The Murmuration – From Winds of Change
This is an excerpt from Winds of Change, the third novel in the Dandelion Trilogy.
You can find it here>>
The murmuration swarmed through the streets like a wild dance class released from studio walls. It was a flocking movement, modeled after the ever-shifting groups of starlings that swooped and flew in formations at dusk. Zadie had introduced the concept to the Dandelion Insurrection and it had grown into a popular, versatile street action. Conducting the training from the sidelines, a small pair of figures passed a megaphone back and forth as a sea of bodies moved in synchronized gestures, mimicking the motions of the temporary leader at the front of the group.
“Remember,” one of the trainers said into the megaphone, “this is a leaderful structure. As the ‘flock’ turns, the leader changes. Whoever is in front leads until they turn. Look for the new leader now. Who is that person?”
The trainers reoriented the demonstrators as they lost sight of the changing leadership. Laughter rose up like bird wings. The murmuration pivoted and worked through its awkward moments, bumbling hiccups, and confused stumbling. As they practiced, they gained skill, speed, and grace.
“Can’t see the front?” the co-facilitator asked, taking the megaphone. “Follow your wingmate’s cues. Stay equidistant. Keep moving forward. That’s it! You’ve got it!”
The pair cheered from their perch on a concrete garden planter. Charlie and Zadie made their way closer, skirting around the edges of the moving flock of humans, arriving near the trainers just as they called a break.
“Great work, everyone. Remember, those guiding principles will determine how we’ll fly through the city, swooping in groups, splitting into smaller clusters, and rejoining with others once again. Go get some water and get ready. We’ll start at the top of the hour.”
The megaphone squeaked as it shut off. The pair of petite organizers hopped down to greet the new arrivals.
“Well, if it isn’t the Mother of All Murmurations,” the first said, grinning at Zadie and sticking out a hand. “We were part of the DC Swarm, but we’re from Chicago, originally. Lately, we’ve been migrating westward training people in cities all over.”
They were a pair of siblings, almost mirrors of each other, twins with identical features. They were in their thirties, compact and muscular. Caramel skin creased around the deep dimples in their cheeks. Laughter lines formed around their eyes. They flirted at the edges of gender, refusing to be male or female. They wore jeans, blazing yellow T-shirts, and a set of hoodies, black and blue. Zadie noticed a tattoo of a dandelion seed on the back of one twin’s hand and tucked the distinguishing mark away for later reference.
“I’m Sparrow,” the one with the tattoo said.
“Starling,” the other offered, extending a hand to shake.
As the mass of protesters readied for action, unfurling banners and fetching signs, Starling and Sparrow filled the pair in on the objectives of the day’s protests.
“We’re trying to remove the moral legitimacy of stockpiling wealth at this pivotal time in human history,” Starling explained. “We’ll swarm around the financial district with dozens of messages, all pushing, compelling, and demanding that the ultra-rich give big and give back.”
“They’ve gained unprecedented wealth in the last decade. Now let’s see them give at an unprecedented rate,” Sparrow chuckled.
“People know how to solve the problems we face,” Starling chimed in. “Like Bramble Ellison’s community, they have good ideas for moving forward. But in order to move them forward, they need the resources that the ultra-wealthy have.”
“We need to democratize wealth along with democratizing everything else,” Sparrow stated emphatically.
At the stroke of eleven, the sun burst through the fog, the twins gave the signal, and five hundred people moved into action. Soapboxes were scattered throughout the district on the street corners. People swarmed in ever-shifting groups from one to the next, leaving when they felt ready, staying when the speaker held their attention. They carried signs and banners calling for democratizing wealth. They stopped traffic and blocked roads, bogging down the pulse of the city’s traffic patterns. They swept into lobbies of finance centers for two-minute speeches then swept out before the managers could call the cops. They picketed the luxury skyrises and deluxe hotels. They flooded the sidewalks near expensive boutiques and hair salons, asking wealthy women to give to the Community Fund. Zadie and Charlie split up, each shadowing one of the twins, trying to witness as many of the flash actions as possible.
“If that woman gave away a million dollars a day for a whole year,” Sparrow whispered to Charlie, pointing to a wealthy patron of a high-end salon, “she’d still be a multi-millionaire.”
A billion was a thousand millions – a fortune impossible to spend in one lifetime. It was the wealth a whole species needed to transform a broken world into a whole one, to rebuild after the ravages of not just fires and floods, but centuries of greed and exploitation.
Sparrow and Charlie tracked as many actions as they could, taking photos of small pods of protesters holding up banners in front of high-end art galleries, filming a flash mob and die-in at the Palace of Fine Arts during its fundraising soiree. Charlie posted photos online as groups painted a giant message across six city blocks in under twenty minutes: Invest In Resilience Not Destruction. Each letter was the size of a bus. Artist-activists used roller brushes to paint the enormous letters onto the street. With Sparrow, he slipped through the revolving doors of a financial district skyscraper while the guards gawked. They rode the elevator as high as they could and snapped a photo from the twentieth floor. From there, they could see Zadie and Starling down the block, recognizable by the twin’s blazing yellow shirt. They were in the middle of an immense murmuration dancing in the street.
On the ground, Starling and Zadie turned slowly, following the motions of the nearest people as they stood in the heart of the giant murmuration. Zadie had never seen anything so beautiful. Elegant. Masterful. Peaceful. Strong. Here, a sense of calm settled like sunlight. The bustle of the city fell away. They lifted their arms and rotated like a field of sunflowers. They stepped forward in the rhythm of antelope herds. They stilled like watchful birds then darted into motion, swooping and diving. The shape of the mass of people rippled and contracted, shifting direction from moment to moment. They flooded the streets. They drifted onto sidewalks. They charged along crosswalks. On the outermost rims, murmuration monitors in orange vests halted traffic. They also handed out fliers that explained that the murmuration was a reminder, a dance of respect for all living beings, a way of invoking the ecosystems of the world in the heart of a financial district whose decisions affected the entire planet.
They moved like rivers, curving and churning. They rippled like shoals of fish and mimicked the swooping wings of manta rays. They banked and turned in avian spirals. All of life swept through them: the patterning of clouds, amassing, swelling, breaking open into rain; the upward curls of unfurling ferns, the loping gamble of the wolf pack, the thundering gait of bison herds, the leaping flight of deer and dolphins, the slow sunning of turtles on logs.
The Earth thinks in circles. She dreams in spirals and nautilus shell revolutions. She paints in sprays of wildflowers, clusters of lichens, stands of trees. She moves in tidal dances, forward and back, in stretches of time too long for human conception. She tells her stories across eons. Her epics are epochs.
Humanity is not excused from this dance. Every breath of air entering our lungs weaves the ever-shifting formations of clouds into our blood. The circumambular journey of the sky feeds into our cells. The phytoplankton riding the ocean swells winds up in our veins, transformed. Invisible, they hitch a ride on water molecules, climb the elevator of evaporation, gather into cloudbursts, and split into rivers, only to reunite in our bodies after a journey across entire continents and ocean currents.
Awe – sheer wonder – was the only acceptable response to the majesty of the Earth.
This murmuration, pulsing in the heart of a glittering city, swarming through the streets like salmon runs of old, swooping and diving in a flock hundreds strong, was more than a protest . . . it was a prayer, a ritual, an invocation of the Earth in the places that had forgotten how to think in circles and cycles, curves and spirals. With it, the rules of natural systems crashed the opium dream fantasies of the line-and-grid urban world. Their feet, lifting and falling – not in march-step unison, but in patterned waves of rippling, subtle drumrolls – reverberated through the tar into the ground, down, down to the shivering fault line that trembled beneath the city, a reckoning built by plate tectonics and continental shifts.
It was more than a protest statement; it was a return of reverence. With it, they laid their human lives upon the altar of the planet, and swayed and swarmed back into the ancient dance their species had forgotten. They did not speak, they listened, and their rusty animal alertness crept back into their limbs. They let their presence proclaim their message. They allowed the unexpected sight of hundreds of humans embodying the primal patterns that had birthed and nurtured their species for millennia shock and baffle the passersby. Spectators gaped, still caught up in the doings built by humans. Drivers blew their horns when the murmuration blocked the street, resenting the interruption of their headlong rush toward extinction.
And still . . . there was the woman in tears on the street corner, filming with her camera, unable to explain why this movement evoked despair and hope in the very marrow of her bones. There was the old man at the outdoor cafe, cream overflowing his coffee cup as he stared in wonder, a smile crinkling his face. There were the children who tugged their harried mother’s arm, pointing to the magic breaking through the bustle of commercial mundanity.
There were those who saw and understood the beauty dancing before them; those who paused amidst the day and let the murmuration call them back to their human nature . . . the human nature birthed in ocean wombs and built in primordial times, the one entwined to moon cycles and seasonal minuets and a world more wild than tame. When the murmuration turned the corner, these humans stepped forward, transformed, and they, in turn, transformed their world in small and large ways, choosing the smaller footprint, stepping lightly and gently on this beloved Earth, cradled by their abiding interconnection with a living world.
Zadie danced with the murmuration until she tired. Then she stilled in the shade of a building, watching the movement sweep through the intersection. She rested for a spell then followed, catching up to Starling as they stood back to record a video.
“It’s . . . beautiful,” Zadie sighed. She had been part of dozens of murmurations, but this one transformed the protest tactic into art. She felt transformed, exalted, grounded, and broken open into awed vulnerability.
“It’s modern-day magic,” Starling agreed. “It’s a ritual dance in the ancient sense. It deepens with time. Duration matters. If you watch the old dances – think Sufis spiraling or stamping dance rituals of African traditions – the movement is not performative so much as experiential. The length and repetition is what works the magic.”
They tracked the murmuration down the next street. There was an abandon to the participants’ motions, a surrendering. They settled into the space between leader and follower, alert and receptive.
“I could watch it all day,” Zadie sighed.
“Or move with it all day,” Starling added. They shared a grin and stepped forward in one stride to follow the murmuration around the corner.
This is an excerpt from Winds of Change, the third novel in the Dandelion Trilogy.
You can find it here>>