some excerpts from Greenways
Green Island Home
"Mr More! Mr More!" I called, in the direction of a slightly portly gentleman stepping through the just opened sliding doors leading from the runway into the spacious lobby of the small Green Island airport (our new terminal with modern jetways right from the aircraft to the interior was under construction, but for now it was down the portastairs from the Airbus parking lot and walk in, rain or shine or snow). The man I addressed didn't see me for a moment, as the small crowd flowed around him as he slowed, looking around with a bit of a squint through round-framed bifocals, then catching my eye. He observed me for a moment, then gave a small friendly, but a bit tired, smile, and a nod, then turned to make his way to the edge of the milling people to where I waited. As a young person of perhaps 10 years pushed in front of him, the small smile reversed itself as he lifted a dark walking stick and gave the boy a small tap-tap with it, saying in a scolding sort of voice "Way for elders, child, way for elders!' The boy hardly paid attention, laughing and carrying on as children do, but by then the man I had addressed as More was at the edge of the crowd in front of me, slight frown and pursed lips again reversing themselves as we again made eye contact.
"I'm so very glad you could make it, Mr More," I said, smiling and reaching out my hand in greeting, "You do us all a great honor."
"Oh, come, now," he replied, laughing only a little self-consciously as he took my hand in his somewhat smaller one, but still with a strong enough grip, "I'm not that well known at all in this day and age! Why, my books are hardly selling at all anymore, you know!"
"Ah, but interest in your dream of Utopia has never waned, and with some rather modern communications methods, where people read and think what they want, and more importantly share their ideas widely and freely, you might be surprised at the interest in your work. Indeed, as you know, that's why we've invited you here, with a few others, to see what you all think of our rather different versions of the same idea - I think you will find some changes, some quite profound really, as many ideas have grown over the centuries, but I hope you will not find them too objectionable, overall."
He harumphhed, with an eyebrows-raised, lips-pursed look of scepticism that I was to grow quite used to, "Yes, well, I've been reading a bit since I first received your invitation, about which I confess I don't quite fully understand yet, something we can perhaps talk about sometime again, and some things about this era are indeed quite shocking. But then we all change, and I am hardly the man I was when my head was last attached to my body either - you see here?" - and he raised his head and tugged at his collar, pointing at a neck which was a bit wrinkled, with a few of the brownish spots old people always have, but nothing else of note - "Look! No mark! No mark at all! So was I dreaming then, or am I dreaming now? Or is everything a dream? Or is everything real with rules we don't understand yet? God makes no mention of such things in any of his books, and this Newton fellow doesn't seem to have much to say about it either, although you can hardly shut him up about some other things. But anyway, it is all a bit of an unrealistic sort of Utopian idea that I should be here at all. So I should make no promises, other than I will try to approach it all with an open mind and an understanding that things do indeed change from one time to another. My, a longish speech - the habit of the pulpit dies hard, trying to explain things to the flock, most of whom have no real interest in anything beyond their next meal or fornication."
"Haha!" I laughed aloud at the glint of mischief which emanated from his slightly squinting grey eyes that looked directly into mine as he finished, and felt an immediate liking for the smallish, white-haired man with the, it must be admitted, somewhat largish proboscis. There is a thing that often happens when the eyes of two people meet - there can be openness, or curiosity, or blankness, or hostility, or friendliness, or avoidance, many things depending on the participants, in one notable case I recall physically recoiling as I briefly met the eyes of a man through which blackly shone actual reptilian, non-human malicious evil from their dark depths - but with More I felt an immediate comradeship as our eyes met and held for a few seconds this first meeting. There was an honesty, and strength and intelligence, a sort of experienced wisdom really, in his eyes, a man who had long ago left behind any fear of things either inside or outside. I don't know what he saw in mine, but I know that although I am as prone to mistakes as any other human, my spirit is honest, and perhaps that was the bond, as I felt a silent acceptance and perhaps approval from him also, as we released our handshake. A good beginning, for which I was grateful - it is very true, the old line about first impressions being important.
We turned together and he took my arm as old people have always done with a younger escort, as I led him across the grey marbled floor of the quite busy airport reception area to the nearby luggage carousel to await his bags. Aside from the gnarly black walking stick and wire-rimmed spectacles, his garb was a what might be described as that of an English gentleman of the 16th century in 21st century style, and he looked quite elegant in his burgundy frock coat over a white shirt with only slightly ruffled collar and striped trousers. He had a modest black tricorner hat on his head, and black laceless shoes with slight heels and discreet silver buckles. His cane was tucked under his arm as he walked with me, but I would observe later that he really was quite fit, and used it only slightly, and as much for a smallish weapon, as he had with the boy, as anything.
In moment we reached the carousel and came to a stop amidst the clutter of passengers, More keenly observing as he always did, tired or not. The Green Isle International airport was still only big enough for smaller planes, although we were getting lots of them. Our service was very efficient, and in a few moments the carousel began to lazily spin, and the various items slip smoothly through the curtained opening in the wall onto the worn black rubber (no bouncing and falling luggage here, one of the many 'little things' we had taken care of, as 'doing things right' was actually how we tried to live, rather than a cynical advertising slogan), boxes big and small, sports bags of many colors, red FRAGILE stickers here and there, the usual variety of luggage one sees from international air travellers. More received the odd curious look, I suppose at his apparel, but he was not that unusual of a sight in the now eclectic land of Green Island, formerly the Canadian province of Prince Edward Island, which even before the Revolution (or Revelation, as some preferred, although the religious overtones did not sit well with many) had for decades been a rustic haven for many hardy, independent beyond-the-fringe types who were uncomfortable in the modern urban areas of Canada and other parts of the world, with their malls and freeways and systemic violence and dishonesty in an increasingly Americanised ratrace lifestyle, and was now attracting many others looking for a different sort of society than the capitalist 'dog-eat-dog' dystopia that had taken over most of the world during the previous century. "Rather busy," he remarked, turning to me, raising his voice just a little to reach me over the small din, as we turned towards the sound of another commuter plane taxiing up to the terminal, "for what I thought was rather a small island?"
"Oh, well, yes, small indeed we are, at least in physical size and population, but we do keep quite busy," I replied, "This is an average sort of day, especially in the nicer weather of the short summer we have that's just got under way, and as you see, we have a large number of visitors at all times who have heard about us and are coming to see for themselves, and then we also have begun a regular exchange sort of program with a number of other countries in the world through our university, where our young people go and their come here - and many older ones too! - to gain experience and see what other places and people are like, the different ways of doing things, to get ideas about what to do or not to do here on Green Isle. Just part of the whole improvement package, really!" I finished with a grin, "but it seems quite popular."
"Oh, I would think so," said More, looking around with apparent approval, "travel and meeting others and seeing other places is one of the essential ingredients of a good education, of a full life, of the growing of wisdom in the brain - it is quite essential for one to not only understand that there are other ways of thinking and of doing things, but actually experiencing them, and rise above the parochial notion that one's own little box is the way it is everywhere. It's a bit of a different scale with these flying machines covering distances in a few hours that might take months or even years in earlier times, but the principle is still the same - going where you have not gone before to where they do things differently, to see how the people live there, and how they have arranged their lives and communities." "Very much so," I answered, " - as long as you learn from the experience, of course! There is nothing quite the same for opening the mind as being exposed to new ideas and seeing how people live in other places, and how they do things differently.... "
"I say! There's my bag -" and he gestured and thumped the black rubber of the revolving carrier with his cane.
I looked where he pointed, and reached over and plucked a large, dark green carpetbag with a faded sort of floral pattern from the carousel. The well worn brocade had gold trim and a polished wooden grip, and although it bulged at the seams a bit did not weigh a great deal.
I looked to More, "Only one, or are there others?" I asked.
"Just the one, Bigelow, just the one - travelling light is a habit, you never know how far you're going to have to cart the stuff by yourself, and at my age that's not far..."
"Good then!" I replied, "Let us be off, then, shall we? I don't want to rush you at all, but we might as well get you settled, and continue our talk as we can, eh?"
He nodded, then again took my arm as I led him through the door and the connecting covered walkway (there were more hours with rain or snow than without during the course of a year on our lovely little Island here, or so it often seemed) to the nearby airport GRIS-RT platform - the Green Island Rapid Transit rail line, which we had constructed the last few years and now, although not complete, connected the handful of major points from one end of the small island to the other. As we emerged into the open area of the platform the sun was breaking through and showing us one of those lovely Island summer late mornings that contributed so heavily to the former tourist advertising of the place. The dark clouds of a squall that had passed just before More's plane arrived were racing off like noisy exuberant children to the north with their gusty winds, with a lingering small breeze keeping the temperature pleasant, even though temperatures all around the world, including here, had been rising rather alarmingly the last few years - and global warming was something of a serious concern for an island with considerable major habitation within a meter or 2 of sea level.
"Well, a train should be along shortly," I said as we settled ourselves on one of the benches that ran along the center of the platform in two back-to-back rows, "either a regular from the east part of the Island or a special to-and-fro City Commuter that are sent specially when a plane arrives."
"Oh, no hurry, no hurry," he said, making himself comfortable with his cane between his spread legs and hands resting atop, "No hurry at all! Why, in my time we'd be flagging a coach-and-four or something similar, and trying to avoid soiling our shoes - usually a hopeless endeavor! This seems much more civilised altogether - quite unbelievable, actually," he finished, turning to look back over the terminal where still another commuter jet was floating in over the runway just before touchdown - our new Green Isle experiment had certainly picked up the international tourist trade the last couple of years, with many serious tourists coming from all over the world to study what we had done in only a few short years, and how we had managed to do it.
"I say! What's that thing?!!" More suddenly exclaimed, pointing off to the west where a rather large zeppelin had just come into view from where it had been hidden from our view behind the ATC tower, angling down for a docking at the airport, coming in crosswise to the main runway to keep out of the flight path of the jets. It was something of an impressive sight, being a good hundred-plus meters long and twenty-five or so in diameter, painted a rather ostentatious red with large green and black lettering to make sure any aircraft in the vicinity would not would miss it. There was a large GIZ logo on the side and a passenger basket hanging underneath, where we could see faces lining the windows.
"Ah," I said, smiling with some pleasure as I answered, "That is a Great Green Blimp, as it has become popularly known. We have a few, and they're an experiment we are conducting in sort-of mass transit using alternatives to carbon-based fuels, which are becoming somewhat scarce on the planet, and are also causing all kinds of environmental problems. Our Athenia scientists have developed a hydrogen-based gas that is essentially non-explosive, which was the primary argument against these great airships in earlier years when there were a couple of spectacular explosions, and also of course now we have efficient electric motors with batteries that can be recharged at every stop - nowhere is too far away on Green Island. For a small island we thought this mode of travel might be a good alternative, although how they would fare in larger population areas with greater distances and more air traffic is still something of an open question. We just try different things, to see what works and what doesn't. "Our experimental models carry 50-100 or so passengers comfortably, and a good chunk of cargo as well, and we can run one of these zeppelins for a month on the fuel it takes one jet aircraft to fly for an hour. Green is our name, and Green is our motto, a very important one in the modern world. And it's a much more pleasant experience for the passengers, also, than the cramped spaces and many problems with airports people must deal with in the planes."
"My, my," said More with a smile, "I really do hope we get a chance to go for a ride on one of those someday! The big plane was certainly interesting, but not that comfortable as you say, and you can't see much from the height they travel at - this low-flying, leisurely speed thing looks much more interesting."
"Well, we don't have really a firm schedule for you, and I will see if we can arrange that. It is quite popular just as a tourist thing now, and since we don't have many of them in service just yet getting a reservation sometimes takes a few days, but we can probably manage something before you leave. I've only been up a couple of times myself, and it is a memorable sort of experience - none of the great noise of jet engines, and g-forces on takeoff - more like a sailing ship, with the silent wind pushing you around."
"Heh heh," smiled More again, poking me lightly in the arm, "it's plain to see you haven't done much sailing, my friend - the wind can be very much not silent at times in the English Channel!"
"Haha!" I laughed along with him, "Oh, yes, of course, we're no stranger to a good wind here on Green Island, I assure you! - but just in general, my friend, just in general - it's nice to have a peaceful skysail sometimes at a lower sort of altitude rather than inside the metal body of the big jets with their constant noise. Speaking of - you have just completed a trip in a matter of hours which would have taken weeks or months in your day. Have you any thoughts on it all?"
"Thoughts on it all?" he repeated, looking first at me and then off into the distance, over the golden fields of yellow daisies and other early summer wildflowers mixed in with potato and early corn and hay and other crops, and green hedgerows, and herds of grazing cows, down to the blue Northumberland Strait just visible in the distance, leaning forward over his cane and nodding his head for several seconds; "Thoughts on it all? Well, I suppose I must admit that I never thought for a minute that my little works of satire and fantasy would be remembered so long after my own time - they were, after all, written simply to try to knock some sense into the fossils of my own day! - and, I guess, to show the people of my time as well, those whose minds seemed to be enclosed in the constrictive box constructed for them by the leaders of the day, that other worlds, and better ways of doing things, were at least conceivable. And I've always believed, you know, that if we can conceive it, why, maybe we can do it! - and actually, of course, the converse of that is that if we cannot conceive of something, then we surely have no hope of doing it!"
He looked over to me and, with a little grin and wink and chuckle that I would soon recognize as habitual, said, "I suppose that's not what you mean, however, eh? You wonder what I think of all this -" gesturing with a broad sweep of his arm to the airport to our side and the rail track in front, "- and my own presence too, after a rather abrupt parting from my previous existence here, a certain parting of the ideas and the physical representation heh heh! Passing strange, I'll give you! Passing strange indeed! But then when you've spent your life in the company of philosophers and their thoughts, and writing of unworldly affairs, and in service to God (although I'll allow I had a lot of questions about all that towards the end, and have - ah - changed my views on the entire thing somewhat since), I guess by the time you reach my age, if you've spent your time thinking rather than killing your brain cells in one of the many available ways this world has of doing so, you realise that all things are possible, and a few short years on this small planet do not encompass more than but a small portion of the wonders of the universe. So - strange indeed, and wondrous - but I must confess, you know, my thoughts in general are much the same as they were yesterday, or last week or times long before - at times indeed on the metaphysics certainly, but then more often than not on rather more mundane things, you see, the tiny but irritating ache in my shinbone or the hunger pangs in my belly - or even - " and he turned to me with a grin and a wink again, gesturing with his chin to where a rather lovely young summer island lady was passing by - "to the pleasures I once knew but alas know no longer!"
I laughed aloud with St. Thomas More as he finished speaking, and again felt that I was going to enjoy our week together, or however long it turned out to be.
He wasn't quite finished, as he looked up at the zeppelin, from which some mooring lines were being thrown - "I read somewhere recently a thought from someone, something like 'Right now, you occupy a point where three lines reach across the expanse of time and space and intersect only there, and that you and only you possess...' - rather simple, but then often the most profound things are the simplest - the beating of a heart, the opening of the eyes and brain in the morning, the spiritual pleasure we feel at the sight of something beautiful - ahhh.... "
His voice drifted silent as he settled his frame a little more comfortably into the platform bench, a few seconds later reaching idly for a newspaper that some earlier traveller had left in the slot at the end of the bench, designed to hold the paper and make it available for a fellow traveller rather than blowing all over the place with our frequent winds. As More pulled the paper open and glanced over the front page, I checked my watch, and looked up and down the train tracks for a sign of our ride. To my right, the GRIS-RT line stretched off into the distance, eventually passing near Greenways, the farm where I lived with my wife Brittany Forrest, whose property it actually was, and on to Souris, some 60 miles away at the northeast end of the crescent-shaped island. To my left, the track began a long slow turn into Charlottetown, historically and still the capital city of the Island, only 4 miles or so away, passing through Athenia University about halfway from here to the city center (city in the Island sense of 'the biggest place here', rather than the metropolis sense of great numbers of people - the whole island still had under 150,000 residents, with perhaps 25,000 of them in the greater Charlottetown area, and most of the rest in or around small hamlets and villages of no more than a few hundred). As I looked, the red and black engine of an Airport Express Special appeared from behind a small woodlot, and the crowd of passengers along the platform from the recent flight arrival around us began to gather along the trackside, luggage in hand.
I looked over to More, and he was frowning in concentration as he looked over the paper. I leaned over to see the nameplate, and saw it to be the 'Prince Edward Island Colonial' - the paper, as it had always been, of the old Island gentry; among many other things, they were not willingly accepting the new name of the province, regardless of the overwhelming popular approval of the changes that had been made over the last few years - popular approval again being something that had never been much of a factor in the decisions of the gentry here, there or anywhere else for that matter. I could well imagine the tenor if not the exact details of what More was reading. He looked up at me even as the thought crossed my mind. With the frown still on his face, he spoke.
"I say, old chap," he queried, in a neutral sort of voice, "can this be you that they're referring to in here?"
I smiled with rather grim humour back at him.
"Oh, I expect so," I replied; "The Colonial and I aren't exactly the best of friends these days. I don't believe I've seen today's issue yet - I was tied up with some meetings early this morning before coming to meet you - what is it they're saying now?"
More looked at me with his mouth turned slightly down, and shifted ever so slightly away from me on the bench.
"Hhrrmpphh," he snorted, looking from me to the paper he held, then frowning somewhat, and rolling his eyes up so they peered at me over his round spectacles. He finally looked back down to the paper he held and read.
" 'Bigelow Vows End To Democracy' reads the headline here," More began, looking up over his spectacles once again with his lips slightly pursed, up to me to see if I was listening, or perhaps to gauge my reaction. I smiled and nodded to him.
"Yes, I've heard this sort of thing before," I said; "Please do continue....."
" 'In a speech yesterday on the steps of the Prince Edward Island legislature,' " More read on, " 'Stephen Bigelow, the revolutionary Marxist communist with alleged terrorist ties...' "
"Ha ha ha haaa.....," I couldn't help myself, I laughed out loud - the writers of the Colonial rarely ceased to amuse me with their lack of imagination, the repetitive use of their somewhat limited supply of derogatory adjectives. More frowned a bit as he stopped reading at my interruption; "No no, please go on," I said, controlling my mirth, "we can talk about it all later. "
"Hmmmmph," snorted More again, turning back to the paper, "..... whose small band of followers has taken over the True Island government these last few years, by means widely suspected to be illegal and currently under court challenge, vowed once again that he will put an end to the rights of all Island citizens to own their own land....
"In a speech as full of anti-democratic propaganda as anything this writer ever wishes to be subjected to again, Mr. Bigelow also promised that many other Island traditions would once and for all be thrust into the trash can of history - our schools, churches, legal system, the market-driven economy that has proven to be the source of prosperity we have enjoyed for many years - these and much else would go the way of the dinosaur should he and his 'comrades' continue to have their way.
"It is no secret that the staff of the Colonial, along with many other highly respected citizens of Prince Edward Island, are very much opposed to these measures, which will effectively bring an end to a way of life cherished by all of us for, it is not an exaggeration to say, hundreds of years. Please see the special supplement in this issue of the Colonial for a full exposition of Mr. Bigelow and his 'comrades', and in-depth explanations from our leading citizens as to why his proposals in next week's so-called 'People's Referendum' must be soundly defeated if we are to return to our cherished way of life, and put Mr. Bigelow and his kind to pasture once and for all!'"
As More finished reading and looked up for my reaction, eyes wide and challenging, the Airport Express glided into the station. The electrically-powered motors were relatively quiet, and the whooshing of the air brakes was the loudest thing about it. As the large doors slid back, a dozen or so passengers stepped down, and the crowd from the recent arrival gathered around and started to board. There were lots of spaces on the four full-size cars, however - our computer people coordinating such things had a very good command of arrival times and passenger numbers and how many would want the train and how many had other arrangements, and could predict quite accurately the number of seats needed for new arrivals to be seated comfortably with no crowding; here on Green Island, people comfort and convenience was our priority, rather than maxing profit for some investors somewhere by squeezing the max possible number of bodies into the minimum possible space, screw the comfort factor. Don't get me started.
I looked at More, who was regarding me still with a slight frown, obviously waiting for a response, and rose to my feet.
"Please, Thomas, if I may, I can assure you that the picture is nowhere near as bleak as the Colonial likes to paint it," I said, smiling; "Quite the opposite, as a matter of fact - as with all modern mainstream media, as I think you will learn here, of which the Colonial is the charter Island member, the truth has never been a particular consideration in what they print, their underlying goals being somewhat different and considerably darker than the simple dissemination of news for we the people. But one of the reasons I have invited you here is so that you can have a good look around and judge the situation for yourself. Please," I finished, reaching a hand to help him to his feet, "withhold your judgement for a few days until you have seen for yourself what we are doing, and talked to others and read other points of view, which you will have full freedom to pursue, I assure you. And now we really should board the train..."
"Yes, yes, of course, Bigelow," replied More, pausing with the frown for only a further second before making a decision, and folding the paper and sticking it in a large side pocket as he leaned forward to get to his feet, taking my offered hand to pull himself up, "I really should not let myself be unduly influenced by a few comments in the press. Lord knows I've had my share of slanderously unfair, untrue and biased comments directed at me! And what I have seen so far of you certainly has not led me to thinking you are a bad person - and I've already commented on my first impressions of this Green Island, which certainly seems a fine place - I suppose it remains to be seen whether in spite of you, as they imply here, or because of you, as were my first impressions when I learned of this place..."
We walked the few steps over to the train, where most of the others had already boarded. I waved him up the steps ahead of me, and, with his bag in hand, followed him into the car. We easily found a couple of empty seats, and I heaved More's bag into the luggage rack overhead before settling down in a seat across from him.
(continued in the book ....)