"When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive - to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love."
- Marcus Aurelius -
Across the Meadow...
Image (modified) courtesy of Karsten Würth and http://unsplash.com
by Duncan Cary Palmer
With a soft whoosh,
I feel my breath leaving. Rough, gritty earth presses up against my back.
Why am I lying in the dirt with my eyes shut?
I open them, and—canted to one side—my field of view is entirely filled with a face. The face pulls back abruptly, vanishing wordlessly before I finish exhaling.
Though gone, my impression of that compelling visage lingers. Liquid brown eyes, peering over a highly arched nose, scanning me intently. The bridge of that nose rising to meet a broad forehead. Dark hair, surrounding expressive lips and mouth, but not hiding a wide chin. I am certain we’ve never met.
Heaven alone now commands my vision, containing naught but the rising sun, a few puffy clouds, and a handful of soaring creatures. For a moment, I’m content to watch them drift and glide. I stretch, and try another tack.
Closing my eyes, I taste the cool, fragrant air, and listen. Countless noises compete for attention, and I try to visualize each. Footsteps. A gentle breeze. Distant, running water, and the distinctly differing sounds of myriad things in motion.
I sit up, and try to wipe the dust and mud from my back. Twisting, I scan every direction. I’m on a patch of reddish, clay-rich ground, surrounded by meadow still damp with morning dew. But the owner of that remarkable face is nowhere to be seen.
Where did he go? I have the strongest urge to thank him… for something. But, what?
I don’t remember anything. I mean, not one thing. I have absolutely no memory. How did I get here? Where is here?
A few creatures are grazing nearby. One of them, furry, brown, a few handbreadths high, pads over quickly on four legs and rubs up against me. Draping my arm over its flank, I’m surprised how soft its fur feels. Turning toward me, the creature’s long, pink tongue lolls to one side. It pins me with intelligent eyes that stare past a prominent, wet snout. Maybe this beast knows.
“Where did he go?”
“He’ll be back.” The creature continues to gaze, but says no more, seeming content to simply lean on and watch me.
I feel strong, well rested, at peace. No more than 500 paces away, I see the edge of a forest, extending out of sight to both left and right. Sunlight glints from leaves fluttering in the breeze, and I am powerfully drawn to go exploring.
Scattered across the flower-strewn meadow leading to the forest, a dozen or more beasts are moving in my direction. Others emerge from the trees even as I watch. Wildly varied in color, markings, and size, the creatures begin to converge on me in a rapidly growing, irregular arc. They are all staring as they approach, nudging one another aside for a better look at me.
Curious about them as well, I extend my hands so they can sniff and lick me. Their tongues are rough, noses cold. Whiskers tickle, and I laugh. As we investigate one another, I am taken off guard by a commanding voice from behind.
“Walk with me.”
At the sudden sound, I rise and turn. For a second time, I find myself confronted by that unforgettable face. I mustn’t allow him to vanish again. I need to express my gratitude. I incline my head forward in deference.
“You are welcome.” At his words, I feel completely welcome. He lifts my chin, and I am once more engaged by those piercing eyes. “I’m glad you’re here. Now, let’s walk.”
He turns, and I fall in alongside. We set out toward the trees.
As we cross the meadow, long strands of grass tickle my toes and ankles, at times brushing my thighs. The animals clustered between us and the forest flow apart to either side, allow us to pass, then follow along. As we walk, I repeatedly turn to him with questions.
“Where are we going?”
He points to the forest ahead. “My garden.”
I wonder at the thought of a forest-sized garden.
“Why am I here?”
Laughing, he braces my left shoulder with his right hand. “I have many wonderful things for you to do.”
Intrigued, a thrill of anticipation courses through me. I love the sound of that. I am so ready to do wonderful things.
Continuing to walk and talk, we soon reach the edge of the garden. He begins showing me the trees, explaining the nature and purpose of each.
So many variations on a theme. I hang on his every word. The trees all have common elements. All draw their sustenance from the earth below and the heavens above, but detailed distinctions make all the difference.
Some have straight supporting shafts that reach for heaven. Others twist and bend, spreading arms wide above soft, moss-covered earth. Different textures cover each kind, leaves of all shapes and many colors adorning the branches. And fruit? Oh, the incredible, beautiful, delightfully varied fruit! And he says it’s for me?
Realizing that I am hungry, I begin to investigate, grasping and sampling one variety of delicious fruit after another. There are so many flavors, multitudes of textures, and each bite is better than the last.
“Do you like them?”
“Like them? They’re fabulous. This is by far the best meal I’ve ever eaten.”
Even as the words escape my lips, I realize that I’ve never eaten before. How can this be?
How can I simultaneously know so much, and yet so little?
Satiated, I soon can eat no more. But there is much more to see. Besides the creatures that followed us into the garden, new and different ones appear from behind every tree. Some, like me, walk on two legs. Others leap from place to place. Some have four, or even more legs. Many fly.
Different creatures behind every tree.
Image courtesy of Vincent van Zalinge and http://unsplash.com
“Let’s play a game.” He points to the furry brown fellow I first spoke to, and looks at me expectantly. The friendly beast that has refused to leave my side since I sat up, that has dogged my every step. “What is that thing?”
I turn and confront the critter my teacher has designated. Staring into its eyes, in moments I’ve devised a plan to tease the truth out of it.
One of the smaller trees nearby has hundreds of bright orange fruits hanging low. I pluck one from a branch, and am pleased to note that it has a thick rind. I wave it back and forth in front of the creature’s face. He follows my motions intently, bending his graceful neck left and right.
“What is this, my furry friend? Can you catch it?”
I throw the fruit high into the air, in a steep and beautiful arc. The creature wheels around and runs after it, but can’t quite reach it before it hits the ground. He picks it up and brings it back to me, dropping it at my feet.
This time, I toss the fruit again, but catch it myself before he can reach it. I do this several times, exasperating the creature beyond words, agitating him to the point that he emits an excited yelp. As the sound echoes in my mind, I examine the creature carefully. Taking into account its shape and aspect, considering its attitude and behavior, and meditating on its sounds, I invent a name for him.
Image courtesy of Jamie Street and http://unsplash.com
“He is a kehlehv!”
Calling the new name out loud, I’m thrilled when the kehlehv rises on his hind legs, plants his forefeet on my chest, and smiles at me, tail madly fanning the breeze.
One after another, my mentor points out a different beast. I am filled with joyful satisfaction as I note that each kind of creature seems quite pleased when I pronounce and bestow a name upon it—some even saying so. And the smiles that cross my guide’s face as he watches us, brighten my already perfect mood. What greater thanks or reward could I possibly wish for? This is indeed wonderful fun.
As the game progresses, we continue our tour through my host’s gorgeous garden. Rounding a bend, I see the river I had heard distantly while still in the meadow. Sensing that we are approaching the center of the garden, my heart swells with its overwhelming beauty. But strong curiosity surfaces. I must know.
“Please, tell me again. Won’t you explain why I’m here?”
“This is where you live now. I’d like you to look after this place for me…
“Would you enjoy that? Do you think you’re up to the task?”
As I look at my teacher, I’m overwhelmed with a realization: I know, just as surely as I stand here alive and breathing, that I owe him everything. My entire being responds to the love so evident in his eyes. I have no doubts; I would be willing to do absolutely anything for this person.
“You’ve got it. I’m your man.
“I seem to know quite a lot already, though I suspect there’s a lot more to learn. I’ll take on whatever you’d have me attempt…
“But why can’t I remember anything? The first thing I recall—ever—is seeing your face.”
“Don’t fret. Everything you want to know, and more, will become clear in due time. You’re just getting started.”
The story you've just read is loosely part of a larger body of work, but is intended to stand alone as a short story. I think of it as one of two "bookends" bracketing the historical period that I am beginning to address. The other bookend being:
If you're curious, I invite you to read more about the world-view behind these stories:
This story has benefitted immensely thanks to the wonderful editors at @thewritersblock, to whom I am deeply grateful. Any remaining deficiencies are my own.
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