Oh, I remember it well, the great migration, if that’s what you insist on calling it. That’s not the name they were giving to it back then, but these things change, I understand. Back then they called it an “opportunity” and that sounded better than “resettlement” so that’s what we called it. I guess there wasn’t enough opportunity for financial growth created by our little town of fishers so the ones in charge of things took the opportunity to stop providing shipments of food, goods, medical supplies… you get the idea.
The way up was out – or in, rather. In was where they wanted us all to be, not out. Goodness knows, out there on the fringes of everything, on the coastlines and shorefronts we must have cost the the folks in the city quite a bit of money. Those outside places – “outports,” they say nowadays – were a risk to a bigger and better and more comfortable way of life. The only trouble was for the boys in charge to get us in on the whole idea, and people tend to agree to things with a few extra dollars in their pockets.
And with that business sorted out, out, we must go.
The problem with resettling a settlement is this: settlements are more than just the people that settled themselves there, they are also made up of all the things that those settlers settled around themselves. We – being the sure set folk that we were – had naturally settled ourselves quite solidly into the setting, and to reset ourselves and our settlement was to set for ourselves a detestable task. One that we were sure to solve, though, having set ourselves to start.
So it was, then, that the entire community started to pack its things up and prepare to vacate the premises.
First? No, no, no. Goodness no, we weren’t the first to be resettled. That being said, I like to think that we approached the whole situation with a level of creativity that the others could only dream of. Yes, our little town wasn’t about to go quietly and simply disappear into the crowd. We didn’t want to go – of course we didn’t – but we had taken the money and we had agreed to vacate the premises in search of gainful employment in the city and we were – and I like to think, still are – true to our word.
Commotion? Well, I don’t recall us being difficult about the situation, but I suppose that’s a matter of perspective, isn’t it? I guess you could say we were stubborn, but that is to be expected when you ask – or tell, rather – a community of people to just go away. You see, most would take an instruction like “vacate the premises” to mean “vacate yourself from the premises.” That’s mincing words, in my humble opinion. My neighbors and I – being the very literal folk we were – took “vacate the premises” to mean “vacate the premises.” Doesn’t seem that controversial to me.
We started with the houses, thinking to tear them down and rebuild in the city once we could find some empty lots. This, however, presented a challenge. The ones in charge had only given us a month to leave in the contract, and to tear down a town’s worth of buildings for repurposing would take much longer than that, even with all hands on deck. It was old Aunt Islay, who came over from the old world, that suggested we avoid the trouble of tear-down altogether. So we decided to drag the houses behind us, floating them over water and sliding over land to resettle them in the city. Great barges, floats and skis were constructed to prepare, and like a circus caravan for giants, our homes were fitted to coast, slide and roll through the miles to the city. It wasn’t easy work, but we were used to that.
Some folk might have stopped there but we had spent years cultivating the land for our needs – sowing crops, growing hedges, stacking great stone walls – and it felt wrong to leave it all behind. After all, hadn’t we agreed to vacate the premises? We took them too. All of it. Every fence post, every wall, every woodpile leaning against an old rotten stump – it was all carried with us. The trees whose shade we had rested in, the nests of birds whose music we enjoyed, the fertile patches of garden soil, the spring that brought forth cold fresh water perfect for drinking, the rabbits and foxes and mink who we often trapped for pelts (they made such fine hats for winter, you wouldn’t beleive), the old log in the cove where we’d sit and watch the sunset, the swimming hole with the deep pool and waterfall that fell down from the mountains above and oh, the mountains! Goodness, we couldn’t possibly leave those mountains behind! The cemetery with all its tombs and monuments. The hollow in the woods where young lovers were apt to visit. That hillside overlooking the harbor with the most perfect, enchanting view. We packed it all up, and made our way into the city.
And what a sight we must have been. Ha! How those city folk must have laughed and shook their heads at us as we moved our things in, laden with the premises, the settlement and all that. How they must have turned up their noses when we couldn’t find a lot big enough for it all in that rolling expanse where the buildings chafe when the wind blows at night and neighbors stare out of windows, into windows. While the boys in charge had requested us, it became clear very soon that they hadn’t bothered to make room for us and our resettling of everything.
“There,” old Aunt Islay pointed, “by that bus stop. That’s as good a spot as any.” It was there that we laid our burdens down.
I suppose I can understand the fuss. Once we had unloaded our things we took up quite a lot of space, and naturally things didn’t fit quite right. There were houses atop houses, gardens on government buildings, woods growing out the tops of intersections and museums – there was a particular commotion that arose because we had set down our harbor in the middle of a city park, but we thought the place was much improved by the seabirds gliding and the marine sunsets in summer. The locals didn’t much share our thoughts on the matter. A difference of perspective, I suppose.
Despite our differences we lived with the cityfolk for a while. Days went by. Months, years. After a while the locals seemed to grow a fondness toward our way of life. There were times when we’d find teenagers climbing up the streetlamps into our market to haggle prices on pelts and fresh fish, offering to trade in their pre-torn jeans and hamburgers. Other times we would catch sight of passersby gazing up from the busy streets, goggling dreamlike at our simple daily tasks in the town above the city. A few of the locals even went as far as to settle themselves on our native land, raising homes and clearing land amongst the woods and grassy hillsides of our patchwork neighborhood. Things became, in time, rather good.
And, yes, we grew to enjoy the city life as well – I’ll be the first to admit it! After a hard day of hauling traps or fishing it made life easier being able to board our canoes and paddle downtown to pick up a pepperoni pizza for supper that night. We’ve always been a folk to enjoy a good party, and what a good many times we had with those city dwellers – kitchen parties, cocktail parties, festivals, raves. Over time we changed the way they lived their lives and, undoubtedly, they changed us as well.
The one thing that hadn’t changed, it seems, was the opinion of those in charge of life around the city. As it turns out, our stubbornness had thrown what one might call a wrench into their plans of economic development. We had angered the boys in charge by tangling up their idea of a bigger, better way of life by dumping our setting over the top of theirs, and they weren’t about to let us get away with it. I mean this in the most literal sense.
The day came when those politicians and investors came marching to our doors and – without as much as a day’s notice – evicted us from the premises.
“Out,” they said, “out!” And what choice did we have? We’d be painted as criminals, outlaws, disturbers of the peace and wellbeing of the city. Our town above the city was messy, unsightly, in the way. They weren’t having it. We hauled up our boats, gathered our children and animals and belongings. We scrambled to collect everything we’d brought with us but by then it wasn’t so easy as that. The roots of our trees had taken hold in their soil, and the branches of theirs had brought forth fruit from which we ate. Our worlds had become not quite one, but together. We had become settled.
We found our way home, or back to the place where home used to be, at least. Our flight back over land and sea was a hard one, plagued by sickness and danger and terribly dull reading material, and once we had set ourselves back down at our space by the sea, we set ourselves to making things the way they once had been. The mountains were slid into place, the harbor positioned, the houses and trees and fence posts restored. Our memory had faded over time, so it became difficult to get things just right, and even when we called to our elders – the ones with the greatest knowledge of our home – they had lost interest. Old Aunt Islay said “Just put it over there. There, by that… whatever you call it,” and waved her hand dismissively when we asked whether it was right before going back to her tabloids.
Some of the city folk had come with us, I think, but they were nice enough and took the places of those that must have hidden away and stayed behind. We tried our best to put it all back – every rabbit, every field, every subway station – but it seemed impossible to make it all as it had been. We came to accept that, and in time even came to forget the things we left behind. Slowly, with some reservation, our setting became settlement again, and whether it’s the same as before or not, that sunset is just as beautiful as I can ever remember it being.