Monday, April 30, 2007

Konjoo Storks and Cloud Shadows

Dear Nigel,

Just a little letter to describe my latest fascination.

To the west of Glee Fiddler's Onion, the town near my mountain, there is a range of hills, round and pointed like fingers, that rake the oncoming clouds into uniform small sections. These small clouds blow towards the village over the sandy, sleepy roads, and have inspired a game the children play with konjoo storks.

Each child has a wooden box they carry out to the road; the more experienced players have taller boxes. Each child then stands on one side of the box, while their friend konjoo stork stands on the other, both facing into the wind. Many pairs of child and stork will stand, several yards between pairs, often lined up for hundreds of feet down a road. They wait silently for the first sun patch to come down the road towards them and as it crosses each pair the stork spreads its wings, lifts it legs up behind it, and hovers in place. The object is to move the body as little as possible in the transition and flight. The child leaps up on the box, spreads its arms in imitation of flight, and puts one leg up behind like the stork. The pair can talk as long as they are flying. As the sun-line moves down the road each child/stork pair changes to flight and can join the conversation or start one of their own. As the next shadow of cloud crosses them, the stork switches smoothly to standing again and the child leaps off the box and stands silently awaiting the sun and an opportunity to continue an interrupted sentence. On the best days the shadows and sun sections are small enough that the line of children more than spans them, and at least one wave of change is moving down the line at all times. The more frequently the flying conversations start and stop, the better the children like it.

One group of children has recently added a song to this game, each child starting the song as the sun passes over them and they launch into flight. They stop at the next shadow. The result is like a round, but the children time their entrances by the sun lines, not the beat, so the result sounds more like the random jumble of wind chimes or unsynchronized church bells. The children arrange themselves in line with the highest voices at the head of the line and the deepest voices at the end. Another group of children and storks have small harmonized whistles they sometimes blow while they fly, trying to make one breath endure until the next shadow. When there is an unusually long space between shadows children will run out of air and whistle and sometimes fall giggling from their boxes. The storks seem to be able to whistle endlessly without running out of breath.

Traditionally the children have costumes, shoes, vests, or at least hats, that color them like the storks. Recently some have started to do more unusual things with their costuming, including hats and vests that burst into brilliant orange when the sun strikes, and resume a drab green when again in shadow. Others have long streamers that they unroll into the wind, letting out as much as the wind will support, longer on windier days. The storks sometimes join in, with ribbons tied round their ankles, or carrying long ribbons in their mouths, which they can talk around with great skill.

The children will not play this game while adults are near, so I have had to observe from a distance, through a scope. When I asked some young friends if I could join the game they looked at me with wide eyes and said nothing. I judged it best to change the subject. Even adults seem reluctant to discuss the game, just nodding and looking awkward if I mention it. Even though they played in their youth, they won't talk about it now, nor would they consider playing it with me. I suppose it wouldn't have worked, anyway - I don't know any konjoo storks.

Do keep me posted on your travels...

Your father, Virgil Tangelo


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