Keren, a pre-teen activist and biologist, and Caleb, Keren’s mystic sidekick, seek to save the last remnants of nature in a world focused on progress, prosperity, and conformity. When the gates slide open on Purity Mountain Wild, Keren is shocked. No Automated Elevation Systems whisking people to individually keyed destinationsthey hike a trail into forested mountains. No Hearing Enhancement Audio Devices (HEADs) to block machine screams and voicesher ears fill with bird calls, thumping feet and breathy wind in the tall overhead pines. Guided by a mysterious Keeper and helped by Wildlings, Keren, Caleb, and their friends must use wit and geek skills to outwit underlings of the ominous Dominion and make a powerful pitch for changing the story of human progress.
Return to the Wilds offers a unique world view on institutional forces, security and development, the courage and clarity of youth, and the intangible power of the wild and natural. At a somewhat dismal time when young people again are questioning failed institutions of their elders and contending for the planet, it offers new perspective on what’s broken, what to do, and where hope and help can be found.
|Publisher:||Morgan James Publishing|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.60(d)|
|Age Range:||12 - 18 Years|
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Creatures gnawed and buzzed in Keren's brain. She woke in cold fright — which melted into angry annoyance. Blowers! She sprang from her bed and peered outside.
Sure enough, the workers started early, chasing every leaf and grass blade from driveway to gutter, removing disorderly Spring from the tidy manicured urban enclave. They chased around persistent scraps of leaves still issued by the modified Gen trees.
When do we get the "Leaf Off" trees and lose those blowers? Keren wondered.
The touted new "Leaf Off" trees photosynthesized through bark instead of leaves. She'd seen the promo viz in OA Biology. Keren thought the spiny, thorny plants were kind of cute — like huge green spiders.
She tried to wrap on a robe while plugging her ears against the caterwauling. "Mother!" she yelled, thundering down the stairs for dramatic effect. She burst into the breakfast nook where Mother sat, drinking her morning coffee. "Why do they have to do this stuff so early?"
"If you would wear your HEAD, you could tune out the noise," Mom noted, adjusting her own Hearing Enhancement Audio Device. "You really should wear it to protect your hearing, dear."
"Why don't they turn down the city noise?" Keren retorted. "We've known for a century that it damages hearing. Babel is addicted to binge growth, and it's killing us. I am so tired of the roar and crash. Why is it grow, grow, grow?"
"Economic growth is the engine that drives prosperity," Mother recited. A bit of cynicism in her tone? Hard to tell. The woman was pro-business. Keren's parents owned a small artist supply shop and hung out with a free expression crowd. They didn't totally buy the growth thing, did they? Keren pressed her point.
"Okay, we have inalienable rights to economic prosperity. What about the right to a 'walkable, livable community'? What happened to 'Every Babelite is entitled to an environment free of excessive noise'?" Keren asked.
Mother smiled. "Is that from the World Code of Urban Rights?" she asked. "For a young person who despises urbanity, you seem to know a lot about it!" she teased.
"We pretty much memorized the world code for OA Civics," Keren explained. "And there's another danger from HEADs. The Dominion can issue subliminal messages. They are brainwashing you!"
"What a sinister thought," Mother said. "On the positive side, HEADs do provide a community connection, a virtual village. You can walk down the street and meet a neighbor, in your HEAD!"
"People used to walk in the neighborhoods and stop to gab with each other on the street." Keren recalled a class on small town life they had studied in history last year.
Mother looked wistful, her eyes gazing off in the distance. "It seemed more personal and spontaneous. You never knew who you might run into. Now we always know. And our store, Anderson Arts, is one of the last small stores where you might meet a neighbor, and ... someday we will be gobbled up by ArtCorps Inc."
"The mega-development will wipe out your business, and wipe out Dad's art," Keren said. "The Dominion wants to stomp out all pocket parks and urban Wildlings. Then what will Dad paint?"
"His Nature's Notes are best sellers," Mother said. "A few of us like our urbanity with a touch of life." She pondered. "You think the Dominion is out to eradicate nature? Is that what Dr. Dierk is teaching you?"
"Dr. Dierk doesn't accuse them, he just relates the facts." Keren defended her favorite teacher. "The fact is, Urban Wildling Services is eliminating millions of squirrels, birds and rodents every year.
"And that is the main and final reason I won't wear my HEAD," Keren concluded, using her newly-acquired debate skills from OA Public Speaking class. "I want to hear the Wildlings in the City. I want my bird songs and squirrel chirps live, not simulated!"
She offered her final salvo. "The Dominion only gave us all HEADS so we would forget that they are replacing Nature with one big construction site."
"I make big noise," blurted Keren's little brother, bursting into the kitchen. He spun around and backed towards his sister shouting "Ding, ding, ding, ding."
"Stop that, Tug!" Keren screamed. She covered her ears as the toddler marched backwards swaying his arms and clanging at the top of his lungs. Tug loved big, noisy machines, especially oversized construction tractors with their clanging safety signals. He had learned some new noises from his Construction-Site Simulation package, gift of doting grandparents for a third birthday. Now he could play excavator or crane operator on a mega building site. And better yet, annoy his big sister. Tug's loud adoration exasperated the quiet-loving Keren.
"Tug, do you want some cereal for breakfast?" Mother asked the little nuisance.
"I want, I want Fuel Flakes!" he cried, receiving a bowl from his mother and clambering up his little footstool to reach the cereal delivery spout.
"How about you, Keren?" Mother asked.
"Can I have something without GMOs?"
"So you don't like our bioengineering marvels guaranteed to eliminate world hunger?" Mother teased. "They are pretty bland. We can't buy everything from Farm and Gardens." Keren knew her parents made sacrifices to buy a small stock of expensive health farm products. "I'll make whole-grain hot-cereal," Mother said. "While you get dressed."
Keren jogged back up the stairs to replace robe and tunic with pants and shirt. She checked her wrist tab to make sure she had programmed in all the readings and assignments for the day's lessons, then put a few snacks in her daypack. She flipped a message to her best friend, Caleb. Meet you at Auto Corner 0730; watch out for blower boys!
Caleb's return message popped up on the tab's virtual projection screen. You ready for Wild pretest?
Ready! she flipped back. The dreaded and adored pretest readied Over Achiever (OA) Biology students for the spring field trip. Each one-week trip explored a different Wild outside the environs of Babel II 4.1. The test helped students prepare for any dangerous situation they might encounter.
The Wilds experience transcended anything in urbanity; students had to be ready. Dr. Dierk did not need some kid frizzing out and getting the whole Wilds Field Trip Program shut down. Keren loved the meticulous details of field trip prep: checklists of supplies, safety protocols, the warning system, and the pretest, which plunged students into a simulated Wild with all its exotic sights, sounds, smells and apparent dangers.
She recalled Dr. Dierk's explanation of the Wilds Protection System. As the Babels expanded through the earth, new laws protected the last remnants of nature from urbanization. The officials labeled all parks, natural areas, and reserves "Wilds," exempted from urbanization.
The pretest exceeded the actual field trip for sheer challenge. Aided by the simulator, each student got lost in the midst of a different Wild — a barren mountain pass in subalpine tundra, a dense forest, a hot desert of blazing sun and cactus — with various perils to teach the right safety response. Keren knew how to escape from an angry mountain goat and avoid a buzzing rattler. What would Dr. Dierk spring on them today? Tropical Wild, she'd bet. Very scary.
She joined her family at the table, wolfing down her cereal topped with peanut butter and soy milk. Dad, eating grains, kept nodding appreciatively at Tug's scrawled drawing of an excavator. "We build mega mansion," Tug explained, grubby paws gesturing to stick figures hovering above a blobby machine. "I drive Excavator and Da makes blueprint on his tab. You think it, we make it," he said, quoting a favorite ad from the Noblitts & Nard BuildEarth Empire.
"Speaking of thinking, how did the pretest studies go last night, Keren?" Dad asked.
Keren pushed back her chair. "My eye is still recovering from the bee sting, I removed 100 leeches, and a spider monkey bit me," she answered. "I've programmed avoidance strategies for vipers, adders and cobras; and I've been testing mosquito repellants vs. meshes ... but Dr. Dierk will surprise us."
"I wanna cober, Daddy!" exclaimed Tug. "Can I have a big 'nake? Buddy's big brother has a black 'nake in a glass box. He feeds him little ratties. I help him once!"
"Stay safe and watch out for snakes!" Dad's grin indicated that human varieties such as Yessers and Tattlers might be more dangerous than simulated animals in the Tropical Forest Wild.
Keren placed her bowl in the sink, made a quick round to plant kisses on her parents' cheeks and her brother's soft hair, and ran out the door into the roaring city. To take her mind off the noise, she thought about the Wilds Visit. To that first time, when everything changed.CHAPTER 2
Two years ago. The first Wilds visit. It almost didn't happen.
Dr. Dierk insisted they travel on a large vehicle he nicknamed "the Magic Bus" or just "the Bus." In his youth, he explained, students took a school bus for field trips.
"I applied for self-propelled transport," Dr. Dierk told the class. "Babel II 4.1 has a fleet for official Dominion business."
Self-propelled? Off the Auto? The class was shocked.
"Can't we just use travel pods on the Auto and meet up at the Wild entrance?" someone asked.
"That would be less hassle," Dr. Dierk agreed. "But this is a community experience, and we should travel to the Wild together."
Clearance from Urban Transport Authority took weeks. Dr. Dierk projected each new e-form for class entertainment: Security Risk Assessment, Traffic Pattern Non-Conformance Plan, Safety Plan, Parental Permission Contract, and Non-System Travel Budget. Each student even wrote a Personal Justification for Non-System Transport, assisted by Dr. Dierk.
Finally, URB-TA approved a 50-person vehicle for the Purity Wilds Field Trip.
On a cool Saturday morning, the students found a gleaming "bus" waiting in front of the Middle Education Resource Center. "Put 'em here, kids," the driver said, indicating a stow space for their packs. They clambered aboard: kids, Dr. Dierk, and two parent chaperones. Rows of plush seats along a central aisle awaited their glutes. They filed up the aisle and plopped into soft cushions, looking out large windows in amazement. No individual climate nor destination control, no music favs; they shared space undistracted by media. Soon that space filled with laughter and conversation as the conveyance roared to life and lifted into the air above the MERC.
The Bus flew slowly across the predawn city, over steel towers and factory reservoirs that reflected morning light. Their destination appeared below them, an island of green rising from the crust of pavement and steel. Then the Bus slowed to a quiet grumble, descended gradually, and stopped before a massive gate. They had arrived at the entrance to Purity Mountain Wild.
Two armed Rangers walked up to the Bus as Dr. Dierk bounded down the steps holding out his tab, preprogrammed with a Wild Code he had spent months extracting from the Authorities.
"Code?" demanded one Ranger, holding up the Entrance Activation Device. Dr. Dierk smiled and touched his tab against the screen. With a hum, the great gates slid open and the Bus floated through.
Beyond the station doors, the foothills of Purity Mountain Wild rolled up to a high ridge capped by pine-covered peaks. Before them, a sign marked Purity Mountain Wild Ridgeline Trail; behind it a footpath wound up a canyon towards the foothills. The Bus parked, and the group tumbled out. The great gates hummed closed.
Dr. Dierk passed out water and snacks, as the Rangers gave a brief safety briefing. Then the group followed Dierk up the footpath, trying to match his long strides uphill. Signs of life — stubby vegetation, dots of bright flowers, a lizard darting under a rock — greeted them as they crisscrossed the canyon, winding upwards, skipping on stones to cross Purity Canyon Creek, a trickling stream of water. Scrub brush and white hardwood trees with lime green leaves gave way to scraggily junipers. The trail left the canyon and zigzagged up the slope.
Later, Keren's mind would replay these scenes: that first sight of Babel below, spreading in all directions from the wall surrounding Purity Mountain Wild; superior views above of ponderosa pine, waving grasses, and limestone rock outcrops. Hawks swooped in lazy circles, playing on thermals rising from the ridge. The beauty, the life, the warm sun on her skin, breeze tickling her face. The breathy shhhhhuhh of pine song welcomed their ascent to the mountain ridge.
One by one, members of the hiking party made their way up to Savannah Saddle, the first rest stop. "Break," Dr. Dierk called. They situated themselves, each choosing a log or grassy patch beneath the towering pines. Keren felt peaceful and calm, more at home than at any other time she could recall.
Dr. Dierk, uncharacteristically quiet, lounged against a pine log, eyes closed, breathing in the unfiltered air. The students refrained from chatter and the two chaperones seemed stunned; no one wanted to break the powerful silence.
Keren heard a gentle humming in her head or somewhere in the silence. She felt awe and joy, sensing more than the simple scene of shade, sun, trees and grass. No one reached for a HEAD; they listened for the song within the silence. A whisper? A rush of waters? Something here, not scary or strange, but something they somehow had all known all their lives enfolded them in the moment.
That's why we have the Moment of Silence at Church, Keren thought. That awkward time of shuffling papers, sideways glances, and slight discomfort when it seems like everyone is waiting for Someone to arrive, until the pastor's voice breaks in with the Prayer. Is this what the Moment of Silence is for? Are we listening for something?
Sitting in silence at Savannah Saddle, she felt the life in her body, her pulse elevated, a trickle of sweat running down her neck. The hint of butterscotch from the pines, filtered sun, singing trees. Something indescribable filled her spirit.
In their prework packet, the Ranger Service supplied a pamphlet on the natural history of the area: "Purity Mountain Wild: The Story Behind the Scenery." There is a story, she thought. There is something here. Not like a ghost story. Not scary or weird. But something missing from her life. Until now.
After that, she could always go there. Taking a quick turn into that story behind the scenery of her life. A place of refuge, a place of beauty and wonder. Where colors lived vividly — dazzling green grass and deep blue streams, red and yellow floral accents. Leafy trees swaying in the mild breeze, where the sun shone unfiltered and her skin felt energized. Nothing to distract or reprogram her senses. No jarring sounds drowned out by HEADS, no clanging construction, no whirring maze of Personal Destination Paths. Instead of orderly steel towers, a random array of mountain peaks. Instead of manicured Astroturf, clumps of grasses and sedges. A tumble of plants, rocks, waters — and it all fit, all harmonized; all was right.
And that sound. Where had she heard it before? As a little child, lying on her bed at night, listening to the waters humming in her head. But here in the Wild the soundless sound soared all around her. Not just in her head. Someone speaking? No words. But she felt welcome. Welcomed home.CHAPTER 3
Caleb leaned against the kiosk at Auto Corner. Tall for his age, he had already attracted interest from the Sports Department. But Caleb so far only went out for cross-country running (on sim-fields due to limited "country"). He liked to move across the ground quickly. Caleb and Keren's friendship grew from their preference for walking.
"Auto" referred to the Automated Elevation System that hurried individuals along through the vast canyons of high-rise buildings soaring into bleak grey skies. Each preprogrammed pod had its own artificial atmosphere tuned to the controls specified in the user's Personal Destination Key (PDK).
Students took the Education Resource Center (ERC) Autos to school as a safety measure; the Auto went only to the destination programmed by PDK into the kiosk. Only students and teachers had an ERC code on their PDK, with temp codes issued to parents for official visits.
Keren and Caleb always met at the Auto, and then walked to school, working their way around racing ribbons and high-rises downtown, and passing through their beloved Puddicombe Pocket Park. HEAD-less and free-footed, they heard bird calls from the Gen trees and sometimes spotted a feral cat or rat slinking around a corner. Despite the ceaseless eradication efforts of Urban Wildlife, nature persisted in the city.
"Do you think we'll work as teams or go it alone this year?" Caleb asked.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Return to the Wilds"
Copyright © 2019 Cindy C. Chojnacky.
Excerpted by permission of Morgan James Publishing.
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