"No Yesterdays on the Road"
No one had really expected
the humans and the Fifers
to become such fast friends,
but it had happened anyhow.
Their customs spilled over a little,
each borrowing a bit of the alien
and making it their own.
Fifers flocked around
the human base camp, and
more humans visited the Fifer planet.
In particular, the humans attracted
those Fifers who liked to couple up,
while the Fifers attracted humans
who preferred mating in groups.
Human or Fifer, it was nice not to feel alone.
In the autumn, Vreen went through
her belongings and gave away
most of them to younger females.
She was old, migration was hard,
and she knew she might not return.
That was fine. She had already outlived
her mates and even most of their chicks.
So Vreen spoke to the young gimels
and modors who clustered around her,
telling them the story of each item
as she gave it away to someone.
Eventually, she was left with nothing
of consequence but the courting stones,
which of course nobody would take and
she couldn't bear to scatter on the beach
for others to use according to custom.
Vreen gathered them up and took them
to the human anthropologists instead.
"Take these," she said, "and give them
to the humans who are moving in here.
These are the courting stones that
my mates brought me to make a home.
It is hard to make a home, but it is
easier if you have someone to help."
The humans, too, did what they could
to welcome the travelers from afar.
They set up guest rooms, both on
the orbiting starship and the base camp,
each with its own local knickknacks
to make it more distinctive.
One habitat dome was all offices
divided into cubicles, but the walls
made of extruded fiber had photos
of the planet printed across them.
Each new arrival also received
one of the courting stones -- this one
swirled lighter and darker blue, here
an orange one with a white belt,
another black with a pink ring --
to welcome them home.
It was not quite courtship,
what the humans and Fifers
were doing with each other, but
it wasn't all that different either.
There were the sidelong glances
observing individuals of interest,
the strutting displays of skill,
and the exchange of gifts.
People of both species
came and went in their own time,
for a new tour of duty or migration
or other reasons all of their own,
yet someone was always there.
So it was when Vreen took flight;
so it was when a new ship landed.
When you travel, you are
what you are right there and then;
your past has no power to hold you.
There are no yesterdays on the road,
and the sky is an open horizon.
* * *
"What you’ve done becomes the judge of what you’re going to do — especially in other people’s minds. When you’re traveling, you are what you are right there and then. People don’t have your past to hold against you. No yesterdays on the road."
-- William Least Heat Moon
Bird courtship often involves offering pebbles. The Fifers choose beautiful stones for courting.