October 24th – The Festival of Air Mail

Surely as a child you played under a sycamore tree, throwing the whirligigs into the air and watching them slowly tumble down? Or did you split them open and stick them to your nose, pretending to be a unicorn? The seeds of the sycamore, also known as ‘fairy wings’ or ‘samaras’, to give them their scientific name, can keep children amused for hours in this manner, one of the many excellent toys that nature brings at this time of year.

For those children who live around the eastern Patrimony Delanik Atmospheric Rail station, the exhaust chimney there has always provided an excellent opportunity for fun at this time of year. The top of the chimney is covered in a wire mesh, to stop leaves and the like from gathering in the turbine system, so instead, on days when the Atmospheric rail isn’t running, the leaves and the like gather on top. When the air in front of the rail carriage below is then pumped out at great speed, propelling it along, these leaves fly into the air. It would be quite spectacular, if many leaves settled there, but unfortunately the chimney reaches above all the nearby trees, and only a small selection of wind-blown leaves reach that high.

Out of the three Atmospheric Rail stations (western, central and eastern), the eastern station is the only place where the chimney is directly overlooked by another structure (other than the station semaphore towers). The chimney runs up beside Lighterwoman House, a block of flats constructed in the 1960s, which has a community garden on its roof. It didn’t take long after the flats were constructed for the children living in the block to work out that is you gather a bundle of whirligigs from the trees that lined the streets, and throw them into the chimney at just the right moment, then you would have a rather spectacular display, the whirligigs flying far up into the sky and then tumbling slowly back down over a much larger area as they were caught by the wind. At this time of year the local children do little else, and the streets are clear of whirligigs for several miles.

When Inari Masque went to university in 1982, she was pretty lonely. De Geers felt like an alien place to her, and even though it wasn’t long on the train to go home and see her parents and local friends, she felt that it would have been a defeat of some sort. She stuck it out, but was constantly yearning for someone to reach out to her, to disturb the sediment she’d built around herself, in her pond of misery. It took until third year for her to realise it didn’t have to be this way, that there is no shame in contacting your parents, that you don’t have to completely reconstruct yourself and cut yourself off from your old life, just because you’re going to uni. She was on her way out of Lighterwoman House, after visiting her folks, that year, and she saw the children throwing the whirligigs into the chimney, and she had an idea.

Normally, the prevailing wind over Buentoille runs from the north west to the south east, as it comes in from the sea. However, at this time of year, from about mid October until December, the prevailing direction changes, with faster, drier winds cutting in from the east, originating from the Great Expanse that lies in that direction. This is very important in the formation and timing of today’s festival, because it means that anything thrown into the chimney by Lighterwoman House gets carried well over the City toward the west. When she got back to university in 1984, where she was studying art, Masque set about making several capsules, in a design based on the whirligigs that the children throw into the chimney. Masque’s whirligigs, still made today, are larger than their natural cousins, and where the seed pod would be they instead have enough space for a small, tightly folded letter.

It was words of encouragement that Masque chose to write on those first letters, which were dispersed all across the City, rising high on the gust of air and then being whipped west as they fell, spinning. They landed in the streets, in parks, they got clogged in guttering, trapped in trees. They were almost all found, around forty six of that first batch of fifty. To some people they meant the world, to others they were a curious oddity, or a nuisance. Only eight of the forty six turned up to the party they were invited to the following week, but in fairness many didn’t find theirs until after it was over. Nowadays the party is held a month from today, and about five hundred are released, by Masque and the other residents of Lighterwoman House.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of the Priest’s Failure
  • Greenhorn Day
  • The Last Warning Festival