All my life I have loved being outdoors. I loved the rain and the winds. I loved the dew in the morning with little rainbows glittering all around. And even though it scared me, I loved the feeling of risk being out in the wilderness. Something feels complete about me when I’m running wild. I thought it was perfect out in the woods, and that nature was not affected by the big bad world. I childishly thought nothing could disrupt or harm nature.
I have always loved the mountains. Their long graceful shapes climbing upwards to the sky. The wilderness of trees that stretches across them like a long flowing cloak. Their gray rocky peaks that just touch the clouds. They are just so massive and old, they have seen so many years pass. I feel like they watch over me when I’m out in the wilderness. When I look up at the mountains, there always seems to be something more to them, something hidden in those shadowy woods. Something magic.
One day I was hiking up the notoriously muddy Mt. Animus with my family. It was a stormy day, and dark mist rose above my head and spiraled through the treetops. The deep purple of the sky turned everything to shadows and made the bright greens of the forest a dark, droopy grey. The air hung heavy on my shoulders as I hiked upwards. I was a little bit behind my sunny-blond brother who was racing up ahead. Whenever I scrambled over a slippery blue moss-covered rock, I could see his golden head bobbing in front of me like a lantern in the night. My parents were a little bit behind me, the heavy fog slowing them down.
I had been taking photographs with my little red plastic camera. Last night’s constant drizzle had woken up the world. Fiery orange mushrooms sprung up from the sponge-like ground, and sky blue lichen was bouncing out at me from all sides of the trail like a whimsical pop-up book. The small bright flash of my camera brought out the colors in the ground, but most of these little wonders were hidden under drooping ferns. I had to search along the sides of the dirt trail for sparks of brightness in the spongy mud.
Over the course of the hike the fog started to thicken and swirl like homemade whipped cream. It became increasingly difficult to move and beads of sweat started clinging to the tip of my nose. My camera fogged up, and my smile turned into a grumble as my wildlife pictures became increasingly blurry. I wondered how far it was to the summit.
Water droplets started sliding down my glasses bursting into disorienting rainbows whenever I took a photograph. I took my glasses off to wipe the layer of steam that had accumulated on them, when out of the corner off my eye I saw one of my favorite plants. “Indian Pipes” are peculiar creamy white plants shaped like clay pipes. Everyone thinks they are some kind of mushroom, but they are normal plants without the sparkle of green. They have no chlorophyll inside of them to photosynthesize and create sugars. Instead they soak up nutrients from the earth. I love them because they are different from the plants we see every day.
I walked over to a little patch of Indian Pipes just to the left of the trail. They had sprouted in a perfect circle, which didn’t seem natural to me. Still, it would make for a good picture. As I crouched down next to them, I slipped on some wet moss and my precious camera went flying.
“You okay Colly?” came my little brother’s voice from up ahead.
Grumbling I got to my feet.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” I said grumpily, “But I can’t find my camera. Could I have some help? I can’t see a thing with this mist!”
And with that my little lantern came bobbing into view. But even his wide sapphire eyes couldn’t find my camera. We searched until Mom and Dad came into view, when I stopped.
“It’s no use!” I cried despairingly, “It’s gone!”
I threw my hands down, accidentally brushing against one of the odd little Indian Pipes and the world faded to black…
When I woke up the world was a blaze of light and the air was clean and dry. I didn’t open my eyes, but the brightness cast an orange glow through my eyelids. I felt warmth wash over me and good smells overwhelmed all other senses. Could that possibly be cookies baking?
I was about to crack open my eyes and ask if I could have a cookie or two, when common sense got in the way. Wait a moment, I thought, I’d been in the woods. And this was definitely not Mt. Animus. A wave of terror crashed over me like ice-cold water. Where was I? Had I been abducted? Kidnapped? Where was my family? After terror came panic. What on earth was going to happen to me?
Then came wonderful clarity. This situation couldn’t be too awful if cookies were involved. I cracked open one eye, then another. I was in a round room with walls the color of fresh cream. The smell was wafting through a spherical doorway in front of me that strangely started a couple feet above the ground, and the light was coming from straight behind me.
Suddenly a loud chatter burst out behind my head and the light started vibrating and bouncing around the walls. I jumped with a start and turned to face something I had never seen before. The creature standing, no floating, in front of me was a glowing, vibrating humanoid. The creature was floating inside a little bubble of brightness. After I got over the shock of the beautiful bubble, I stared in awe at the bizarre creature inside. It had a small rotund body with wonderful wide eyes, just like my brothers, but neon green. Small feet stuck out beneath it, although I didn’t know what it could possibly use them for since it seemed to be able to fly. Similarly sized arms poked out from it’s sides. It had huge half-moon ears, like a koala, and what appeared to be whiskers sitting atop a little wet heart-shaped nose. Immediately I knew it could do me no harm, although I couldn’t understand a thing it was saying.
“Excuse me,” I said clearly and politely, “But I can’t make out what you’re saying. Do you speak English perhaps? Or Latin? I think I can make out a couple sentences in Latin.”
It cocked it’s head at me, which sent its whole body cartwheeling sideways. Then it started to speak in a very squeaky, high voice.
“Apologies for my confusion young miss, I was speaking Lenape. The last visitor we had spoke Lenape, and a kind fellow was he. You, on the other hand, appear to speak English. Good language, English. But I can’t keep all those pronouns straight.”
It spoke very quickly and when it was finished I stood in awe. This little glowing orb spoke English! It blinked twice then continued, “My name is Phyll spelled P-H-Y-L-L. My good name is short for Chlorophyll.” He gave a little bow, which sent him rolling forwards in a summersault.
“Nice to meet you,” I responded, in a shaky voice, “I’m Colly. Spelled C-O-L-L-Y. Short for Oecologia.”
“My that’s a pretty name,” he said cheerfully, “Colly reminds me of cauliflower. Cauliflower is food. Food reminds me of sugar. Sugar is sweet.” And he went on making strange comments like this for quite a while.
“How did I get here?” I interrupted all of the sudden.
“Ahh…” said Phyll calming down, twitching his whiskers and giving me a sideways look, “I knew one as young and curious as you would eventually ask. Before I tell you, where do you think you are?”
I glared at him, infuriated, “How am I supposed to know?! I was in the woods with my family near this lovely little bunch of Indian Pipes trying to find my camera when I blacked out and woke up here! And now I’m having a conversation with a glowing ping pong ball! Not to mention that it can fly!”
“Hold your horses missy, I didn’t mean for you to get all heated up. I just find it interesting what visitors think. I’ll tell you eventually.”
I decided that the best way out of this was to cooperate, “Okay.” I said calmly.
“Did you notice anything odd about those so called ‘Indian Pipes?’” he asked with a twinkle in one of his rather round eyes.
“Well, they were in a circle…”
“Those plants are magical. Magical portals, yes they are. And that by touching them you were transported here.”
“Where is here exactly?” I asked. I doubted very much that the plants had been magical.
“We are presently inside one of the ‘Indian Pipes.’”
It took me a couple seconds to process what Phyll had said. Then a million questions popped into my mind.
“That’s impossible!” I shouted a little too loudly, “We couldn’t fit inside!”
But as I looked around, I knew it was true. The white walls of the room were fibrous and looked as though they were made out of plants, and Phyll did look a bit like the microscopic bacteria we studied under a microscope at school. Did that mean I had been shrunk? At this point I believed anything was possible.
Phyll smiled seeing my eyes widen as I began to accept the magic that I had just encountered, “Welcome to Vegrandis, a world within a world.”
Soon Phyll had explained that Vegrandis was one of many minuscule magical worlds inside plants. These worlds were inhabited by the Parvi, Phyll explained. Phyll was apparently the head of national affairs in the city of Vegrandis, and often interacted with other nations of Parvi. Then, after a rather lengthy explanation of the wonderful democracy they had over in Minimus (also known as a clump of mountain sorrel) and a monologue about how awful the old dictator of Vegrandis was (which nearly sent me to sleep, which is saying a lot since I was listening to another species speak), we set about with the “grand tour.”
We stepped onto a balcony overlooking a huge room filled with other Parvi. Steam rose from little miniature clay ovens that lined the walls and the air danced with the scent of homemade cookies and pies. I could smell sugar and butter all over the room. Sweetness danced in circles around my head. It was a miniature heaven on earth.
The little Parvi were doing what seemed to be an intricate dance, but turned out to be baking. Each one had a tray of dough, which they watched over until they slid it into one of the ovens. All the creatures shared a resemblance to Phyll, although they varied in shades of cream. All of the Parvi glowed and bobbed, just like Phyll. Each had their own task of carrying trays heaping with baked goods or stirring bowls of batter.
“Since our mother plant cannot photosynthesize,” explained Phyll, “We bake for her to keep her healthy. She needs the extra sugars since she supports all of us Parvi.”
Then Phyll bobbed down a flight of sugar-covered stairs and began to point out different steps in the process of baking. He also introduced me to all of the friendly Parvi in the room. They all had smiles on their faces and butter smeared onto their bubbles. Just seeing their joy made me happy too. Several cookies later, we arrived at a large door. I was in a rather jovial mood with sugar and frosting stuck to my cheeks and a smile on my face. But as soon as Phyll saw that door, his wonderful smiled faded and soon mine did too.
“There’s something I have to show you, young miss,” he said solemnly, “And I don’t think you’re going to like it.”
He knocked three times and the door swung open. We entered a dimly lit room with a few other Parvi inside, all with equally concerned faces. The source of their concern was soon apparent. A transparent syrupy liquid had seeped through the wall and formed a lake, and everything the liquid touched shrivelled up and turned brown. I rushed to the lake that was killing this wonderful world and looked at the damage at my feet.
“Who would do something this awful?” I cried, tears springing from my eyes at the sight of the wreckage.
Phyll cleared its throat, “Um, I’m sorry to tell you young miss, but you did this.”
“What?” No, that wasn’t possible. I couldn’t have done something this bad.
“Your people. Humans. You have a system that makes you pollute without knowing it. You don’t mean to, but you can destroy entire worlds by accidentally spilling something or letting something blow away in the breeze. Don’t worry, we’ll be able to patch this leak up in a couple of weeks, but you need to know that you humans did this. You love nature young miss, but you destroy it with your love. There is a whole lot of pollution out there killing your world and ours alike. It’s up to you to stop pollution from destroying everything we love. I wish I didn’t have to say this, but I can’t do a thing. Us Parvi aren’t polluting the world. Your cars and factories are the ones hurting us all. So please. Help us. All of us.”
And he gave me a deep and sorrowful look, and I knew that helping the world was what I was supposed to do. All of the worlds. Because, who else will? The birds can’t save the sky and the fish can’t save the sea and even the Parvi can’t help. But we wonderful, terrible human beings can save the world we love so much. Because right now, we are the bad guys. But we can also be the heros. And heros need to make a stand.
To get back to the “big world” Phyll took me into the same circular room I woke up in.
“It will be the same moment when you get back to your family,” he said, “Time moves slower in the big world. Your parents won’t realize you were gone.”
Then, to my alarm, his shining bubble disappeared with a pop and Phyll toddled over to me on his little round feet. He attempted to give me a hug, but since the hug was around my knees I lifted my new friend up and gave him a real “big hug.”
“Thank you for showing me your world.” I whispered in a koala bear ear.
“Oh you’re welcome missy.” Phyll whispered back and slipped a little something into my hand, “Do make sure to come back.”
After I promised to come back (which meant hiking Mt. Animus a whole lot), Phyll instructed me to crouch in the same position I was in when I entered Vegrandis. Then he opened a small cupboard, pressed a button inside and my consciousness started to fade.
“Goodbye!” I heard Phyll shout.
I was about to respond, when the world faded to black again…
When I arrived back on Mt. Animus in the same position as before, with my family all around me, I almost laughed. Could that have been real? I looked down at the object in my hand. It was my camera! It had gone through the portal! No wonder I couldn’t find it. I flipped the camera over. Scrawled in what appeared to be the glowing essence of a Parvi bubble were the words:
I’ve enchanted this camera so when you take a picture, it transports you to Vegrandis. Come as often as you wish! And remember, you can save the worlds. All of them.
Smiling, I slipped the camera into my pocket. No more trips up the soggy Mt. Animus, I thought.
Out loud I said, “I guess I’ll have to save up for a new camera. It’s really too bad.”
Now I know about the harm that can be done to the natural world. Now I know that the mountains aren’t only a safe haven, they are a place that needs to be saved. Now I can go out into the world with a goal to help save our wonderful natural world and all the crazy-amazing creatures that live in it. Because the world isn’t gonna save itself. That’s what heroes are for.
Animus means mind or imagination
Oecologia means ecology
Vegrandis means tiny
Parvi is the plural of “parvus” which means small
Minimus means very small