Greater Than eyed the fang thing for awhile and slowly drew out his baton and poised to throw it. Whereupon the creature danced out on the limb: it was Star, wearing a dried, polished cranium from a bobcat or lynx, lashing her tail and snorting. She doffed the skull and held it up for their admiration. “You’d love to have this hanging on your wall, wouldn’t you?”
There was no doubt that Dash coveted the skull intensely. Greater Than was eyeing it with interest as well. “Come on up, you two,” she called out teasingly. “Come take a look at this thing. It won’t bite you. I won’t either, I promise.”
Greater Than did his typical head roll, motioned for Dash to scamper up to her if he wished. Which Dash speedily did, and gloried in the skull. He put it on, looking silly in it, according to Star, and held it at arm length to admire the wicked-looking teeth. His discussion with her quickly veered off into other channels, and lower tones. They conspired, careful not to giggle and snicker to obviously.
Greater Than was idly inspecting some rather large droppings by the trail: poking with his tchurix, sniffing for hints of diet, and therefore range. An animal about the size of one of those things with hands like us and black masks around their eyes, he’d decided, but different. When Dash first screamed, he spun, crouching slightly, his weapon instantly up into its peculiar cross-chest, elbow-braced defensive position. He spotted the kit immediately, hanging onto the tip of a limb for dear life. Others who heard the story immediately asked, “Dash? Was in trouble in a tree?” But his mentor didn’t hesitate even a second, apparently; just ran to the tree and started climbing.
When he reached the limb where Dash dangled, eyes closed and whimpering, by one hand, the big Trinchan moved out on the limb carefully but swiftly. He’d glanced around but seen no sign of Star, concentrated on negotiating the rather slick bough where his charge was hanging from one hand.
When he stood as far out on the limb as he could get without the curve of his weight dumping him off, he spoke calmly to Dash, “Can you reach up with your other hand?” Dash reached up and got a good grip with both hands and opened his eyes. He looked into the big impassive face…and smiled. Just then Star re-appeared on the scene. She’d been prone on a limb high above them, concealed by large leaves. She didn’t just jump from the limb: she swung underneath it and kicked away, launching into a powerful arc towards the ground below. As she shot past Dash, she grabbed his legs–aided by him bending his knees to give her a better target and handle–but continued to plunge, pulling the kit with her. Thus bending the limb sharply down so that Greater Than lost his balance, not a common occurrence.
The slender limb bent down under the weight and velocity, until Star could latch to a lower limb with her spread legs, wrap them around it to anchor herself, and tug powerfully down on the springy branch. Then Dash let go.
Greater Than, leaning forward and waving his arms to arrest his slide toward the tip of the limb and open air, experienced the kit’s release of the limb as a whipping force that shot him upward, pitching him off and into a low arc degenerating at once into free fall. He twisted in the air, and grabbed onto some leaves from the neighboring tree, pulling them off as he fell another body length to a sturdy branch, where he landed and immediately rolled backward to get a secure grip. He stared across at Dash and Star, showing them an expression normally quite alien to his face: utter astonishment. Then, when they both dissolved in helpless laughter, he roared and leapt.
He had flexed his branch, turning it into a springboard that enabled him to jump almost his whole body length upward and grip a higher limb, which he swung up and mounted smoothly. He ran out to the end of it and jumped again, this time soaring across to a branch of the tree where the two tricksters still shook with laughs and yelps, then bounding down to confront them. Star reported that his style had much more to do with sheer power than any particular grace, but nevertheless impressed her. He hadn’t been avoiding tree travel because he was incapable, but because it just wasn’t done.
Before he could even express the depth of his rage and betrayal at having been gulled by this infuriating female and set up by his own ward, Star stopped laughing to lean towards him and sing out, “It’s treetops! You old grump!”
Dash later admitted that he was not at all confident that the stunt would turn out well for her, or himself, but had taken a chance based on one item of faith. “It’s better! Don’t you see that Older? We can move faster, higher, better.”
And Greater Than surprised them both by sinking deliberately into a squat, bobbing slightly with them on the whippy limb, and looking at them, blankly inviting more comment.
“We need to move, right? We need to reconnoiter. This is perfect. We’re safer and more dangerous up here.”
“With more view, more options, more concealment,” Star added. “I would think anybody would see the military superiority in moving up here, instead of slogging along the ground.”
Greater Than pondered a moment, then said, “You’re right.” Star gaped and pretended to faint, Dash glowed with pride. “But,” he went on while looking sharply at Dash, “You could have brought this up, discussed it.”
Before Dash could answer, Star said, “He did try to discuss it with you. So did I. Things are all different here, Biggie. We’re changing into, you know, inhabitants.”
Greater Than slowly stood, looking down, then around the glistening green canopy. “It’s more dangerous.”
“Not if some of those black monsters were after you,” Star answered tartly.
He nodded, bounced up and down a little on the limb. “Go towards the creek. I’ll follow you.”
“Pay close attention,” Star snickered. “Learn from our example.”
“If I followed your example I’d be an obnoxious, deceitful female who corrupts youth and has no respect for anybody alive.”
Star laughed, then stepped to him, serious. “Actually, I’m getting more respect for you lately,” she said. Then ran to the end of the limb, bounced once, and sailed to the next tree in one of her usual glorious displays of agility and color. She shouted back, “Not much, but it’s an improvement.”
Greater Than glowered at Dash and muttered, “She can use all the improvement she can come up with.”
Dash laughed, giddy with the success at their attempt to drag his mentor aloft, and how well it had worked out.
It’s evident from all three accounts that by the time they returned to The Oak, they had become a high wire trio, bounding through the leaves. They had led Greater Than to a hawk nest high into a majestic old elm, shown him the rim of their valley and a glimpse of bluish hills in the distance. And reveled in soaring across blue sky.
Eventually they returned to earth, and to our company. Leading to Star running up to me and giving my ears an affectionate scratch as she sang, “Treetops! Do you know where we were? We were in the treetops of the whole world!”