The adventures of two foresters in an imaginary near future where science and mysticism work together to create harmony between men and nature by cooperating with a mysterious intelligent creature under their forest called woodsweaver.
The young forester became impatient. His mentor had been sitting in the middle of the river-flow on the top of a large, flat rock for over an hour already. It was almost summer, but the air was still chilly in the dawn. He ensconced himself at the foot of a thick tree to avoid the cool wind. He did not understand the point of all this. Sitting at the river for hours early in the morning was not of his liking, but he did not dare to speak about it. He sighed deeply to indicate that the situation was really getting unbearable, but his mentor did not hear or see any of the outside world. He closed the lights out with his wrinkled eyelids and he closed the sounds out with the splashing of the river. That was his way to get focused on nature. That was how he learned from his mentor and how he would teach it to his apprentice, even if the world changed so much in the meanwhile. In the forest, the most important news could be acquired during the morning, when the daytime buzzing has not started yet, but the night-time sneaking has finished already. The dramatic events – be them joyful or terrible – float in the air for much longer than the usual vibrations of the everyday life. The mentor inhaled them with deep, smooth breathing. There was in the air the doe giving birth to its fawn, the fox captured by the hunter’s trap, the crowd of the arriving ducks. And in the background there was in there that pungent, grey, brown noise that he was looking for the whole time. As it was filtering from a deep mine shaft under the ground, it never really showed itself – only when everything else faded away. But the traces – the queasy animals, the sick trees – were all leading to it.
The forester apprentice jumped up quickly when he saw his mentor finally move and immediately started nagging him:
– Uncle Tibor, are we done yet? Did you find the source? Where is it? – he shouted over the splashing noise.
Tibor unfolded his cramped legs from the meditating pose and he leapt onto the bank. He stretched out thoroughly, putting the young man’s patience really to the test. He only started to speak when he got close enough that his normal tone could be heard by his student.
– It was hardly stronger than at the last place, it is not deadened by the distance. Does the sensor say any useful? – he nodded toward the mushroom-like steel cylinder inserted in the ground at the feet of the tree.
The boy looked on his wrist display reflexively, as if he hadn’t checked the report a thousand times in the past hour. Little news. A long list of diseases – he muttered wearily – Shouldn’t we rather check the area again to find a stronger signal? I narrowed down the potential locations to within a few square miles using the data. – he showed his wrist display to Tibor. – We could have installed a bunch of sensors by now and then I would have something to work with.
– The sensors already told what they knew; you can stare on them the whole day and they won’t tell you any more. To learn more, to become a better analyst, you have to listen to the woodsweaver. – he tried to convince him, but looking at the grin on Franky’s face he knew that it was in vain.
– I already tried it and I have no brain for it, Uncle. I can’t feel any of it, no matter how hard I try. The sensors are accurate though. Moreover, one does not have to wake up early in the morning to analyse data. – he complained, and emphasized his point with a huge yawn. Tibor was not much touched by his show, but he spotted something on the display and grabbed the wrist of the surprised boy to pull it closer to his eyes.
– What’s that? – he poked hard on it with his bony finger – What’s this mine symbol?
Franky fumbled with the projected display, then read out the information in an official tone.
– Copper ore mine, Veertesh Treasure Limited, anno 1876, closed in 1992. No wonder you didn’t know about it. The mine has not been operating for the last 70 years.
– A closed mine? It is quite likely that something hid there. The threads of the woodsweaver cannot really enter there.
Franky finally lighted up.
– Okay, let’s go! I’ll bring the headtorch.
As they walked towards the mine, Tibor began to tell a story.
– You see? The problem’s not with the sensors, but our knowledge. Only two decades passed since they proved that the woodsweavers are not only intelligent but also capable of communication. From one day to the next, the knowledge of those few who followed a tradition of thousands of years, those who were listening to and understanding the voice of the woodsweaver without really knowing the source of it, those who stayed mostly unnoticed through ages until that very moment, suddenly became highly appreciated, seeked, dragged, questioned to squeeze their knowledge out as quickly as possible. But it didn’t go quickly. These men, whom we know as druids from the legends, as hermits from the tales and as bums from the news, they were difficult people. Unsocial. Strange. Loners. They could not or would not share their knowledge. Today it is a bit better, the tradition and science are working together in forestry, but it will still take a lot of time to convert all that information to numeric data that the spores (don’t know what this means) can tell to the receptive ones.
– I know, I know what you are trying to tell me, but I’m not one of the receptive ones. I don’t have that gift, and I won’t drug myself as the others hoping that the hallucinations will get me closer to the woodsweaver. I know data, and the more data I can analyse the more I’ll know about the woodsweaver.
– It is not about the narcotics, but about quieting the mind, although many find it easier to reach this state with certain chemicals.
– But I don’t want to quiet my mind. My thoughts are always buzzing and my solutions come from there. Sometimes in the shower, or while I go to work, or even during my sleep. I could not and I would not stop my thoughts. They are the ones who bring me closer to understanding the world, not the whispering of the woods.
Tibor was humming a bit, but did not speak more. They walked in silence for a while. At one point, Tibor stopped and deeply breathed the air in and didn’t let it out. He just stood there with his overfilled chest, with his head high, with his eyes rolled back. One would think he was having a seizure, but Franky knew that he was okay.
– It is the same here – he said, finally exhaling all the air with one giant blow – it hides in the background, but I can feel it – he panted – as you would see the silhouette of a reptile sneaking in the thicket.
– We are not far from the entrance. – said Franky, looking at the display.
– Then let’s go!
They were searching long for the entrance in the shrubby hillside. They were close to giving up, when Franky got an idea. He walked round and round making notes busily until he drew a map of the measurements. The map showed a spot that had a little cooler and mustier air than the rest of the area. Not as one could feel it, but the sensors did measure it. He started to search in that spot and soon he found a carefully disguised but sizable opening that lead into the deep. He waved to Tibor excitedly and when he arrived the headtorch was already on Franky covering the entrance of the tunnel in light, but fading quickly in the deep. They began to walk down the corridor quickly leaving the sunlight behind and becoming immersed into the darkness. The walls were covered with roughly excavated wet rock, the ceiling was held by rickety wooden beams, thin roots were hanging from the tiny cracks. The forest had started to reclaim the place. Following the curving tunnel they arrived at a crossing. There was no indication in any direction and they had no idea which way to choose. Franky analysed the sensor data helplessly, Tibor was sniffing in the air, but also just stood there shrugging his shoulders. Finally they chose randomly and signed the direction with an arrow using a stone broken from the wall. They arrived at the next crossing soon, and then again and again. They realized that they had gotten into a labyrinth, where they didn’t know what they were looking for and even less where they would find it. But their curiosity kept them moving on and they got so confused about the directions that they could only trust the arrows to show the way out. At one point the sensors of Franky and the nose of Tibor alerted them in the same moment. The air was filled with sickening, pungent odor. Following the strange odor they got into a wide hall. There were hundreds of barrels standing orderly under the crumbly roof, leaking yellowish liquid through their rust-eaten holes. The liquid covered most of the floor, disappearing in the cracks of the corners. Franky started to look at the barrels. Tibor took samples from the liquid.
– The rusty ones can be decades old, but there are some very new as well. – His surprised exclamation echoed in the room and the tunnels.
– Whatever it is, it should not be here. Make photos and a list of the barrels while I collect the samples.
The two foresters got engrossed in the work. They would have puttered with it for hours if that terrifying crash hadn’t interrupted them. The earth shook under their feet and the air got filled with dust. They looked at each other and got even more frightened looking at the scared face of the other. Franky was running in the front following the arrows, Tibor was following his torchlight, panting. They arrived at the entrance corridor but the way out was blocked by a huge pile of rocks. They started to dig without thinking. They pushed and pulled and rolled the heavy rocks, their nails got torn, their palms got cut, their arms got weak, but they didn’t accomplish much. The tunnel was blocked.
Tibor collapsed on a rock. Franky panted standing against the wall. They didn’t speak a word for a long time. They didn’t dare to look at each other. They didn’t want to ask the other ‘what now’, but deeply hoped that the other would soon come up with an idea. Franky started to wander the tunnels, Tibor followed him speechlessly. They wandered round and round the labyrinth. Maybe it took minutes, maybe hours – they lost their sense of time. But there was nothing, apart from the corridors and the hall of the poisoning barrels. Franky checked his phone regularly, but there was no signal at all. Tibor touched the walls, looking for hidden tunnels, but he didn’t succeed either. Everything was disassembled during the closure of the mine. There was no electricity, no phone, no rails, no winches. Finally, Franky started to talk.
– Maybe we could send a message through the woodsweaver. – His voice was as desperate as the idea, but there was nothing else to hold on to other than desperate ideas. But Tibor was sceptic.
– You know it doesn’t work like that. The woodsweaver receives billions of chemical stimuli from the ground, but it cannot hear or see, only indirectly, through the spored animals. But even if there were a spored insect here, it wouldn’t understand much of our situation and even if its pheromone would hold some information about our presence here, it would take hours to spread through the threads and trigger any reaction. So that would be a talk too slow even for a patient old man like me.
– But why would we need an insect? We are from the nature, we are some sort of animals as well, we have our chemical transmitters too. I read a book not long ago that wrote about the analysis of the spored animals’ pheromones. It was not much different from their normal conspecifics (?).
– I wouldn’t think that a seminar will save our lives here. Even if it is as you say, I have never done anything like this. I listen to the woodsweaver and not talk to it. We need to get out before our air runs out.
– There is no way out. We would have found it already. We have to try it. You saw the roots too. Where there are roots there are threads too. There is no other chance. Come on, Uncle, you have to try it.
Franky found quickly the roots hanging from the cracks and started to widen them with his screwdriver. Tibor had to follow him unless he wanted to be left alone in the dark.
– If you are seeking a quick end by collapsing it on your head, you are on the best way. – he murmured.
The rock was almost crumbly around the roots, so soon there was a palm-sized hole on the roof. The air was filled with the scent of earth. Franky dug into the hole by hand and searched until he could carefully pull out some thin white roots. It looked like an old man’s hair.
– Look! This is the woodsweaver.
Even Tibor’s eyes lit up a bit, but he was afraid of what they were preparing to do.
– Yes, it is the woodsweaver.
– I also found tubers – he exclaimed again.
Tibor stepped closer and looked on the little white spheres in the light of the headtorch.
– All right. – he said – Let’s give it a try.
He pushed Franky a bit aside and folded out the threads and the tubers, so they hung into the tunnel.
– I’m not tall enough. Come and get on your hands and knees.
Franky made faces but he obeyed. Tibor stood on the boy’s back so his head was just at the roof. He sniffed carefully in the earth trying to get focused on the task. Then he took one of the tubers and put that into his mouth without tearing it down. He stood there on Franky’s back with the tuber in his mouth that hang on the thin white root coming out from the earth through the roof of the mine’s tunnel, his eyes rolled back, breathing heavily from the scent of the earth. He stood there for several minutes. When he finished and carefully spat the tuber out and stepped off the cramped back of Franky he told him:
– That was all I could do. We’ll see if had any effect.
They settled down at the spot where they dug out the roots of the woodsweaver. Franky turned his head torch off to save the batteries. They sat in the dark and talked.
– Who taught you how to listen to the woodsweaver?
– He was a Finnish forester. They had a huge coherent forest there and inside it the largest woodsweavers of Europe, so old that they kept the memories from the ages before mankind.
– The historians would be crazy for such talk mates.
– Surely, but as I told you, it would be lengthy talk and it would be difficult to write down what a woodsweaver tells. Their history is very different from ours, although there are some common moments. Mostly wars. They leave a mark on both mankind and nature, but the ages when the big ship buildings started and later the industrial revolution also had its mark on the forests.
– There must be some good moments too, since there are so many people working on making the Earth better.
– Sure. There are some. For instance, the Finns live in harmony with their forests, and they have been taking care of their forests for a long time. They cut some trees but only one by one, leaving the forests mostly unharmed. They knew how to do it long before the researchers discovered the woodsweavers.
– And you have been to Finland?
– Yes, we travelled there and to other places as well. We have been to Germany, Canada, even the Congo. We visited wonderful forests, with old, enormous woodsweavers, all with their own personality. But I always returned gladly to my forest here that I have known since my childhood. Here I can be myself the most.
– I would like to travel a lot too.
– You will. Your whole life is ahead of you.
As they talked in the dark they started to hear some kind of buzzing. It was faint and distant first, but clearly audible in the dead silence of the tunnels. They jumped up and tried to guess its source by turning their heads around. The noise got stronger and while Franky tried to turn his head torch on, something flew through between them before the torch could cover the tunnel in light. They stepped a few paces in the direction where the flying thing went and the noise got stronger again. A bug appeared from the dark, flying towards them and further, then back again, going around and zig-zagging between them, making a strong buzzing sound. They didn’t see what it was and didn’t understand what was happening, just stood there dumbly turning their heads up and down and back and forth and round and round till the bug got tired of flying and landed on the floor. It was a cockchafer, also known as a maybug or doodlebug. It was brown and striped on the back and had large leafy antennas on its head. It started to walk on its six legs unhurriedly towards the corner. Tibor and Franky were following it until it suddenly disappeared in a crack. They waited disappointedly for something to happen, but it didn’t come back. Only a few ants were running on the wall. They went closer to look at them. There were little black holes on the wall, as little as the head of a needle. It was not even real rock, rather hard, rocky earth. The ants were running swiftly up and down the wall, appearing then disappearing in the little holes. Tibor carefully scratched the wall that crumbled and fell on the ground revealing small cavities connected by tiny tunnels. The ants nervously evacuated their eggs from their exposed rooms to the other parts of their city. Tibor and Franky looked at each other and started to break the wall without a word. They proceeded slowly, expecting that the ant soldiers would arrive soon and start attacking them, but it didn’t happen. Only the workers ran up and down with the microscopic white eggs in their jaws, emptying one chamber after the other. Soon they were inside the ant hill to their hips, carefully proceeding upwards to make the least damage to the ants, who did not pester or hurt them. There was dust floating everywhere, they were coughing and sneezing, but they didn’t stop digging. The earth got looser and looser until the roof collapsed and the ant hill buried them.
An oriole sang silently wobbling back and forth on the branch. It was watching the leaf covered ground which seemed to be waving from the thousands of teeming ants. Suddenly the ground sank and dust flew in the air. The oriole stopped singing and watched with his head cocked to the side. A dirty hand turned up from below followed by its owner, a young human digging itself out from the earth. He was soon followed by another, getting out from the hole as fast as he could. They both lay on the leafy ground coughing and sneezing and swearing and giggling. The oriole flew from one branch to the other, excitedly singing and watching the strange men. Finally it landed on the white cap of a mushroom. It was walking around with its head turned down and brushed its beak to the mushroom’s rim repeatedly. And through that rim of the cap to the threads of the mushroom and through the threads to the whole net under the forest a tiny stimulus spread out. One of the billions, but an important one.