Quite a few times I’ve been asked how I would explain my research to a child. This week that line of thought led me to imagine what a fairytale about it might look like. It wouldn’t, of course, have the specifics of my “follow the money” investigations, but rather come from a place of the heart. In this moment of more and more extreme behavior on the part of world governments, holding onto that space, clinging to hope and love and empowerment feels like a vital contribution. I’m not a writer of fiction, but I’ve done my level best to step up to the challenge I’ve set myself. I’m grateful to have embraced an odd-ball format for my blog – everything and the kitchen sink. This week it’s ogres.
Once upon a time, there was a community of ogres living on a remote mountaintop. Their great-great-great grandparents had trekked above the tree line years ago, no longer wishing to be friends with lesser beings. They chose an isolated spot where they could look down on everyone, and within a few years everyone forgot the path down off the mountain. They spent their days sipping lichen broth, feeling self-satisfied, and generally being irritable with one another.
The ogres’ village was so high up that cloud beings were their only companions, mysterious creatures who spun weather spells and gathered the stories of far-flung lands. Most days, clouds encircled the ogres’ compound bringing news to the desolate outpost. These transmissions were limited to ones and zeros, so the stories lacked vibrancy. Still, the ogres craved their daily dose of information and invented machines to capture and interpret it. Every bit of data they stowed away in a labyrinth of caves extending far back into the heart of the mountain. For them, the data showered on them by the cloud beings was a treasure more valuable than a dragon’s lair full of gold.
One day some clever ogres figured out a way to transform this stash into a digital simulation of “life.” They projected their invented designs onto the walls of the cave, which gave them immense satisfaction and affirmed their belief that ogres were truly superior beings. They continued to re-engineer hoarded ones and zeros to represent their most extravagant fantasies and desires. The ogres and cloud beings became enchanted by their handiwork. The cloud beings were rather proud of having gathered all the data that made such magic possible.
Addicted to these illusions the ogres became emboldened, believing themselves to be powerful creators. They thirsted for more and more and more data. Theirs was an unquenchable desire. So they cajoled the cloud beings to act as their agents, and that is how the cloud wars on the children of the valley began. The ogres wanted to transform the lives of all non-mountain beings into ones and zeros to fuel what was rapidly becoming a nightmare. If they could disconnect valley dwellers from mother earth and tether them to the cloud, the ogres could siphon off and be able to use those lives to run their cave simulations.
The children of the valley had no idea the ogres existed or that the clouds had been stealing from them all this time. The idea of a virtual world was inconceivable to the valley dwellers, because they lived in the embrace of the natural world. They found enchantment not in mechanical shadows on a wall, but in the delicate mosses of the forest floor and the magnificent stars of a clear winter night. Unlike ogres, the children of the earth craved connection not isolation. They sought balance with other beings and to live lightly with intention through the seasons on their ancestral lands.
The choices the ogres made on the mountain upset that balance, forcing their hand. First came the flooding, next drought, and then seeding the clouds with toxins to wither the crops and poison the water. There was no sympathy for the valley beings’ lost way of life. The ogres had appointed themselves creators after all. They were the chosen ones. It was their right to dominate lesser beings, and they proceeded with impunity. The more power the ogres exerted in concert with their cloud being partners, the more depraved they became.
Eventually the cloud beings had saturated the valley so thoroughly with data-collecting dust that the ogres could run simulations in real time. The days of grousing over lichen broth seemed distant as the ogres gleefully placed bets on what the children of the valley would do next. Could they navigate the shrinking water holes, crop failures, roofs blown off, and forest fires? Having harnessed the clouds, and the weather, to serve their program of displacement, every week offered up a new challenge upon which to gamble. Life off the mountain had become a plaything to be manipulated for games of chance.
The valley dwellers, so attuned to their environment, realized right away something had gone terribly wrong. Communities that had once been spread along the valley sought refuge at Crystal Creek, one of the few sources of clean drinking water that remained. Each week as children played among the fern-laced cascades, the adults gathered prayerfully to contemplate an uncertain future. Shared meals, song, and abundant embraces sustained souls wearied by stealth warfare waged by an unseen enemy above.
A settlement emerged along the riverbanks. The bereft filtered in and were promptly put to work. Tension and fear stalked adults with no clear place to rest blame for their terrible plight. Elders stayed busy mediating squabbles and outbursts. The children were sent off to forage, the upheaval granting them unprecedented freedom to wander the woods where they made fast friends with fellow humans and plant and animal beings. Whatever goodies they found they shared, never taking too much – the honorable harvest.
The children keenly felt the trickle of the cloud dust into the crevices of their minds, but they shook out the cobwebs with a regimen of rambling walks. It was easier to hold onto one’s being-ness immersed in stick-sword play or cairn building or nut gathering or berry picking or worm digging. Weaving oneself into the web of life from the tiniest beetle to a towering oak was a fine way to gum up the ogres’ agenda. As they waded in the shallows the children couldn’t help but notice a silty backwater build up. They could never have known they were ankle deep in the seeping nano-tech of an eroding cloud, the attempted soft coup by silicon of all carbon-based life.
As they played, the older children tried to communicate with the cloud beings that were transforming their sacred world into a profane shadow of itself. They sang loving intentions into the creek hoping that moisture might find its way into the sky to caress the cheeks of the maniacal virtual world builders on the mountain. Perhaps they could be made to stir, come to their senses, and end this wretched game. They left messages in clearings using leaves and sticks and stones. They lay face down on the damp soil connecting with the filaments of fungi that might transmit their distress calls through the stony heart of the mountain. The woods vibrated with the resistance of a legion of tiny warriors of the heart and the cloud beings silently watched.
One Sunday at prayer circle, a doctor announced he’d been given a vision of terrible creatures waging war from the mountains. The message the ogres wanted him to convey was that the children of the valley must submit to their desperate circumstances. It was their destiny. If anyone dared rebel, the ogres would have the cloud beings cast a terrible weather spell and erase them from the planet. The ogres had a particular hankering for children and demanded all youth be placed into a strict program of schooling so their data could be more efficiently extracted. The doctor was to be the ogres’ man about camp. He took up the mantle of headmaster and demanded a tent for his own private use to carry out this important work.
And that is how the children’s countryside ramblings came to an end. The adults were so afraid that they dismantled all the tree houses and lean-tos and threatened their children with dire punishment for going to the groves. One of the older children had a box into which they all placed their treasures – feathers, bark, pebbles, and pinecones. At night they would lay under the constellations, fingering the bits in the box, using their imaginations to travel back to the time where they were free and gentle breezes rustled their hair. Their parents’ fear would not overwhelm the hearts and imaginations of the children. The woods and the community they’d built there made them immune.
And so the days passed. Some were better, some worse. The siege continued through a winter of gruel eaten in anemic sunlight under a hazy horizon. The cloud beings missed the chatter of the children in the woods and the messages left for them there. It was a winter of silent dread. On the mountain the ogres seemed not to even notice the change of the seasons, so enthralled were they by the torrents of data now flowing into the caves.
The cloud beings grew lonely.
The novelty had worn off.
They realized the ogres weren’t such good company after all.
Finally spring arrived, more grey than green, but there was SOME green. As the ferns unfurled, the children’s rebellion took hold. The time for action had come. They felt it with all of their being, and they trusted themselves. The children all knew the beauty of the world could never be captured in ones and zeros. They saw the injustice of using their valley as a battery to power a demented simulation. And so three intrepid explorers and fast friends put their hearts into making a journey up the mountain where they planned confront these creatures that had subdued their valley and parents and say, “We do not consent!”
How does one face off against despotic data hoarders? With generosity and life. As the world awakened from its winter torpor the children gathered a bag of loamy soil, a jug of clear water from the deepest part of the river, and a fern just starting to unfurl its tender fronds. They were going to take their gifts to the ogres and demand they end the war.
The three followed Crystal Creek until they got to its headwaters where camped for three days. They sang to the waters and waited for guidance, an indication of the way forward. Their piercing songs cut through the thin mountain air. The cloud beings took pity on the shabby little group. In truth the cloud beings deeply admired the children’s fortitude, their conviction to fight for the world they wanted rather than submit to the one being forced upon them. They blew directions to the ogre village into the children’s ears, as a nagging feeling grew in their hearts that they were indeed on the wrong side of this war.
The spring night was damp and cold. As the cloud beings made their rounds, they decided to take a spin to see if there would be fires burning on the mountain. When they arrived, darkness cloaked the caves. The ogres so taken by the dancing digits no longer bothered to chop wood or gather tinder. In that moment the cloud beings had two revelations.
- They hadn’t been helpers in birthing new worlds, but rather accomplices in creating a prison to enslave hearts and minds.
- They loved the children.
With this collective realization stirring their breasts, the cloud beings blew down the mountain to the valley and the camps and the grove and back up to the caves and again and again until their furious souls attained hurricane force power. They then hurtled their being-ness straight into the ogres’ labyrinth and scattered the treasured ones and zeros to the deepest darkest depths. At once ogre wails reverberated down the mountain. How could the simulations they’d so carefully crafted have been scattered by these treacherous winds? Some rushed forward falling into chasms, others tripped and hit their heads, a few managed to scoop up some of the vanishing treasure in the hopes that their contrivances could be pieced together again.
When the children arrived in the village, they saw one ogre sitting alone at the opening of the cave. This one ogre, freed from the spell by the winds, had turned his back on the data and headed out towards the light and fresh air. He was dazed from the upheaval of the night before and had a hard time processing what was taking place.
A child carrying a fern strode forth declaring that as ambassadors of the children of the valley they had come bringing a gift of green life to this barren place. Without waiting for permission they placed the fern at the entrance of the cave, gently smoothed the bag of soil around its roots, and poured a stream of crystal water over it to set it in place. Then they pulled out a shell with a pinch of sage, which they lit, and in the wisps of smoke the children expressed gratitude for their safe passage and an intention that natural life take hold in the barren land of ones and zeros.
And it did.
The three children said they did not consent to the harvest of their lives as data, that it was wrong and must stop. They also said the harm could be mended if the ogre came down off the mountain and began to know the world as it really was, imbued with natural magic not the mechanized fiction advanced by creatures who imagined themselves gods.
Grateful for the chance to stop being an imperious loner, the ogre got up somewhat stiffly and took the hand of the child. Together they began walking towards the headwaters and the way home. It was well past time to rejoin the messy, unexpected, and sublime cosmic dance.
Imagine the shock of the elders as they looked up during their Sunday ceremonial song and saw the children that had gone missing leading an ogre out of the woods. Once over the shock, the children of the valley prepared a feast with their meager provisions. The ogre haltingly explained how his community had lost its way – that the path to the real had become overgrown generations before and how grateful he was for the intrepid children with hearts big enough to call to their tormentors through the waters, the soil, and the clouds and bring him back to the valley of life. He was grateful to put his life in service of the children of the valley, hoping to begin setting past wrongs to right. He imagined his friends and family lost and wandering in the darkness of the labyrinth unwilling to walk away from the imagined treasure. Occupied in the cave he hoped they’d no longer pose a threat to the valley, but the ogre was prepared to remain vigilant.
To make him feel at home, the children of the valley found the ogre a modest, yet tidy and dry, new cave where he could store the seed crops he’d been tasked with overseeing. Instead of engineering data the ogre would now be a caretaker of the harvest. The real treasure is the storied histories of the beings that help sustain us, our plant siblings.
May we all humbly grow together through the abundant gifts of mother earth.
PS: I want to thank friends who offered insights into an earlier version of this story. The collaboration made it much better. I consider this a work in progress. Eventually we may have a version that could be illustrated and shared more widely.