Tag: nature

Story Corner: Growing

Here’s a little story I wrote a while ago. It is kind of a creation story, kind of a fable. Very much inspired by A.S. Byatt’s short story collection The Little Black Book of Stories and her take on Norse mythology Ragnarok: The End of the Gods. She describes nature really well in a very real yet heightened way. That’s kind of what I was going for here. All photography also by me. Any and all feedback is welcome.

The forest did not begin life as a forest. Nothing ever begins as it ends. The forest, like everything else, began as nothing. Then, after some period, everything was. It still wasn’t a forest yet but it was on its way. It was a bunch of tiny molecules flying through nothing until they ran into some other molecules and stuck together. Those molecules ran into others and others and others and then they formed a sphere because that is what molecules do. The forest was now a mass of swirling, broiling lava. Other molecules formed stars and gas giants and nebulae and everything else. Once some more molecules hit the mass of swirling, broiling lava they became an atmosphere and weather began. The weather was angry at that time, being a newly born child and acting like it, crying and carrying on. Air gave way to clouds which gave way to rain which cooled the lava into hard rock, at least on the outside. Inside it was still swirling and broiling because that’s what planets do.

The forest still wasn’t a forest yet. It was a place on this barren mass of rock; a location which held some promise. The weather continued to grow up but it was a particularly sad child. The only other thing it could play with was the lava, which was as angry as it had been, but the weather’s own actions had hidden the lava away and replaced it with boring rock. The weather cried and cried to see its friend go away and all of that crying covered the planet with salty water. Some of the water seeped down through small holes in the rock and sought out its old friend and some of it found the lava and they shared a brief yet explosive love until the water boiled away. Other parts of the water didn’t reach the lava but found a nice cozy place within the rock to hide and just exist.

The forest still wasn’t a forest yet. It was impossible to be a forest at this point since there was no land. There was only weather and air and water and rock and lava and a few stray molecules that hadn’t yet decided what they were going to be when they grew up. Their time will come in this story, just wait. Now is the time to throw in some action. Parts of the rock didn’t like other parts of the rock. They didn’t agree very much despite being fundamentally identical. One could theorize that being the only separation between the water and its old friend lava didn’t make for a healthy relationship with either element and whenever they could find cracks within the rocks being they would push and pull and tear at them until it broke apart into pieces. Rock is a strong thing and it didn’t break easily nor did it break into small chunks. No, the rock split magnificently and into massive plates. There was much turmoil as some of the newly separate pieces tried to return to each other while other pieces tried to get as far away as possible from its enemy neighbors. Being so big and so conflicted and still so near each other led to a lot of grinding and smashing and erupting. Sometimes the lava would sneak through a fissure created by this turmoil and rejoin the water and remember the good days. This, of course, didn’t last very long and in the end it just created more rock to move and shift and smash and crash. Some of the rock was pushed so hard against the other rock that they had nowhere to go but up, rising out of the water and meeting the air for the first time in a long time. After a while there was a good deal of rock above the water and the rock that made the journey just couldn’t hold itself together with the joy of meeting the air again. It fell apart and became dirt and there was a slightly new element to deal with.

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The forest still wasn’t a forest yet. Its place hadn’t moved and it was lucky enough to be located in one of the spots that had risen above the water and become dirt. That was fortuitous for it. Another lucky break was the decision those other molecules made, the slow developers. They joined together and decided to be life. It started in some of the water that got trapped in the rock and dirt of the newly formed land. The molecules tried to be alive and move and they did. They formed cells which grew and formed into things with many cells. These creatures, if we can call them that, did not and could not have strong motivations. They lost that when they decided to be life. That final choice robbed them of will for centuries. In that time they only tried to be alive. It’s hard to do, and even moreso when there’s so little else around you that shares your predicament. What did they have to eat but each other? So they did, and they changed as they multiplied and they diversified. Some grew big and slow and strong while others grew to be quick but relatively weak and others just learned to stay out of the way and plant roots into the dirt around the edges of the pond. The dirt was full of nutrients from all of the turmoil which caused its creation and there was plenty of energy from it and the sun, which also caused all of this. Sometimes those growers would get eaten by other organisms but they were clever and knew that there was strength in numbers and continued to grow and grow and grow and spread and spread and spread. Soon the realized that they could exist off the water which fell from the sky and could venture beyond the pool of water in which they began. The tall, thin, green things spread and became fields. It was the first color on the world that wasn’t angry red or stoic brown or calm blue but vibrant green, a green so green you could tell it had to be alive. The other organisms in the pool continued to grow and diversify as well and some learned that there was food that grew out on the dirt that was the same as the food that grew in the pool and they went up to look at it. It was hard at first to breathe air and walk instead of swim but they did learn and they went wherever the grass went. The followed the green as far as it could go, which turned out to be very far indeed. It went all the way back to the big water which was everywhere that land wasn’t. Some of the walkers decided that they liked swimming better and returned to the sea, though that’s a bit of romanticizing since they had never been in this particular water before. In such a large place they too could spread out and become all different sorts of things. There were fish and sharks and little things that lived on the bottom of the ocean nearest the heat of the lava and little things that floated around the water just being alive. Life was changing on the land as well. Some of the walkers gained legs and others lost them and some changed their legs into hands and others changed their legs into wings. Some of the green stuff changed, too. Some grew shorter and attached themselves to the rocks strewn about the land while others grew taller and taller and reached high up into the air and weather and, since they had so much space, spread out up there. Now the forest was a forest.

It wasn’t done yet, though. There were a few trees and a few smaller shrubs but they couldn’t really be called a forest yet. It had to wait for hundreds of years until there were enough trees in a group to be considered a forest. There were oaks and maples and sycamores and birches and palms and yuccas and ashes and sycamores and hickories and willows and elms and beeches and trees that bore delicious fruits like apples and pears and dates to lure the animals to come and eat them so that they would spread the seeds even further. Soon the forest wasn’t just a forest but an entire wood. It was everything and everywhere and provided shelter to all the animals from rain and wind and anything else the weather could throw at them. It was strong and unmoving. The forest did not – could not – pick up and go elsewhere nor did it lean one way or another. It simply grew up and out and reached into the sky towards the stars. It saw that there was something else above it and, like the squirrels and birds that made their nests in the highest tops of the trees, the forest itself wanted to be up in that higher realm. It could do nothing but grow and grow it did, always yearning to be taller but never getting above a certain level. It was stuck. Even if it did reach up above the air towards the stars it would die. It couldn’t exist out of its own niche, as big a niche as it was. It was sad about this until it looked within itself and saw the things living inside it. There were other plants and small creatures that literally lived inside some of the trees. There were birds and bigger animals that lived on the branches of the trees and other animals that used some dead trees to make their own shelters. All of this life was possible because of the forest and that gave it a sense of completeness. Not full completeness, of course, since it still had things to do.

The forest was, now, but it wasn’t all it was going to be. The forest remained still and unmoving while everything else grew and changed. Some parts of the forest lived for hundreds of years while the animals living within it went through many generations and grew into terrible lizards and little mammals and blood sucking insects. They lived and ate each other and died. Then some of those molecules that had gone off to be something else at the beginning of time returned to the world and met it violently. They did not get along, and it caused great disruption as the seas boiled and the air turned to dust and all the large animals died – and most of the small ones, too. The forest burned and burned and it hurt but there was nothing that it could do. After the burning the world became cold. The forest had done its job, cleaning the air and trying to return the world to its former glory but it wasn’t just one forest anymore. It had split apart, the land relocated all over the world with great seas separating the forest from itself. Everywhere was covered with snow, and mammals adapted to live in it. They grew large and shaggy and some of them had learned to walk on two legs and live in caves. This was the first separation from the forest and it was sad to see them go. It felt every loss deeply. It dreamed that they would return some day to live among the trees again. They didn’t. After the caves they learned how to make fire for themselves and create tools made of stone and wood. The forest was glad to give a piece of itself to the upright animals. It could still feel connected to them and if they were putting it to good use it was happy. Soon the uprights learned to speak with each other and forgot their connection to the forest. They moved farther and farther away from it so that they could build farms and cities and towns. The forest was a place to visit for a picnic or a quick walk or even a weekend stay but even then they would bring pieces of their world into the forest and didn’t even try to reconnect. They had used the forest for building houses at first and the forest was more than happy to help them live in safety as it had when they were walking on four legs. The humans had learned how to make metal, though, and began to use that for its superior strength and cost. Now the wood from the forest was used for end tables and sides of station wagons and paper. The people took more of the forest than they should have and it was hard for it to replenish itself. It was still cleaning the air for the animals and people but it couldn’t keep up with the grime and gunk put in the air by the people trying to live in cities. The forest was overwhelmed and dying.

The people learned how to travel away from their own world. The forest watched in awe as they rocketed towards the stars it wanted so badly to be amongst. The people had left the forest and ruined the world and were now in the process of leaving it behind. They explored nearby worlds at first but quickly learned how to travel farther than they had ever hoped to go. They could visit distant planets and they discovered that they were not alone in the universe. Of course they weren’t, all those other molecules from the beginning had to go somewhere and be something. The people befriended the other beings and shared their triumphs and mistakes. They were invited to live among all sorts of other creatures on innumerable alien planets. By this time they had almost completely abandoned the forest and the world they had grown up in. It was hard for the forest to see the people go away, much harder than when they lived in the cities because they couldn’t even visit anymore. The forest could only look up at the stars and imagine how its old friends were faring on their journey to other planets. Days and months and years and decades and centuries passed and the world returned to its former vitality. Without the humans around to pollute the air and water and ground every remaining life could work together to restore the planet’s glory. The forest was content but at night it still dreamed of growing up to the stars.

One day the humans returned. They marveled at the state of their former home. The forest had reclaimed most of the land and the cities were suggestions of their former selves. Green was everywhere. The people walked around the forest and remembered what they used to be. They had been happy to explore the stars but they, too, always felt like something was missing. They didn’t feel connected to their past and they soon became as melancholy as the forest was in their absence. When they reunited they all wept with joy. The forest shook with excitement as the people climbed in its trees and played with the other animals that had never abandoned the woods. The humans decided to never leave the forest behind again and everybody was happy. Everybody but the forest. It heard the tales of the people’s travels and it was sad that it could never follow them and visit other planets. The people, too, grew less happy. They had tasted absolute freedom and they wanted to return to the stars. This time, though, they would take the forest with them so that they would never be apart again. They transported sections of the forest and all of the things living within it into huge domes and flew them into space to finally join the stars. There were some woods left on the Earth to care for the animals left behind but even they were not sad because they knew that the rest of the forest was up among the stars where it had always longed to be. The forest visited alien forests that grew in strange ways and alien creatures would visit the Earth forests and understand why the humans had to return to Earth and bring the forests with them. The forest continued to travel the universe and live among the stars and everything was as it was until it wasn’t anymore.

Two Experiences in Nature

1. To the Light Spot.

Salt I was in Portland, Maine on vacation recently. It was that time just between summer and fall when you would wake up and not know whether the 65 degree day would feel warm or cold. And that was doubly true on the coast of Maine. We went to the docks to see if there was a kind of tour boat that we could take a ride on to see the many small islands that dotted the near-sea. It was going to be the one part of the vacation where I could take pictures, the rest of the days being a mess of rain and stores which made for a fun time, if not a photogenic one. We found that there was a boat that went to five of the bigger islands and delivered mail twice a day. It seemed like a fun idea, joining this service for a few hours. The tour was supposed to last for three hours, and we made jokes about which of us was Gilligan. I think we decided I was.

It was a windy day and the sky was mostly clouded, but it didn’t seem particularly bad until we got out on the open water. A few of us started the trip at the front of the boat, on deck and waiting patiently in our seats for the boat to start moving. When it did we quickly left our posts for the closed in lower deck. The view wasn’t as good, but it was warm. The warmth was all that mattered after a few minutes of the wind biting at my face. It was pretty crowded in the lower deck, though there was enough room for all to sit. It got louder and louder as people began to talk over each other and the loud, constant hum of the engines powering us forward. At the first island stop I went above to see how the whole operation went down. It wasn’t very exciting. Just a few guys pushing a cart off the boat and then pulling on another cart. The transaction was easy and let the few townspeople (islandspeople?) talk to the young guys that did the loading for a few minutes. This clearly wasn’t a situation where time was the driving factor. We got moving again after a few minutes and those of us that went above to see the process happen quickly retreated below again. The next island couldn’t entice us out of our warmth.

It was on the way to the fourth island, about the middle of our voyage, that I dared to try the upper deck experience again. It was sunny now, not that gray chill but the light warmth of an early-October afternoon. It wasn’t exactly a perfect ride up there, the wind was still blowing but it seemed to be blocked a bit by the surrounding islands. The sun made it bearable and even pleasant, though. I resolved to stay up there until the next, penultimate stop on our ride. It was just me and the boat and the water. The boat propelled me, the water supported me. I was moving and immobile. I had no agency, no power, no way to change anything in this situation. I had only my resolve, my dedication to myself that I wouldn’t move until we got to the next island.
A Light Shines But it got really cold. The wind blew the clouds around in patterns I couldn’t figure out. One moment it was clear, the next cloudy. I looked up and saw that the clouds probably wouldn’t part for a long time. There was one small hole in the clouds. It was closing quickly, the spot on the water lit by the sun shrinking by the second. But we were headed right for it. The boat propelling me closer and closer towards the last moment of warmth that afternoon. The wind was picking up and I was getting colder and colder. It was now a battle of wills. I could barely keep my eyes open, they watered and I had to blink constantly just to keep a clear-ish view. I almost couldn’t tell if the sun spot was there anymore. I only sat there, fighting the wind just to stay in one spot. Using my hands to hold my camera and get a picture was out of the question. I was afraid that the wind would blow the camera over the edge of the boat even though it was strapped around my neck and I was sitting in the middle of the deck.

I was so focused on staying in one spot that I didn’t even notice we reached the sun spot until a second after we entered it. I looked up and saw the clouds closing in around the bright disk. The sun turned their edges silver for a moment until it disappeared behind their dark curtain. The last moment of warmth lingered for a second, long enough for me to feel it. The wind returned, or it never left, and now that the potential return of the sun was out of the question there was nothing left to keep me up there. I sat for a minute, getting colder and more miserable. The joy of my last moment in the sun fading quickly but never fully disappearing. That last spot, the thing that compelled me to stay would never return. But the memory of it, the waiting and those sweet seconds when it was more than just me and the boat and the sea, when the sun joined in our reverie, that would last.

2. After the Storm.

We had a hurricane recently. It came up the coast and drove straight through our state, rampaging and knocking over mailboxes like a car filled with high school kids drunk on beer and the freedom of their first drive. It was a big hurricane, the biggest storm in the history of the country in terms of how many people were affected by it. Our house suffered no damage and we had power throughout the storm. We stayed inside and watched movies, the flickering screen distracting us from the constant wind and rain. It started while we were sleeping and didn’t end until after dinner. Then, an hour after the storm ended, our power went out.
A Light in the Darkness The winds still blew and that’s what knocked down a branch into the power lines that supplied the power lines that supplied our house with that sweet juice. It wasn’t dark yet, being near the end of summer but still quite light until just before 8’o’clock. We went out in my car to see what happened around town. They all told us not to, those people on TV and the radio warned us that the roads might have downed power lines or big branches blocking the way, and that we should stay off of them for our safety and that of the power and emergency service people. We ignored those electronic enjoinders. We will not be told what to do! We are Americans! We can drive wherever we want!

Nothing happened. We saw a few downed branches and the river a few miles away from our house was quite high, but that’s all. It was a disappointing expedition. It was dark when we returned, and we lit candles to read by. Soon I was the only one still awake. My book was good, and there were no distractions. I looked up from my flickering page out to our street. It was strange a strange lack out there. A lack of light, of sound, of people coming and going. It was just calm, blue, air. I went out.
Totally Wet Upon exiting my house, I found that there was something more than the calm. There was a nice late-summer breeze. The storm hadn’t left us entirely, not yet. Now we had just the tail, the last dregs of the storm. Or, I had those dregs. There seemed to be nobody else. It was never exactly a busy street but if you went out at any semi-normal hour you would see a neighbor’s bedroom tv set casting that blue-white light on the window shades or a car returning from a late-night adventure. Or, at the very least, a cat prowling for crickets and birds. But that night there was just me. The wind had blown away the clouds that hid the beauty of the sky with their low hanging grayness for the past two days. There was no light leaking into the sky, either. You could see every star. The entire universe. Everything that ever existed and ever will exist. I felt small, a tiny piece in that bigger-that-big puzzle. What did I matter if there was so much other matter? And then that passed. My smallness excited me. It invigorated me. I was small, yes, but in that smallness I could be anything. I could do anything. I was out there, just me and possibility, potential. It was freeing. I stood out there for five minutes. Then I went back inside. I read some more. When I woke up the next morning we still didn’t have power, but I did.

NOTE: All of these pictures are by me. The pictures from the first story are actually from that trip on that boat. The pictures from the second story are not from that day. They just evoke a storm.