01 July 2005

Flower Song

This all started a long time ago in a small valley up north. It's about two hours drive on the freeway, but the freeway wasn't there back then. Most of the people going anywhere back then were trappers just passing through. There weren't even any roads as the settlers had just started coming over the mountains. There were trails, but you couldn't take a trail from here to there. You'd have to take a trail partway, then cut across open ground to
another trail to finish the trip. Making trails was easy for the trappers,
but intersections took a lot of work.

They put in the freeway a while back, and a lot of roads before that, so if you really want to go up there, you can, but there isn't much to see anymore. Most of the buildings fell apart years ago, and trees have grown back in most of the fields. Even the old monkey factory burned to the ground. There was talk for a while about building a tourist information center for people from out of state, but there's not much there to interest

The first to settle there was the Roberts' family, from somewhere in New England. The Danner's and Samuelson's came not too far behind, and they had themselves a little town in the valley. Not a large town, but it was big enough, and it grew as the mill grew.

The mill was owned by the Danner's, and they did well with it. They stuck to timber, and the Samuelson's became cattle ranchers. It's not easy to ranch cattle in a forest (too much shade for the grass to grow) so the Samuelson's were always struggling.

The Roberts' became farmers, growing potatoes, corn, and whatever vegetables the town store ordered seeds for. They were doing well, selling not only what they grew, but also being paid by the Danner's to log the land, making way for more fields. The Samuelson's wouldn't permit their land to be logged, thinking the cows would grow faster in the shade. They were nice, hard-working folks, but not the smartest people in town.

The families were all settled in pretty well and there was talk of a railhead being built near town because of the mill. Cliff Danner, oldest of the Danner boys, was walking the land looking for a path to put the track on. While stumbling drunk through the bushes, he heard a woman crying. It wasn't the loud bawling kind of crying woman, but the soft sobbing type. He knew that there shouldn't be any women on the property except for his mother and his sister, both named Ruth, so he went looking for the source of tears.

He didn't find a woman, but a small plant, bearing some resemblance to a blue daffodil. A large fern was standing beside it, swaying in the breeze, and each time the fern brushed the daffodil, it sobbed. Cliff was a drunk, but even drunk, he was a smart man, so he looked around for more of the crying flowers. He found two more that were blue and cried, and four that made a whooshing noise like the breeze blowing past every time the breeze blew past. These were a very light shade of black, and were growing on the
bank of a small stream.

Cliff was pretty sure he could find the stream again, so he went back to the house, had a few drinks, filled a small wagon with flowerpots and a shovel, and dragged it back into the woods. He didn't find the stream right away (it was a very large piece of property) but he found some more flowers, a red one that hooted like an owl, a green one that rustled like grass, and a pink one that made a noise not unlike the clip-clop of hooves. He dug up a sample of each, potted it, and put it in the wagon.

He did make his way to the stream bank, and got samples of the flowers there. He followed the water upstream, as close as he could without tipping the wagon over, and found a few dozen more noisy flowers, He collected one of each until his pots were all full, and went home to satiate his thirst.

Ruth, his mother, told Ruth, his sister, to make a garden for the flowers. She had plenty of labor to help her, the mill employed most of the town and was in shouting distance of the Danner home, but she had other plans for her day. She told her mother that she knew just the perfect spot for a symphonic flowerbed, and had one of the hired hands pull the wagon over to the Roberts' farm.

The hired hand was a Roberts, so the family wasn't surprised to see him, most of the men in the Roberts' family worked in the mill when they weren't working the fields. The matriarch of the Roberts' household earned extra money as a piano teacher. She didn't know how to play the piano, but had once been taught the violin, making her the most skilled musician in town.

Ruth had been in love with Francis, the man who pulled her wagon, for a few years, and everyone in both families knew they'd be married as soon as they were both of age, which would have been that coming fall. Ruth told Francis's mother, also named Francis, that she'd marry Francis, the son, if he had his own house and enough land for her flower garden. Francis, the mother, thought that was reasonable, and gave them a plot of land next to the river.

It wasn't a big river, but Ruth raised her growing family by the riverside. Over the years, she took her children boating whenever she could. Sometimes the river would run low and submerged rocks would damage the boat. The children would play in the woods until their father came home. Francis kept working at the mill, and would repair his wife's boat during his free time. While waiting for him to float her boat, she would tend her garden of sounds.

She was becoming a skilled horticulturist, and was growing many flowers in her garden. Cliff would bring her new flowers whenever he found them, and she had become quite adept at cross-breeding to obtain a specific sound, and growing new plants from shoots. Every Christmas, family and friends could count on a potted plant, with a baby-blue flower, that giggled like a child.

After the first few years, the novelty wore off, and the giggling plants found themselves planted around the home of Bill Felson, a cousin of the Samuelson's who'd moved to town after his wife died in a tragic macramé accident. He was a very angry man and didn't like visitors. The only times he left his home were to work at the mill, to shop which he did every Saturday morning, and to run around his yard stomping on the giggling flowers.

It was one of Ruth and Francis' children who stumbled on the advantages of noisy plants. Christopher Roberts had traveled into the nearest city with his uncle Cliff, and after a few drinks each, wound up in a playhouse. They weren't impressed with the play, thinking it was far too dreary to be funny, and had too many jokes to be dramatic. Christopher recognized the potential, and with some borrowed money and a few plants, started his own playhouse.

The plays all came with sound effects. There were roaring lions, bugle calls, and even fake laughter and applause should the audience be unwilling to provide their own. The playhouse prospered, and Ruth's garden grew ever larger as Christopher's requests were bred and nurtured.

It was a few decades before the mill shut down. The Samuelson's had sold their ranch, and moved away to try their luck as oil wildcatters in northern Nevada. The Roberts' had bought the ranch and sold the timber on it. Ruth's garden now spanned the property, tended by her grandchildren. The death of the mill had taken most of the town with it. Only the Roberts' two farms had stayed. The food was shipped to town by truck, and the flowers were hand-delivered to any vaudeville theater willing to pay the Roberts' prices.

Demand grew as radio stations cropped up. Nobody could get the plants to grow long outside of the valley, so the Roberts' family was making a fortune selling new ones to old customers. Business was thriving and there was talk of building a mansion. When movies learned to talk, the price went up some and the Roberts' plowed under their other crops, growing nothing but flowers of every color and sound imaginable.

There was so much money floating around that valley, that the town started to recover. The war ended that. The army needed sounds for training, and took over the farm. The Roberts' tried to accommodate the country's needs, but were pushed off their land. Before it was over, some egghead out east had built a machine which made all the sounds that they were growing. It wasn't very good at first, but by the time the war was over, everybody wanted the machine and nobody wanted the plants.

You can still go up there and look around. The flowers are in bloom now, and what's left of the Roberts' clan won't mind if you look around, so long as you don't try to dig one up. If you should happen to meet one of the Roberts' while you're there, be very careful to not complain about the noise. They're very sensitive about that.

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