This is something I’ve had around for a long time. I’d like it to be a picture book some day. As I have little else in my head right now (other than “ouch” — what with new gardens and box cutters and a number of other stressors) I thought I might share this with you. Maybe someone out there wants to illustrate it. That would make me indescribably happy!
the parable of the volcanoes
once a small boy asked his grandmother “why to i have to go to school and learn to read?” his grandmother thought stared into the air looking for answers and she began. . . in a faraway place and a faraway time to you and i there were all kinds of animals some small, some huge some cunning, some content some hunters, some prey some numerous, some few now in that place along with the animals the earth was stretching and pulling apart like a shirt that’s too small and volcanoes popped up like mushrooms after a rainstorm so what with the usual trials of living — hunting, being hunted, having babies, growing old — now the animals in that place had a new problem to deal with hot, smelly stuff spewing out of mountains that, heretofore, had not existed so all the animals had to come up with a way to handle this new problem each in their own way, mind you now, the antelope, those millions of carefree, grazing folk they shrugged their shoulders and let the hot stuff carry off as many as it would so much the better for the survivors, thought they now, the lions, those few scatterbrained, hotheaded hunters they roared in fury but then, as likely as not, they forgot about the whole thing until next time now, the elephants, the wise and powerful leaders of the savannah now, they trumpeted each eruption and shook the ground with their deep bellows so that every elephant in the world heard and knew to stay away the humans, the small, weak newcomers to the world at first they acted like the antelope but they soon noticed that there weren’t nearly enough humans to survive if hot stuff carried off six or eight dozen every few years so then, they got mad and acted like lions but they soon noticed that not only was anger not doing any good, they also weren’t very good at forgetting so then, they noticed the elephants the strange vibrating elephant talk and they noticed that all the elephants always knew what places to avoid so they thought we must be like our wise leaders, the elephants but how? they tried yelling but human talk couldn’t even carry into the next valley they tried drums and sticks and dancing but the sounds just didn’t go around the world like elephant talk and then one very wise old man got an idea rather than trying to send the message around the world why not leave it behind at the source he said to his other human animals if i make a mark, like so ¬— and he put a large X on the ground — that means stay away from there and, indeed, he’d chosen a mark that looked like two scary spears so they all knew that meant bad things will happen and for a long time this worked just fine. . . but after that long time the scary spears just didn’t seem like enough information some human animals began to wonder if these particular scary spears meant the instant death of hot spirits tearing down the mountain or did they mean the slow, steady hot lizards that may cover a village but certainly couldn’t take you by surprise so little by little they began making more marks different marks for different kinds of danger and little by little they began using their marks for other things, too, not just avoiding volcanoes and it was beginning to get confusing all those new marks so after another long time of everybody inventing new marks and getting confused the human animals called a huge meeting everybody in one place away from the volcanoes, mind you, to talk about the marks they put together all the marks anybody had ever seen and some that most hadn’t to decide once and for all what meant what well, that meeting lasted for weeks they decided what every mark represented some were thrown out some were made more clear some marks were invented right on the spot but by the end every important thing in their lives and most not-so-important ones had its very own mark and all the human animals knew what all the marks meant so, what began with a simple wish to avoid those mushroom volcanoes led to writing and to reading, and to school and through time, my dear, there have been many changes to those marks because humans kept wanting more of them to describe different things but the idea is still the same we, human animals, write make little marks to tell other human animals things and most everything we write is not very different from that X in the dirt that served as a volcano warning all those many years ago so that’s why you have to learn to read. . . she concluded the boy eyed her doubtfully and said “so i have to learn to read to avoid volcanoes?” and the old woman laughed and said “well, if volcanoes were your only problem you’d have a lot less to learn. . . but, yes son, you have to learn to read to avoid volcanoes, whatever kind they may be”
©Elizabeth Anker, 2021