March 10th – A Trip Up the River; The Festival of Den Building

If you follow the Moway south, out of the City, past Devil’s Elbow for a few miles, you’ll eventually come to the Municipal Paper Mill. There are pretty red brick outbuildings (once the main buildings, before the expansion), but most of the building is a brutalist monster in concrete and steel; squares, rectangles and parallelograms are stacked atop each other, bulging here and recessing in complex intersections of lines there. Chimney stacks, strangely made from red brick, like the outbuildings disgorge great plumes of steam from the drying machines held within.

To the casual observer, the building is impressive, but somehow also unsettling. It takes a moment to work out what is wrong: even at peak times of production, the mill is strangely silent. The Mill’s enigmatic architecture seems to suck up the myriad whirring sounds of the pulpers and presses, the driers and slicers. Such care to not disturb the neighbours would make sense within the City, but out here there seems few to disturb but the squirrels in the trees, until you notice the little settlement in the valley not far up the river.

The paper industry has been of supreme importance to the City for hundreds of years, at the very least since the invention of the printing press in 1065. The pine forest that surrounds the Mill was once all ancient forest; alders and beech and oak. Unfortunately, those were the days before environmental protection was far up the list of priorities, and most of that woodland has since been lost, replaced with hundreds of regimented rows of managed pine forest. Recycling is now a large part of production, as well, decreasing the demands for new trees to be felled. As such, past a certain point the forest turns less regimented, the pines larger and more imposing, the undergrowth returning.

The one point of forest near to the Mill where ancient trees remain is the little valley-settlement just up the river, known as Logger’s Rest. This settlement, the forest and the Mill are all technically part of Buentoille, in the same way that the farmlands that edge the City proper are, but folk there see themselves as separate nonetheless. Most of them grew up in the City, but came out here for a quiet life away from all the hustle and bustle, finding work at the paper factory. It is for them that the singular architecture of the Mill was designed; you cannot see it from within the valley (except maybe for the occasional cloud of steam when the wind blows the right way), but were it not for the strange walls, you’d certainly be able to hear it.

Logger’s Rest is a peaceful place, and a beautiful one too. It has been there for many hundreds of years now, but has grown little, unlike the rest of the City. The folk there have always been industrious, good with their hands, and each family has its own unique house. There are log cabin-style constructions, an elderly grandparent sitting out on the veranda, turf-covered constructions with large oval windows, and even homes built into the sides of the valley itself. The pace of life is slow here, and is centred around a central hall, outside which are a small group of shops (a grocers, a bar, a bakery), and a large pyre for special occasions. Tonight the fire will be lit, surrounded by Buentoillitants after their day out running around the forest.

Each year young families travel upriver by boat, landing at Logger’s Rest. In some of the more natural-looking forest that covers the area between the Mill and the settlement, the folk of Logger’s rest have set out various offcuts and branches on the forest floor, and with these the Buentoillitants build small dens, with the help and instruction of the settlers when required. Many of the dens of previous years stand still in the surrounding area, and children often run into these, seeing how their creations stood the test of time. The revellers are given biodegradable twine and a small hacksaw, although they are forbidden to cut down any new branches or trees. When they are finished with their constructions the families huddle together inside their new abodes, the fresh scented pine branches keeping out any late winter rain or snow, and think about what it would be like to be an early human. Children spar outside with makeshift spears and swords.

As the sun begin to set, the families are invited back to the village, where they are treated to a large feast in the hall and around the fire. Although there is a boat back to the City in the evening after the feast, many will stay the night in the hall (which is cleared of the feasting tables and hay is laid down on the floor) or in their dens, if they are feeling foolhardy enough. It is often suggested that the festival should be moved to midsummer, to make this a more pleasant experience, but the date of March the 10th is very important to the settlers; the festival is a celebration for Bill Mackomie, a logger who used to love making dens with his children, before a tree crushed him to death. The Mill has excellent safety procedures and medical facilities, but they were too late for Bill.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of Apples
  • The Caustic Clan’s Festival of Goodwill and Citizenship