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The Toki Ponist on the Mountain
Chapter 5: Generation forest

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September 2020


The stars bobbed up and down, back and forth. Breathing in. Breathing out. One. Breathing in. Breathing out. Two. Breathing in. Breathing out. Three. Breathing in. Breathing out. One. It was useless. Kalisa rolled over and dropped her hand in the water. He was dead. People are bad. Everything is broken. "pakala!"

The ocean water lifted Kalisa up and then dropped her down again. The raft that carried Kalisa had all the qualities of one that was pieced together by someone who knew what they were doing, but none of the qualities that showed it was made to last.
Kalisa looked around not expecting to see anyone but hoping deep inside that there was someone to talk to. In a matter of days, she had to acknowledge that whatever she was feeling, she could no longer put into words.

There was grief. A feeling of sadness about something that was no longer there. She grasped for words to come to terms with what she was feeling. pilin moli sama. A feeling similar to dying. And similar to killing. Kalisa restarted her breathing exercise, turning it into a two-syllable mantra: ma-mi, ma-mi, ma-mi. She mourned for her father. But also her land. The friendly island that had slipped out of view hours ago. She loved her father, mami. And yet she was responsible for his death.

Then there was anger. Again, no word Kalisa knew described the aimless fury. She chose the word wawa. She inhaled ten times until her chest seemed to burst and her eyes would pop out into the midnight sky. Then she let the air pass slowly from her nostrils. After that, there was only the upright lifeless body on a raft in the middle of the open water, surrounded by the gentle sounds of nature. After what must have been two minutes, Kalisa’s limbs started tingling. She fought the reflex to gasp for air. Every cell churned the last bits of potent oxygen into poisonous carbon-dioxide. When she turned lightheaded, she let the air back in. This inhale returned her confidence, "mi pilin wawa, mi pilin wawa mute.". I am feeling intense, I am feeling strong. She used to tell herself this after finishing an entire lap around the island. Or when she turned over a kettle filled with dirty water and felt proud.

But tonight, it was not a positive feeling. Kalisa directed her anger to her father’s moon-group. When the sun fell that night, Kalisa had been standing on the beach pacing up and down. It seemed to take forever for the boats to reach the shore from the moment she could spot them on the horizon. Kalisa's father had led this fishing trip, and she was proud to see that the boats brimmed with fish. She saw everyone jump into the shallow water, including her father. His smile radiant as always when he saw his little girl, jan Kalisa lili mi. They pulled the boats up to shore and started hoisting out the fish, greeting the people that came up to help.

Except her father was not there. She saw him, but he was not there. She ran around and between all the boats calling out for mami. Everybody carried on with their chores like there was nothing amiss. The moment she became certain he was not among the fishermen, Kalisa walked backward and a twig snapped underneath her feet.

She had yelled at the other men for an explanation. They tried to calm her down and explained to her: "telo suli wile e mama mije sina." The ocean wanted her father, needed her father. They told her that all was well, "ale li pona." How could they tell her this, what had she ever done to the ocean? How could they keep so calm and pretend that all is well?

Then she saw her mother overlooking the scene on a dune some distance away. With a dull look on her face, she gazed at the ocean and the setting sun. Then she turned around and walked away. The rising tide of the ocean water reached Kalisa’s feet and washed away the twig.

Her anger turned towards her mother. Why did she not care, why did she not comfort her? As people left the beach, Kalisa realized her mom did not turn away out of carelessness. It was a dismissal. Kalisa was to blame for her father’s death. She turned to the ocean and shouted as loud as she could the only word that came close to swearing: "pakala-aaaaaaaa!" Kalisa broke down, the web of people torn, her mother broken, their whole way of life fallen apart.

That night she spent a solitary night on the beach. The next day, a shadow obstructed the tickling morning sun on Kalisa’s face.

"jan Sapa o," Kalisa muttered.

"jan pona suwi o," he whispered and took a seat in the sand behind Kalisa. He stroked her hair. She felt a surge of vitalizing energy flowing back into her.

"Thank you," Kalisa said.

"You know, it is now almost half a year since I am back," he said as if his presence and kindness needed an explanation. "And now I know two worlds instead of one."

Kalisa turned her head slightly in anticipation for more.

"I feel your pain, but I can also see the pona way."

"How can you see the pona way, when everything is pakala!"

Kalisa turned briskly on her side, cutting Sapa’s hands loose. An inner cold expelled Sapa's positive energy.

"There are no toki pona words that can describe fully what you feel, and there is no way you can understand what I understand, so I will not try."

"Go away."

Sapa slowly put his hands on Kalisa’s shoulder. He was about ten years older and a gentle spirit.

"Everybody on the island has been on the path. They all had to break with this land. You are just already broken before you go."

"Are you telling me I am lucky?"

"No, I am telling you, this is what it is. And that I also know the pain."

Kalisa turned again, this time on her belly.

"This is it, you say? I wanted to stay. I wanted to learn all the rituals. I wanted to study every blade of grass, I admired you all. Now you can rot," she said while stomping down into the sand.

"Let's go break some things," Sapa said as he rose to his feet. "Let's cut down some trees to put that energy to use."

He held out one hand, and Kalisa took it. He pulled her up and put his arm around her shoulder as they walked away from the beach towards the opposite side of the island. It was a watered-down version of her father’s embrace, but she took it. The generation forest, she had not been here in years. Sure, she had run around it when she lapped the island, but she had never entered it.

Sapa sniffed the forest air, which was notably fuller and richer than the simple scent of the ocean.

"There's my sapling," he said to Kalisa while pointing to a small and fragile tree, strapped to a stick twice its girth in the soil. "Let's find your trees, Kalisa!" They walked among a huge variety of trees. There were groups of young trees, belonging to Rolin, Losina and the toddlers. Between those groups were the huge and thick trees of the elder island members. The largest trees belonged to those no longer among the living. The smallest tree belonged to Sapa, planted on the day that he returned from his journey.

During the following days, Kalisa and Sapa worked together on cutting the trees that lived just as many days as Kalisa and to work the wood into a solo raft. While dropping all contacts with the community, she created a small alcove of warmth and pleasure in her heart for Sapa. But even Sapa said things that reminded her he was one of them.

On the day before Kalisa left the island, Sapa had taken her to a remote beach. He had offered to teach her two lessons. Kalisa had refused and wanted nothing of it. But in the end, Kalisa had to admit that she was curious. Even though the timing was off, she had always wanted to learn the island rituals.

Sapa sat Kalisa down on the sand. With his finger, Sapa drew a long line in the sand. Then he outlined five symbols along the line.

"kiwen, ko, telo, kon, ala," he said while drawing the sitelen suwi on the moist beach. "These are the manifestations of matter: solid, muck, fluid, gas, emptiness. You can feel them with your hands, see them and smell them here on the island. But they also exist elsewhere."

"On my journey?"

"Elsewhere."

He held up an open hand. Then he closed his fingers. Sapa peered deep into Kalisa's eyes with a force almost toppling her over. Sapa opened his hand, conjuring up a beautiful red flower.

Kalisa's eyes widened.

But Sapa held up his index finger, silencing Kalisa before she could say anything.

"This is how it works," he said. "If you had been a smaller child, you would see this, and think you willed the flower to exist."

"No, I didn't, it was you. You're God's magician!" Kalisa said. "Can you show me more? Maybe some fruit this time?"

"This phase is when you consider me as speaking and acting wonders for the Gods. But you know better than that Kalisa, you have always been the one with a keen eye for details. Don't you wonder whether what you saw was the whole truth?"

Kalisa pouted. "You tricked me when you shot those spears out of your eyes and almost made me fall over."

"So you reasoned and realized I put the flower in my hand in that brief moment you were not paying attention. In this phase you may look around and conclude there is no magic in the world at all."

"Maybe."

"Even later, you may even realize when I perform this or similar tricks, you are still mesmerized and that the symbolic function of my magical ritual contains value on its own. At each stage, you are at war with your old self and your future self, because they are in strong disagreement. You may even reconcile all your selves because their motivations are all pure, and their experiences are real. There is not one past self-being closer to the truth than the other, yet none of them know the entire truth either."

Kalisa listened in wonder, but failed to grasp half of what Sapa said. The words rolled off Sapa’s tongue like water, and while the words themselves were all known to Kalisa, in this order and without proper context and training, most of the message was lost to Kalisa. She opened her mouth to interrupt Sapa and to make him slow down.

But at that point Sapa with another sleight of hand made the red flower disappear again.

"kasi li lon ala lon?" he said. Does the flower exist or not, or has it ever existed or will it ever exist? In toki pona, it is the same.

"In our lives, jan Kalisa, we can go through all those phases. We can go fast or slow or even backward, but we cannot skip a phase because we can never reconcile with all selves and its views if we have not lived those selves."

Sapa closed his eyes but continued: "We can perform rituals to test at what phase we are, but we cannot force ourselves to grow any more than a plant can force itself to grow without suno, telo, kon, namako."

o moku e suno.
o moku e telo.
o moku e kon.
o moku e namako.

Feel the sun, drink the water, ingest the air and eat the extra nutrients. The first lesson was over. After a minor break of silence, Sapa rose and so did Kalisa. They took each other's hands and walked around in a circle, kicking with their feet in such a coordinated way that the drawings in the sand disappeared. Sapa walked off leaving a last message: "Tomorrow before you leave, I will teach you one last lesson, a more practical one."

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