by Scroggs Elementary Fifth Grade Students in collaboration with Susie Wilde
(photos of process and results are scattered through the students’ original story)
Long ago, when the world was one continent and most creatures lived in peace, deep in Earth lay an egg. Inside the egg slept a bird called Pangeo. The waters of the world surrounded that egg and the beings of Earth murmured and sang lullabies to it. As Earth cradled the hatchling, Pangeo learned the speech of butterflies and bugs, wind and fire, flowers and trees, and most importantly, the language of harmony.
One day Earth rumbled, erupted and cracked causing the egg to break. In a rush of lava, out burst the large, shining bird who soared into the sky, his wings as brilliant as flames. The sun nourished Pangeo, giving him strength to explore kingdoms thick with snow and valleys deep in dew. In each he gained new languages and the wisdom to help others. Earth watched proudly as Pangeo’s conversation with rain clouds ended a terrible drought. Earth smiled when Geo’s chat with bees brought honey to a land that knew no sweetness.
As he traveled, Earth talked to Geo about a village ruled by a white snake called Luna. “It is a cruel place that never welcomes strangers. The snakes who rule there have no kindness in their hearts. They call their kingdom Venom Village, and they are vicious to visitors.”
“I can help this land,” Geo exclaimed, “Besides, Snake is a language I want to learn.”
“You have my blessing, Pangeo. Go and share your peaceful ways with Luna and her villagers. However, if you can’t help them, I will have no choice but to bring a drastic end to their wickedness,” Earth said.
For weeks, Geo flew toward the village, guided by Wind. Finally Geo saw the two stone cobras that Wind had described. They were mounted on a gate, their fangs set to strike. Behind the gate were frogs with blank stares so wide, Geo could see the flames of his wings reflected in their pupils. Grasses gossiped among themselves, the flowers hid their blossoms, the deer turned their backs. No one greeted him. They were as unfriendly as Earth had told him.
Geo flew to a narrow ledge high on top of the mountain that overlooked the village. He watched and listened to the creatures below him as he rested. Finally he preened his feathers, found his courage, and glided down to the village and over the gate.
The animals backed away, revealing a cave that looked like a palace. Diamonds gleamed at the entrance and golden statues of snakes glittered in the sun.
“Sssssss.” Geo heard a menacing sound as a pure white snake, guarded by two cobras, slid towards him. Their fangs shone like silver daggers.
The white snake’s angry eyes widened as she hissed, “Where have you come from, Outsssssider?”
Geo didn’t understand her words, but there was no mistaking her spite.
“This fool can not speak our language,” she jeered, “I know the language of every one in my village, including Bird.” With disgust she switched languages and asked, “What is your name, Outsssssider?”
Relieved to hear a language he knew, Pangeo answered, “I am Pangeo and I have heard much about your village.”
“Is that so? And have you heard of me? I am Luna, the ruler of Venom Village.”
Geo bowed his head. “I have heard that you are a mighty ruler.”
“And I have heard nothing of a big bird who wears red flames on his wings. Why have you come here?” the snake spat.
“I want to help…,” Geo began.
The snake cut him off. “We don’t need your help. We don’t like strangers in our village. Be gone, Outsider. We don’t want you in this placccccce.”
Geo could not face Luna’s fierce glare. He pulled his warm wings close for suddenly he felt cold as ice. His red wings faded to a dull gray. Geo flew back to his mountain-top ledge with a heart as heavy as a boulder.
When Geo woke the next morning he heard the soft voice of Snow, calling his name. “Snow,” he said, “speak louder, so I can hear you.”
“Earth needs a word with you,” Snow whispered.
A squirrel chattered behind Geo. “Did you hear that silly bird asking the snow to talk louder?”
Geo whirled around. “Why are you watching me?”
“Because you’re talking to snow!” laughed the squirrel.
“You’re a nut case,” added another.
“As crazy as a squirrel that doesn’t collect acorns for winter,” put in a third.
Geo wondered how long it would take this embarrassing news to reach Luna as he heard the grasses passing the gossip down the mountain. He wanted to follow the hushed sounds, but stopped when he heard Earth’s thundering voice.
“There has been enough venom from that village. I can not allow this cruelty to spread. So I will split their kingdom in two. Creatures will fall into the crack and the harm they cause will disappear with them forever.”
“Please give them a chance to change, Earth,” Geo pleaded.
“Take the warning to Luna if you must, but I greatly doubt she’ll listen,” replied Earth.
Geo soared to Luna’s cave. The morning light splashing off the rocks made him feel brave. He landed at the entrance, dodged Luna’s cobra guards, and swerved around the stalactites that protected her crystal throne.
“I have an urgent message,” he started, gasping for breath.
“Make it quick, Outsider, there are many others who demand my time.”
“Your village’s coldness to outsiders has upset Earth’s balance. I am worried for your village.”
“Am I supposed to trust someone who talks to ssssssnow? Dream on!”
“Go away,” shouted a bat hanging from Luna’s throne, “before you scorch our village.” Every creature in the cave snickered.
“If you don’t heed this warning. Earth will destroy your village,” Geo cautioned them.
“Leave us. All you do is waste our time.” Luna showed her fangs, and bit the air.
Geo backed away. The white snake threw back her head and laughed. Her companions joined in. Geo bent his head and trudged to the cave entrance leaving a trail of feathers behind him. With every step he took, a feather drifted to the floor and his wings drooped.
“Guards, get that rubbish out of my sight!” Luna ordered.
Geo woke early to see lava streaming down the mountain. “It’s happening!” he said, “And I can’t do a thing to stop Earth, or change the minds of those foolish villagers.”
At dawn, an ear-splitting crack woke the village. Earth shook and the air grew still. Then deer circled in terror, worms burrowed into the soil, squirrels twitched their tails and rabbits scurried about without knowing where to go. “Geo was right,” gurgled a stream.
The lava made a new path through the village and the crack spread and widened. The earth tilted and slid into darkness as deep as a cave with no way out.
Geo soared above the crack through a sky black with ashes. He saw deer pull flowers up by the roots and carry them across to replant them on the other side. The squirrels and rabbits could jump over the split Earth, but what would happen to the grasses, trees, ants and all the baby animals?
Geo glided closer to the fracture and saw a tribe of frogs trembling wild-eyed at the edge. He hesitated only a moment, then spread his glorious wings.
“Hurry,” he called, “Climb across my wings. I’ll be your bridge to safety.” A line of trees tiptoed carefully across, butterflies dancing in their branches. Geo coughed on ash as he stretched his wings farther.
“Hold your wings ssssssteady, Outsider,” called a snaky voice. Out of the corner of his eye, Geo saw Luna’s glowing white scales and red eyes.
“Luna, you’d better climb across now,” said Geo.
“Your voice is weak and your wings are trembling,” Luna said.
“It’s the ash. It’s clouding the sun and I need the sun for strength. Without my strength what will happen to all these creatures? Please hurry, Luna, they’ll need a leader on the other side.”
“Geo, you’re falling!” Luna hissed. “Grab my tail!” she shouted, wincing as Pangeo’s sharp talons tightened.
“Luna, I thought you hated me,” Geo struggled for words.
“Quiet, Bird!” the snake shushed him. Then Luna felt herself drawn down into the dark.
“Guards, help us!” she screamed.
Her cobras lunged for Luna’s tail, but not strong enough to hold the weight of bird and snake, they skidded dangerously close to the crack.
“Help us,” they called and frogs hopped forward to grab them. Grass wound itself into a rope, tied itself around the frogs and then a sturdy tree. Finally a long line of villagers, each holding tight to the one before, managed to pull Geo and Luna to safety. Bird and snake landed in a crowd of cheering villagers. That night all creatures scattered to gather drums, berries, flutes, seeds and fruit. They prepared a great feast and fine music. They danced and sang songs of joy long into the night.
Years have passed and as I write this tale with quills made of Pangeo’s radiant feathers, I remember that terrible and wonderful day. When Geo slipped I wondered, “Should I save Pangeo, or myself?” He’d told me they needed a leader. But how good a leader had I been? I had kept my villagers afraid of me, afraid of each other and of outsiders as well. But that is the way of one who feels different. When you’re born the color of moonlight, others treat you strangely. I’d learned as a young snake that when I laughed at others, I was safe from everyone laughing at me. But Geo hadn’t laughed. He never laughed at anyone.
I recall how, in the dark, I looked over at my new friend, “Insider,” I told him, “your wings blaze with flames again.”
“They show the warmth I now feel from your villagers, Luna,” he said.
In the months that came after, Geo learned the Snake tongue and taught me how to care for everyone around me. I can still remember how one evening he spread his magnificent wings against a sunset sky and left us to teach others in far off lands the language of harmony.
To read a article about this project: http://www.826national.org/once-upon-a-school/669/the-fabric-of-language