The Great Gorge
Far away, near the edge of a vast gorge, an ancient tree let out a sigh. It was not an audible sigh, but one released into the air in a wave of fresh scent. The smell, like that of new growth, perked up an old minn
“Pendi,” the female minn, named Gemei, addressed her father tree, “What is it?”
A few crumbly branches creaked, and a sound like a rough vibration met each minn’s ears. “The young tree, Sedri, has welcomed his minns at last. He is safe and well now.”
Gemei smiled and let out a soft purr, “That is wonderful news.”
She snuggled in closer to her family, but now two were looking at her a bit anxiously. Amla and her mate, Fren, were pleased with the news but it made then worry. “Grandma Gem,” Amla finally started, “What will happen to us now?”
Gemei was not sure how to respond. Amla and Fren had tried to reach the new tree once before, but could not find their way across the vast gorge. They had returned from the north, exhausted but well enough. The arrival of their baby, who was named after their Father tree, had stopped them from trying again. Now, the baby Pendi was strong enough to travel but the rains had moved in, swift and fierce.
None could cross the gorge in the rainy season, even now they could hear the water far below, a constant rumble. Their Father tree had hoped, just maybe, the young tree could survive the rains. Then Amla, Fren, and their child could try again. Then, at least, three of his minns could start a new life.
The fifth, and last minn named Asda, piped up finally, “We can’t stay here.”
Asda, was still young but nearing adulthood. He wasn’t born here, but had traveled here from the hills to the east with his parents. Sadly he arrived alone, as an early season flash flood took the lives of his parents, and he barely escaped. They were also meant to travel on, after a rest with Pendi, to the young tree Sedri across the gorge. Now Asda was a bit disgruntled to be stuck here. Gemei knew, however, that his grouchy personality was just his way of showing grief.
Gemei flicker her tail lightly at Asda, “We are still safe here for now. And when the rains stop you can travel back towards your old home, if you wish it.”
Father Pendi gently rustled a few leaves, “You will be dry up here in my branches. But you will all need to leave as soon as the season shift”
Gemei gave a slight huff. Father Pendi was very old indeed; most of his branches no longer bore leaves at all. The minns could not live amongst his roots, as was the norm, because the winds whipped straight through the dead branches. They lived in a hollow high up, where there were still enough leaves for cover.
Gemei had no intentions of leaving. When they had sent out Amla and Fren, Gemei and her mate were the only two minns left. They had both intended to stay until the end. Having spent their entire lives with Pendi, they had not wanted to let him die alone.
Unfortunately, her mate had fallen quite ill shortly thereafter and died from it. When Amla and Fren returned, she had been troubled. Now that there were five of them, Pendi was wearing down faster.
The wet season was a brutal one, near constant storms brought the temperature quite low. Without much protection from the blasting wind and rain, the minns remained curled together most of the time.
Finally the rains began to settle, and the roar from the gorge dissipated. Days began to grow warmer again, and the minns became restless. Food was in very short supply now. The remaining seeds and such needed to be taken to Sedri across the gorge.
Father Pendi put the last of his growing energy into a few shiny red fruits for the minns to eat along their way. As they were preparing to leave, Asda spoke with Pendi.
“I want to go back to my home tree, I’m sure I could find my way.”
Pendi faintly hummed, “Your home tree is well, but you are more needed with Sedri. You shall travel with Amla and Fren. They will need help with their young one.”
Asda wrinkled his nose and huffed, “I miss home.”
Pendi curled up his last whip branch around Asda and gently picked him up. Asda squirmed a little as he was lowered to the ground. “You will find your new home where your parents were destined to go.”
Asda was set gently next to Amla, Fren, and their baby Pendi. Gemei looked down on the little group, “At least you will have traveling companions this way. A journey back to your home tree would be lonely. And you would have to cross the floodplain again.”
The thought made Asda shiver. Truthfully he wasn’t sure if he would have been able to go back across. Memories of that place still haunted him. He put on his usual grouchy face with a low growl, “Let’s get going then.”
The four minns departed towards the south. They would be moving farther away from their destination this way, but hoped to find a crossing point. Amla and Fren knew that the canyon only got deeper the further north they traveled. Gemei smiled from her perch up high, as she watched them move off into the distance. She knew they would find a way through.
“I wish you would go,” Pendi sighed in a gentle rush of leaves.
Gemei turned and studied Pendi’s ancient trunk. The bark was cracked and much of it was hollow now. She placed a hand gently on the bone-dry surface and could feel it threatening to crumble. “I have always been here and I ever wish to be. I am old, as well you know, and I cannot benefit them. I would only slow them down.”
Gemei crawled into the empty hollow as Pendi continued to rustle a few of his yellowing leaves slowly.
The following day, Gemei stirred to a cracking sound. “Pendi?”
“Little one, I am sorry but you must be alone now. My time is done.”
Gemei let out a low whimpering sound and climbed out of the hollow. Two browned leaves fluttered past her, silently falling to the ground. “Oh Father Pendi…”
“You should climb up…” Pendi rumbled faintly, “Do not be so sad. Minns rarely stay this long… you should feel it.
Gemei wondered, but did as asked and slowly made her way up high in the tree. Near the top she perched carefully on the brittle branches. Without leaves for cover, the sun bearing down was almost too much.
A few more deep cracks broke through the quiet sadness surrounding Gemei. The air around her seemed to shiver as it was suddenly filled with scent. Every scent Gemei could imagine, and many she could not, all intermingling in a way that was somehow soothing.
“Be well, little minn…” a wisp of scent seemed to say, and with that the scent all dissipated, up into the sky.
Gemei was still for a few moments. Her heart felt calm even as she realized how silent it was now. As her senses slowly settled down, she climbed quietly down towards the hollow. The crumbling bark made it treacherous, but her wizened hands and feet were surprisingly steady.
A crack had split through the hollow, as she examined it she noticed a single shining nut resting inside. Gemei retrieved it gladly, then settled into the little shade that the hollow provided. The silence now began to weigh more heavily upon her, but she closed her eyes and listened to the occasional whistle of a light breeze, caressing the branches of the tree.
A swirl of dark colors painted Gemei’s dreams, peaceful but cold. A single pinprick of light appeared and seemed to be moving towards her. Suddenly a loud scrabbling sound shook her from her sleep. She inhaled the cool air of the night as she jumped to the edge of the hollow. A shadowy shape was darting around the base of the tree.
Gemei’s heart stopped briefly as the thought of the jiir crept into her mind, but no… this shape was far too small. It appeared to be more like… the minn! “Amla? Fren?” Gemei cried.
She was answered with a small shriek, as the shadow dove into the dried up roots. It was definitely a minn, but Gemei did not know the voice as it shakily replied, “Who’s there?”
“Just an old minn,” Gemei replied, as she carefully started to climb down. “My name is Gemei, little one, but my family usually calls me Grandma Gem.”
A small furry face peered up at her, “Family?”
“Yes,” Gemei began, “Well, they’re not here anymore. They headed south to a new tree.”
Gemei reached the ground and could see the other minn, a small female, not quite adult but certainly not a child either. The female crawled out into the moonlight and looked at Gemei. “You’re alone?”
Gemei sighed, “Yes, I am much too tired for travel. This was my Father tree, but he has gone on into the sky. I stayed for him.”
The little female seemed to shrink a little as she murmured, “Oh…”
“Well how about you, where did you come from? And for all that, what is your name?”
A little sheepishly she replied, “My name is Isha. My Mother tree is Ziru. I was hoping another tree could tell me how to get back home.”
Gemei tilted her head a little, “Well I’m sorry, Pendi would have known this but I only know of a few trees.”
A slight whimper escaped Isha, so Gemei cuddled into her side, wrapping her tail tightly around the small female. “How did you lose your way, were you traveling to another tree?”
Isha’s small form shivered, “No, Gemei, I was a naughty minn.” Her quiet voice quavered, and went silent again.
“Please, call me Grandma Gem. My family always did and I miss all of their voices.”
Isha gave a small chirp, a strange mix of nervousness and amusement. “Grandma Gem, have you ever seen a Kinatu?”
Gemei gave a soothing purr but this was not a word she knew. “I have not, little one, what is it?”
“Kinatu are large animals. They move around in herds of many. During the dryest times they often stay near our tree. I used to peek out at them when I was younger. They were so pretty, the lightest yellow, long slender legs, and they had tiny trees on their heads. Ziru called them antlers. I loved watching them.”
Gemei gave a slight nod,”They sound lovely.”
Isha gazed out at nothing, her eyes alight, “They were,” she whispered.
After a few moments, the little minn shook her head a bit before continuing.
“Several days ago I was there, in my home, when there was a bit of chatter. The Kinatu herd had moved in close during one of the last storms of the wet season. We rarely saw them during the rainy season, so it was strange enough to get noticed. I snuck off to the edge of Ziru’s branches to get a look, she warned me to stay close. The Kinatu were not dangerous, but they might not see such a small creature as me. I could get stepped on. I shrugged off Ziru’s warnings though. So I poked my head out there and there they were. The rain had made their fur sparkle, I was mesmerized. I wanted to touch them, I wanted to climb on their pretty antlers, I… jumped. I don’t know why exactly, I just felt that intense urge to go. One Kinatu was close and I landed right on it. As I was scrambling to get a good hold on the slick wet fur, Ziru sent off a warning hum and flicked out a whip branch to grab me away. I don’t know if she hit the Kinatu, or if the movement startled them, but suddenly we were moving. I got the faintest scent of fear from Ziru and it snapped me back to what was happening. I tried yelling at the Kinatu to stop, but they never understood. We just kept running…” Isha’s voice broke and she buried her small face into Gemei’s fur.
“That sounds frightening, but you held on?”
Isha nodded, “I did. I held on; I was afraid of falling. I felt like we were moving for hours. And when they stopped, I finally looked around and nothing looked familiar. I couldn’t see a single tree anywhere. Even from my Mother tree I could always see another tree, off in the distance. I didn’t know what to do.”
“But you left the Kinatu?” Gemei urged her on.
“I tried to stay with them, but I was so tired. I had to get down before I fell. I walked towards where I thought we came. But after a full night of searching I got to the edge of this gorge and I knew I was lost for good. I almost gave up that night but I caught the faintest scent in the air. It smelled like home. I went that way and eventually I saw it, this, your tree…”
The sky was beginning to lighten as daytime approached. Gemei led Isha up into the tree hollow. She offered her the shining little seed, but Isha refused. “I found seeds along the way I could eat. They didn’t taste pleasant but they kept me going. I just want to sleep and feel safe.”
The two minns slept fitfully that night. Gemei knew Isha couldn’t stay here, she didn’t stand a chance. Isha was afraid, she knew deep down that she would never find her way back home.
The next evening, Gemei woke Isha up early. “It’s time for you to go, little one.”
“Go?” Isha asked, the thought banishing the last bit of sleep from her mind.
“You will perish if you stay here. You must follow the gorge south and try to follow the trail of my family. They are headed to their new tree, you can reach it too and then you will know where your home tree is. And Ziru will know you are safe.”
“Won’t you come with me?” Isha begged, “I can’t stand the thought of going out there alone again. What if I miss them and wander alone forever? I can’t do it, Grandma Gem.”
A light sob came from the tiny, shivering minn. Gemei pulled her close, “Of course I will go with you,” she replied.
After a short time, both minns climbed down out of the tree. Gemei put one hand on the crumbling trunk for the final time, but with no faint hum and no rustle of leaves, it no longer felt like home.
The two minns headed south, slowly following the faint path left by Gemei’s family. Isha plucked seeds every here and there, to share. As she had noted, the seeds were very bland, but they filled the stomach and kept the minns going.
Late that first night Gemei noted some lightning far to the south. She hoped that didn’t mean there had been rain. It was unusual for this time of year. As they had settled in for the day, however, Gemei could hear the water tumbling around deep in the gorge. It wasn’t a lot, but she wished dearly that her family had gotten across before it.
They set off early, before the sun had even set. Gemei’s concern for her family was high on her mind. The second night was uneventful, Gemei kept up a brisk pace, much to Isha’s surprise.
Near the end of their third night, however, they came across a surprise. Amla and her baby Pendi were sitting near the edge of the gorge, looking down intently. Upon hearing their approach, Amla startled and looked up in alarm. Her face soon settled to recognition, calm, and then surprise again.
“Grandma Gem!” She squeaked in delight.
“Amla, my dear, are you and Pendi well?”
“Yes, Grandma Gem, we are fine.” She gestured to the gorge, “Fren and Asda are picking their way down the side. Scouting for us.”
“I thought you would be across,” Gemei replied, peeking down to see the males.
“We saw this spot two nights ago but we decided to look further south. Just as we reached a wide channel, some water moved in from nowhere, blocking us from continuing south. We came back here and waited until the water below settled.”
“Yes, the storm, I saw the lightning,” Gemei confirmed.
Just then, a tiny face peeped around Amla’s side. Baby Pendi had been hiding from the unknown minn by Gemei’s side, but now she chirped out, “Who is that Grandma Gem?”
Gemei purred her amusement, “This is Isha, she comes from a long ways away…”
Just then, from below, Fren called up to them, “There’s a safe ledge here Amla. Bring Pendi and come down.”
The four minns carefully crept along the narrow path down. Fren and Asda both made surprised squeaks when they saw more minns, but they waited to ask, not wanting to distract them from their path.
After a brief reunion and introduction on the small ledge, Fren and Asda continued their descent. They’d wanted to reach the far side before the sun came over the gorge. That side, at least, would have a little shade once the sun came beating down.
There was very little water trickling along in the gorge by now, but the minns were all relieved to find and old tree, long dead, jammed between some rocks at the bottom. They could cross without getting wet, and without traversing the huge boulders or thick mud.
Just as they group reached the far wall of the gorge, the sun finally slid out far above them. This side seemed steeper than the other, and the sun now blinded the minns badly. Asda first spotted a small shrub, clinging rather precariously to the wall, not far up. They all scrambled up to it, Asda and Fren using their tails to help pull Gemei up behind them.
Once they had all settled in the shrub, they chattered briefly about how Isha came to join them. They were all sad to hear about their Father tree’s final passing, but pleased that Isha had found her way to Grandma Gem, and brought her back to her family.
Soon the air began to grow thick and warm, making all the minns quite sleepy. The chatter died off as each minn fell asleep. Isha was looking a little distracted, Asda took notice, “What’s wrong,” he asked with a sleepy yawn.
“I miss my home tree,” she murmured.
“Me too,” Asda replied, “all of my old friends and siblings…” he trailed off.
“All? You didn’t come from Pendi?”
Asda snorted lightly, “No, I’ll tell you about that sometime…”
With that, Asda fell asleep. Isha stared at him curiously for a moment, but left him to sleep. She felt more relaxed than she had in awhile, finally curling her tail over her face. Soon she fell into a deep slumber.
The next night was a rough climb for all of the minns. Gemei struggled the most, but Asda and Isha teamed up to help her. Amla carried baby Pendi, while Fren lead the way. By the time they finally reached the top of the gorge again, they were exhausted and hungry. Amla, Fren, and Asda hadn’t eaten for over a day. The few extra seeds and berries they had managed to receive from Father Pendi were not enough for this long of a journey.
Isha, once more, managed to browse around for the bland seeds for everyone. Asda was especially impressed by her resourcefulness, and even little Pendi was content to nibble on the seeds as they traveled back to the north.
They knew well that jiir were a bigger problem on this side, so they stuck close to the edge of the gorge, even though that added a bit of distance. Twice they had to move fairly far west to cross some washes that eventually cut down towards the gorge.
Gemei was the first to notice when they were approaching their old tree, far on the other side of the gorge. It was just a speck of grey and none lingered for more than a solemn glance. Being able to mark their location by it, Fren and Amla knew they only had about two more nights of travel to go. They settled under some low grasses for the day, finding nothing better.
Half way through the following night they were stopped by something rather surprising. “Kinatu,” Isha breathed in amazement.
“A few other herds too,” Fren added.
“That seems odd,” Asda wondered aloud.
Herds generally didn’t wander that close to the gorge’s edge. Gemei clambered up a small boulder nearby for a look. “The area to the west is scorched and badly washed out. I think they’re up here for the grass.”
Isha popped up beside her. “Kinatu aren’t dangerous, and they’re all sleeping for the night. What of the other herds?”
“All sleeping,” Gemei added, “and all harmless. Though, where the herds wander, the jiir often follow.”
Fren shuffled tensely at the mention, “We should move past them quickly, before daylight.”
So the minn family picked their way quietly though the herd. They couldn’t sense any jiir, but the massive herds made it impossible to be sure. As the sky began to lighten, some of the animals around them began to stir. They all slipped their way through the large forms when Fren, in the front, suddenly froze.
Some growls issued from up ahead and all of the minns remained motionless.
It was soon apparent that the jiir were ahead a bit, and they were not noticed. A large Kinatu stood up nearby and gave a loud snort. It stamped a hoof several times, prompting the minns to move back away from it quickly. Soon another Kinatu joined the other and they both stood there, tree-like horns glittering in the rising sunlight.
All minns shuffled behind a small rock, right by the cliff edge, dropping far down below.They huddled up close as a bit of commotion rose up. Asda grew far too curious and peeked up over the stone. He inhaled sharply at the sight that met his eyes, and Gemei reached up and tugged him down.
“You won’t believe it, Grandma Gem, the Kinatu are chasing off the jiir!”
“What?” Gemei was surprised.
Next, Isha popped up onto the rock, much to Gemei’s dismay.
Fren pulled her down, but then carefully peered around. A faint yelp in the distance was heard, and the it was quiet again.
The herd animals began milling around again, so the minns all came out to see. Sure enough, the jiir were gone. The two large Kinatu had indeed chased them away. The minns all seized the opportunity and moved away from the edge of the herd. Onwards, towards their new tree.
Daytime travel was rough, but they wanted to get away while they knew it was safe. The hot sun made a wavering haze over the land. When they could stand it no longer, they all collapsed in the dappled shade of a shrub.
Gemei was the first to wake in the night. They had all slept right through the sunset, and already the stars were bright in the sky. She pulled herself up into the stubby branches of the shrub and had a quick look around. She startled with a small squeak at the sight before her.
“What’s wrong Grandma Gem?” Fren called, upon hearing her squeak.
Gemei clambered down quickly, “The tree!”
“The tree?” Asda asked, dreamily.
“I can see it!” Gemei trilled with excitement.
Fren jumped quickly up into the shrub branches to see, and sure enough, it was there! A little bit away, but not far!
The minns all stepped out into the moonlight and Gemei took a deep breath. “I can smell our new Father, Sedri!”
With a renewed surge of excitement, the minn family bounded out into the night.
When they arrived, Sedri hummed with excitement. He was much larger than they had expected, his glorious canopy filled with the brightest green leaves with shining red fruit just visible between.
Two minns, just under the tree’s edge, chirped a greeting. Sari and Taun were thrilled to see the new arrivals.
Fren and Amla were pleased to meet Sari and Taun, who introduced the two to their own newborn minn. Amla had to settle young Pendi down, as her excitement at meeting the first baby in her life overwhelmed her small self.
Gemei and Isha were first greeted by Sedri, who was surprised at having more minns than expected. Asda stuck close by Isha’s side, as they both wished to send news to their home trees.
Sedri knew that Ziru would be relieved to finally learn the fate of her lost minn.
Gemei quietly left Asda and Isha to converse with Sedri. She climbed up into the branches, finding one just the right size. She stretched out comfortably, revelling in the gentle sway, rustling leaves, and soothing scent that she had long missed