Takoda Tortoise emerged from the mouth of the cavernous entrance hall into the sun-drenched stadium, now decades out of use, overgrown and abandoned by the humans who built it. It was the largest on record, he had heard, impressive but proving to be impractical to maintain- the costs were more than the generated income. The stadium had been seldom full. Interesting, thought Takoda. Though humans were susceptible to herding, more than they liked to think, the contractors had apparently overreached. The numbers needed to fill it were too big to be constant. To him and the other organizers for today’s gathering, however, it was a perfect size for their purposes. He made his way across the length of the amphitheater, slowly of course, for that was the tempo nature had given him. But he was not complaining. This gave him time – time to observe, time to think and to assess. He, himself, was never prone to rashness or thoughtlessness, his own nature had seen to that (though rashness in a tortoise was seldom recognizable to anyone but another tortoise); and it had its advantages, which was why the committee had requested him, and he accepted the task at hand. His official title was “coordinator”……but he saw himself as more of a point of focus and, he hoped, a calming influence. He took a heavy breath and released it slowly. As he passed down the center line toward the other end, he observed the Eluwilussit Elephant clan, working now since months, busy finishing the last phase of preparation for the gathering scheduled for the day after tomorrow. They, as always, were doing an excellent job. The walls and bleachers on the right side of the stadium had been knocked out and replaced with two humungous glass tanks for the marine life delegations. He caught his breath - it was somewhat frightening to conceptualize that wall of water. Unlike his cousins, who spent the major portion of their lives swimming, he was not accustomed to the vastness of a sea or an ocean. He had seen large bodies of water before through his life, but this seemed so unnatural, which, of course, it was. The event in its entirety is unnatural. The Eluwilussit would be filling them, one with salt and the other with fresh water. This fear he felt would have to be set aside for the sake of the beautiful creatures that would fill them. Takoda gazed to the left. All along the bleachers, till the structure curved around to the front and back, they had lain fresh forest leaves, branches, dirt and brush for the comfort of the delegations of small forest creatures. Trees had been erected for the bird delegations, under them the earth tamped down, leaves and brush added for the hooved animals. There were wooden stalls for the domestic animals, who were not used to the nature of the wild ones in such close proximity, so they would feel safe; and an area of large boulders piled on top of one another for the creatures of the mountains, with openings for the reptilians who preferred cold, dark recesses and for the protection and refuge of insect life. The elephant clan had, as always, worked diligently and sensitively. Takoda nodded to each one as he passed them by, and they waved their trunks in a returned greeting.
He eventually arrived at his destination – the Circle of Conciliation. A magnificent yew formed the backdrop, some forty feet high with an immense trunk. Heavy, wide branches curved down the ancient form, each adding a new connection to the earth. Other branches lifted upward and outward, thick with foliage, making a dome of shade all around it. Takoda felt reverent in its presence. In its roots resided the wisdom of the ancestors, of which they were in desperate need. And though death played a role, the foundation of its perpetual story was eternal life, and the promise of resurrection and rebirth. He moved closer. An opening in the lower trunk offered entrance to the sepulchral vault of the tree, large enough for two elephants. He wondered how the Eluwilussit could transport such a structure unharmed. He did not ask but let his wonder and awe stand. Gomda was already there, preparing their food. The mixture of tropical leaves and fruit, and water in a hole in the ground lined with palm leaves were a welcome sight. He was tired from his travels. The young gibbon would be his adjutor, and he was glad. They had met on the island in the great eastern waters and he had immediately liked Gomda’s mischievous nature and friendly demeanor. Takoda had found his white beard and eyebrows stunning against his black fur, and his movement through the trees beautiful, graceful and sure. His elegant morning song daily woke the sleeping forests. “Is everything ready?” Takoda asked. “What do you think, great oldster?” was the gibbon’s sassy answer. Takoda chuckled. If he made it another twenty-five years, he would be 200, he mused. They sat together in the opening of the tree, ate a little and chatted until the old tortoise sighed and said, “Let’s prepare the trees.” The main Circle of Conciliation was patterned after the ancient megaliths, built beyond memory, when humans still connected earth and sky, still revered the hallowed circle and still felt universal kinship. But instead of stone, the elephants had replanted seven straight young yew trees to create the sacred circle, in honor of renewed life, the transformation after death and ancient wisdom - each about 7 feet high with leaves in umbrella formations, one at the top like a cap and 4 or 5 on thick branches jutting out from the trunks. A dais with one ramp from the back facing the old yew and one from the front toward the stadium, was placed in the middle. On this platform, each and every creature could speak his or her piece without interruption, where no living creature could be beset upon by another. They set to work until each trunk was a smooth light brown, one using the strength of his jaw, the other his agility of hands and feet. Gomda climbed on the last one and hung by an arm from one of the heavier branches. “I would fly through these treetops on my mother’s belly. As young gibbons we played games of speed and long jump from branch to branch.” He paused and gazed somewhere far away. “Our community thrived in these trees, where we nested and watched over each other.” Takoda looked at Gomda with sadness and compassion. “I know. I am sorry. They were once glad homes and safe shelter.” They sat down in their place at the outer edge between the old yew and the Circle, taking refreshment. A dowager of the Eluwilussit made her way to them. “The filling of the tanks needs time, but all will be ready by tomorrow,” she informed them. “Thank you, my lady,” Takoda replied and bowed his head to her. She and Takoda looked at each other. “We have seen so much, you and I, many changes and much loss,” she asserted. “But this I did not expect.” “Nor I,” was his quiet response. She turned to go, then turned her majestic head to him. “There is no other way?!” Whether a question or statement was unclear, even to herself perhaps. “I am afraid,” said Takodo in his slow, methodical manner, “there is not.” She turned back to continue her work. Takoda and Gomda ate in silence.
The gorillas arrived on the morning of the next day. Gaho, who was the oldest female and their spokesperson, would need the day in-between to rest. Takoda was glad to see them. Despite their intimidating appearance, he knew they were playful, quiet and peace loving. Gaho, like himself, had known freedom and captivity – her perspective would be very welcome. The gorilla delegation chose a well-shaded place just off the tree area and created a soft nest of the provided leaves and brush for her comfort.
Throughout the day, the smaller mammals and rodents arrived, all eager to find a safe place on the bleachers before the large cats and birds showed up. Despite the agreement, they were distrustful. The deep-seated survival instincts of predator and prey filled them all. Gomda watched as they ruffled and rustled about, thinking how glad he was he could navigate the trees, until the sobering thought came to him – it had not saved his family, either.
Toward dusk, the bird delegations came, working very hard to avoid each other’s flight path, whether solitary representatives like the eagle and the owl, or the flocks as collective representatives, as the starlings. The need to be civil was evident to them all, a consensus of spirit and will. Only through solidarity can their goal be reached. They spread themselves through the trees, the larger birds high above, making the rodents somewhat uneasy, and the smaller ones finding refuge in the deep recesses of branches and leaves. They did their best to allow each other the space and comfort they needed.
Takoda and Gomda greeted all the groups as they came, feeling glad that, so far so good, everyone maintained the proper order. No one was frightened of the two of them, they were the most trusted among creatures……and because neither were true meat eaters. So, when they bid them all to settle down for the night since no others were expected before the morning, the delegations did so in relative confidence. Relative, but not without sentries. They could not, and had no mind, to free themselves from this custom. Security was security. And it was programmed into their DNA to keep their guard up.
Early the following morning, they were all awakened by the slow onslaught of rumbling in the ground. The starlings chattered and chirped incoherently, while the eagle and owl flew off to investigate. The small ground creatures scurried this way and that, then suddenly suspended in mid-motion, repeating this pattern over and over. They were overcome with panic. There was no place to hide. Gomda jumped instinctively on Takoda’s shell and onto a yew tree, the highest point in the near vicinity. Takoda looked at the returning eagle, who cawed gently. After a moment, he said, “The buffalo are here, together with the gazelle and deer, who traveled with them for protection. They do not stampede. To assure punctuality they traveled here at a great speed, which they now reduce to a slow march.” The ground gradually stopped shaking. Gomda climbed down carefully and all looked to the opening, anxious and still, like a moment frozen in time. A broad shadow emerged and the buffalo appeared, the Bidzill in the lead, entering one by one, mingled with the gazelle and deer. They trod as lightly as they could to the plains area, and the entire stadium breathed out in gratitude.
“Have a care!” screeched the owl. “The cats are just behind them!” The momentary reprieve ended, and panic ensued once again. Gomda spoke under his breath to Takoda. “They are afraid the Lallo and Lomahongva will not keep their word……and so am I!” Takoda watched the lion and leopard as they approached. “They are very quiet, aren’t they?” he said uneasily. He was not afraid of them. There was so much more to be frightened of. But their presence did require…..caution. As the felines passed, walking purposely toward the Circle of Conciliation, the hooved creatures backed away as far as they could, knowing that if an attack came, there was nothing to be done. Takoda waited unmoving as they silently approached. Just about two feet from the front opening into the Circle, they veered off to Takoda’s left, and settled themselves near the tanks of water. An obvious display, thought Takoda, and effective.
The last to come were the sea creatures and the domestics. This was the last task of the Eluwilussit. They accompanied the farm and pet animals into their stalls- some of whom were so terrified, they were visibly shaking. It was a testament to their courage that they appeared at all. The gates were closed, and the guardian elephants went to assist their clansmen in bringing the wagons in with the whales and dolphins and, surprisingly, a few fish, who didn’t feel it was proper to be left out. They were right, of course. The air breathers would be the spokespeople for the purpose of communication, but they had the right of attendance, of a voice and a vote.
It was now midday. They would eat and rest, and begin the meeting in the late afternoon, a time compromise between the night creatures and those that lived their lives in the daylight. They had all agreed, they would settle this by the last lingering light of dusk.