Chapter 27 – The Long Road
Everything they’d built, all the blood and sweat they poured into the creation of their communities, had to be abandoned. Cultivated farms of foliage along the forest floor, the side of the mountain, even near the shoreline, would have to be left behind with only seeds to begin anew. Some farms had been part of the colonies for many generations now; Bushtender’s original garden still thrived and was well maintained.
Despite the conference’s conclusion, many lizards were reluctant to leave their family homes. Here, they knew every tree, every rock, every tidepool, and their entire history lied in these lands. Beyond the riverside mountains was unknown to but a few, mostly shore colony lizards who had swam far along the shoreline for the thrill of adventure and finding something new. Of all the lizards, it was mostly the children that were excited to find some new mysterious place; they were too young to have become overly attached to their colony’s homeland.
While most became convinced to leave, a few of the more stubborn ones kept firm. Despite the coming disaster, they wanted to brave the danger in hopes that they could avoid the worst of it. I desperately wished they would go, but their hearts were set on remaining in the place they called home, even if it was doomed to ruin. Of those that chose to remain, most were already elderly, and if they were fated to die soon anyway, they would rather do it at home with a chance to live and keep the colony’s old home alive. For all my persuasion, the final decision had always been theirs. I would not force them to leave, I could only encourage.
For the next few days, other than the patrols to keep aggressive creatures away, everyone contributed to crafting the baskets and stretchers needed for the evacuation. Even those that were staying behind gave a helping hand. They may have decided to remain in their homeland, but they did not begrudge the rest leaving and assisted where they could.
A pall hung over each of the colonies as they worked. The journey would be long. From the distance those that had visited described, it would take a couple moon cycles or more to reach their destination as their pace would be slow. When they rested in their homes at night, they took stock of their personal belongings, deciding which were the most precious and which they could stand to part with. The scalesongs were quiet in those tension filled times.
For my part, I kept an eye on the mountain and the magma chamber. As the pressure built, the earth began trembling in greater frequency, to the point they began to feel such tremors in the forests colonies closest to the volcanic mountain. Through my connection to the earth, I could feel a constant background noise as the magma continued to move in earnest as a deep and low inaudible harmonic tremor.
And as several days passed, it was finally time to go. Those that stayed bid farewell to their extended family, giving loving head bumps and filling their scales with colors for a safe journey. The trek began from the forest colonies nearest the volcanic mountain, heading towards the river in a slow unreveling march. Along the way, the other colonies joined up, walking in line with the rest. Thanks to their connected family hearts, they knew when the others were close to begin their own journey forward.
A river of lizards filed through the forests, and any that might have been excitedly anticipating a grand new adventure were quickly sobered after only a few days on the path. Had they been able to travel more quickly, it may only have taken only one moon cycle to reach their destination, but as it was, the trek was hard, and the road was long.
Eventually those of the mountainside colonies joined up, and about half of the shore colonies fell in line to help carry loads and offer support until the long line of lizards reached the river. Already the other half of the shore colonies were making preparations by the river and in the new refuge; their ability to swim fast and take advantage of swift currents were a great benefit in the water.
After a full moon cycle since the first colonies had begun the journey, they finally came to the river. It was long and wide, an imposing figure blocking their way to the riverside mountains just beyond the water’s reach. It would have been difficult to cross if not for the efforts of the shore colony lizards. They had strapped felled logs together, reaching from one side of the river to the other, with crude planks tied between them to allow a space to walk. Not knowing the techniques needed to raise the bridge above the water, the bridge ungulated with the movement of the wide river.
Many lizards were unsteady on the hastily constructed bridge, some having to get on their hands to crawl across. A line of shore lizards ferried goods across the water so that the landbound lizards would not have to carry them on the unsteady bridge, and also rescued any lizards that fell off the constantly swaying contraption. The teamwork was a sight to behold. Although the shore lizards could very easily have left their landbound brethren to their fate, they had single-handedly saved the others from the most difficult task of the journey by giving them a way to cross the river in safety. And although it took many days for all the lizards to cross the river, eventually that dreaded part of the journey was done.
Once lizards got to the other side of the bridge and retrieved their goods ferried by the shore lizards, they fell back into line. With the river behind them, their spirits lifted as they saw the safety of the towering riverside mountains that would guard them from the danger to come. It felt like they were nearly there though they still had much of the journey left; yet half for those from the closer colonies, but only a third for those from the furthest colonies. Some of the strong youths and adults set out to go directly over the mountain to reach the refuge colony faster and help those from the shore colony prepare for the arrival of such a great number of lizards. With so many lizards in the line, they could not all hope to brave the mountain and safely reach the other side; they had to go the long way around the base to the south and follow the southern shore to the forest.
For the length of the trek, most other animals stayed wary of the unending line of lizards, and only a few desperate predators attempted to make a meal of them. Lizards from the mountainside who had never left their rocky and sparsely treed home found many animals indigenous to the forest quite interesting, but also found some annoying bugs that preferred the warmer climate. Creatures that had never crossed the river, nor journeyed over the thin strip of land on the northern side of the landmass were curious and wary of these new and strange beings making their way around the mountain.
The lizards of the mountain expedition made good time over the mountains, using fire to keep warm on the chilly nights as they ascended over the terrain with its melting snow. They were welcomed with open arms by the shore families who had been doing their best to gather enough brush and wood that would be needed to build new homes. The forest lizards that had scaled the mountain barely took any time to rest and immediately set upon the task of building the structures the coming conglomerate colony would need. Homes were built much closer together than in their home colonies as they tried to conserve space. Using their endless ingenuity, they began to construct homes in sets of four, each home sharing a common wall with two other homes. This allowed them to save on both materials and space. And instead of their normal central hub built in the middle of colonies, they built several that could each serve as a place for storage and gathering, thus easing the future congestion from lizards that would need access to the stores.
By the time the first lizards from the long line arrived it had been two and a half moon cycles since they began their journey. About a third of the needed structures were already ready for use, a great headstart. The main group was tired and exhausted from the long and arduous journey, and took a well-deserved rest before aiding their brothers and sisters in construction.
Over the next several days lizards continued to arrive at the refuge, expanding it from the central starting point ever outward. The lizards were crammed together, trying to take up as little space as possible, but thanks to their great teamwork they managed to make it work.
When the last lizards arrived, it was apparent only a small number had been lost on the long journey. Some of the elder lizards that came on the long road couldn’t hold out between the stress and physical exhaustion of the journey, despite their best efforts to continue, and some of the weak and sickly suffered similar ends. Not wanting to leave their dead to the wilderness, the already overburdened lizards had taken on the additional burden of carrying the departed to the river or southern shores for their watery burial. For those they could save, materials and goods were divided among other stretchers and baskets in order to carry the weakened lizards to their refuge destination.
All in all, for all the sadness, homesickness, and loss of family, they had done well to reach the refuge without any major incident. The other half of the moon cycle was spent organizing, getting families into homes, constructing more homes, and figuring out new sources of food to collect from. Those that brought seeds began planting to renew lost gardens so that they may again tend to their renewable food and material supply.
There was tension in the air as many were apprehensive if everything would work out okay, and more than a few arguments broke out amongst the stressed lizards and their families. But as the days passed and they settled into new routines, calm began to descend upon the great refuge colony of lizards. The shore lizards, now free to tend to their own, sought out new homes amidst the kelp forests by the new reefs, spreading out around all three sides of the new refuge land: south, west, and north. The mountainside lizards, missing their rocky home, eventually migrated to the riverside mountains once things settled down in the main colony.
But the calm was not to last for long. The very danger that sent them here in the first place roared ever louder in my earth-connected ears as the mountain reached its breaking point. It could no longer hold back the heat and the pressure building inside and sought relief for its agony. The ground had bulged above where the lava gathered, eagerly awaiting sweet release.
I sent a last warning through the family heart that the eruption was imminent. Several lizards of the refuge colony decided to scale the riverside mountain summit. They wanted, needed, to witness the disaster that drove them all from their homes.