Keeping Warm – Part 9

Many years ago, Beelo reached the age where he could join his parents for excursions away from the doma and away from the Téchni village. On that summer morning, he would join his mother or his father for the day’s work instead of going to the village with the children.

Beelo had looked forward to this day and he could barely sleep the night before. His parents told him the news after dinner and he got ready for bed faster then ever before. When his mother opened the door to the bedroom he shared with his little brother Baro, she found Beelo sitting on the edge of his bed, dressed and ready for the day.

After breakfast, Beelo joined his mother, Naru, to range the forest. Beerok, Beelo’s father, waved goodbye and pulled the door closed as they began the climb to the forest floor. Beerok would keep an eye on Baro until it was time for the boy to go to the village. Another rule in their doma was that someone always needed to stay behind to lock the door. Baro would later wake to find his brother gone and would spend the entire day in jealous excitement.

When they reached the soft, mossy earth at the base of their tree, Naru squatted low and pointed to the ground. Beelo squatted next to her.

“This moss is only found at the base of a doma tree,” Naru said while poking the moss gently with her fingers. “To the untrained eye, it looks like any other kind of moss. But if you look closely, it’s different.”

Beelo looked closely. He had walked across this moss thousands of times, every summer and spring for as long as he could remember. In the autumn, when the huge leaves fell from the doma trees, the moss was hidden under their layers. In the winter time, it would also be under layers of snow. Beelo had never been outside in the winter so he could only imagine that was the case. He looked even closer and noticed something he never saw before. There was a pattern to the nodules, swirls of dark green and light green. Beelo stared in wonder as the pattern became more distinct. Then he looked at his mother with wide eyes and a wider smile.

“Like this moss, many things in the forest will seem to be the same. It’s only when you pay attention that you can see the differences.”

Naru stood and started to walk across the moss, away from the doma. Beelo took one more look and then jogged to catch up with his mother.

“There are red berries that grow on a bush with pointy leaves,” Naru spoke with a strong, but lyrical voice. When she told stories or gave lessons, Beelo often thought his mother almost sounded like she was singing.

“Those berries look delicious,” Naru continued, “and they are. However they will give you the worst diarrhea you will ever have.”

Naru turned to see Beelo cover his mouth to keep from laughing. She winked at him before turning back to her path through the trees.

“There is another bush, with pointy leaves that look almost the same as the first one. However, the points are sharp and will cut your fingers if you are not careful. The berries on this bush are red, but not as bright. They don’t look as tasty. But they are sweet as honey and you can eat hand-fulls of them without having to worry about loose bowels.”

Naru came to a stop at a stand of willow trees. The branches swayed in the summer breeze in the same way Naru’s hair did as it hung from a ribbon tied at the back of her head. Beelo sidled up to his mother. Through the willows, he could see an open meadow. Naru placed a hand on the back of the boy’s neck. Beelo opened his mouth to ask his mother a question but she squeezed his neck a bit and he shut his mouth instead.

A female deer ventured out into the meadow. She looked around, sniffed the air and then kicked at the ground with one of her front hooves. Two fawns bounded out of the thicket on the far side of the meadow. They awkwardly half-walked, half-stumbled to where their mother stood. Her eyes were focused on the willow trees, but to Beelo it looked like she stared straight at him and his mother. The doe’s ears swiveled back and forth and then she tipped her head down and munched on the soft grass at her hooves.

Beelo and Naru watched for some time until Naru gave Beelo’s neck another squeeze and motioned towards the south. As the two made their way past the meadow, Beelo stepped on a tree branch. The dry wood snapped under his weight and the crackling sound bounced off the tree trunks around him. Naru and Beelo turned towards the meadow and watched as the doe chased her little, awkward fawns back into the ticket. In seconds they were invisible.

Hours later, when Beelo and Naru returned to their doma, the sun had pretended to set behind the peak of Maternas and in another hour would set for real behind the western horizon. Baro was coming home from the village at the same time, escorted by a neighbor and her children. Baro waved goodbye to the neighbors and ran to his big brother. Beelo carried a bundle of sticks and shed antlers in one arm and a heavy sack of shiny rocks in the other. He dropped them both and took his brother by the shoulders.

“You’re going to love going out in the forest,” Beelo beamed.

“I can’t wait,” Baro exclaimed.

Baro grabbed the bag of stones and pretended it wasn’t too heavy as the three of them climbed their doma tree. Baro dropped the bag of stones in front of the door and performed the special knock only he used. The amber window darkened slightly. They heard the latches slide and the door opened slowly. Baro had to grab the bag and drag the heavy stones out of the way so the door could continue to open.

Beerok approached the three and put a hand out to his wife. She handed him a brace of pheasants she had snared earlier that afternoon. Beerok held out his other hand and she walked up to him. Beerok put his arm around Naru and he held her close while the boys ran into the house, leaving their bundles outside in the their excitement.

Beerok kissed Naru on the forehead and then on the lips. She smiled at him and then poked him in the ribs.

“Pheasant for dinner,” Beerok asked.

“And morels,” Naru answered as she dangled a small mesh sack in front of his face.

The grown ups ate dinner quietly as Baro interrogated Beelo. Beelo patiently answered and just when he thought there couldn’t possibly be more to ask, Baro would think of another question.

“Finish your dinner, Baro,” Beerok chided.

After dinner, dishes, and getting ready for bed, Beelo fell asleep after answering one last question from Baro. Baro actually had one more question to ask when he noticed his brother was snoring. He decided to save it for the next day.

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