Loving the Land

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At dusk he came down from the mountain. The mountain moon followed close behind him; like an excited puppy, the planet’s satellite played hide-and-seek with the ridgetops. As the last rays of the already-sunken sun spread themselves flat against the bottoms of the western clouds, the bearded man passed from upland pine into the riparian domain of hemlock and rhododendron. The blue twilight of evening, passing nimbly between densely-interwoven treelimbs, intermingled itself with the perpetual green twilight of the hemlock grove.

The man breathed in, then slowly out. Hemlock trees were named for their scent’s remarkable resemblance to the odor of the Conium herb, the poison hemlock that killed Socrates. The grove stank of man’s inhumanity to man; it stank of our race’s engrained aversion to truth; it stank of the utterly unjust but thoroughly unsurprising murder of one of history’s very few truly good men. As always, our hero found the smell to be piney and immensely refreshing.

The ancient stately trees were rightly named for death: they were themselves already as good as dead. At sporadic intervals, the darkly-silhouetted conifers emitted a light shimmering haze which ascended into an electric-blue sky. It was late spring, and large swarms of minute Asian adelgids were flying out of the hemlocks. For months, larvae had gnawed the trees’ tender cambium, killing the plant that nurtured them. A species of aphid, the adelgids were asexual, exclusively female, and were born already pregnant with hundreds of clones of themselves. Throughout the insects’ brief childhood, only a small portion of their feeding would nourish the adelgids themselves: the majority of their consumption nurtured the multitudinous lives within them. As spring turned into summer, the race divided itself into two equal parts: half, stolid and wingless, would lay their eggs on the hemlock that they had been born on and were killing; after laying, they would die. The second half sprouted wings, and flew in swarms in search of a particular species of spruce, which alone can nourish the young born of winged adelgids. The insects could not know that the nearest specimen of such a tree was halfway around the globe, in their native China. In some few days, the members of the futilely-seeking swarm would, one by one, begin to perish from starvation, and each aphid’s hundred daughters would die their mother.

In the dark grove, the doomed murderous insects flew in desperate futile searching between doomed murdered trees named for death. And in the same dark grove, amorous night-birds chirpingly advertised their availability; loud katydids blared their ardor; and crickets sang of sex ninety-six times per minute.

The man paused, counted again: one hippopotamus, two hippopotamus, three. Yep. The crickets did indeed sing of sex ninety-six times per minute. That meant it was sixty-three degrees: still plenty warm for a bath. A creek gurgled in the center of the grove; in the gathering darkness, he let the noise guide him to its source. “The subject,” he thought idly, “exhibits sonolocatory hydrotaxis.”

Closing his eyes, he recalled the image of the pool he was approaching. Above a small ledge, two thick rockslabs met in a V, the nadir of which emitted a rushing cascade of cool water into a chest-deep basin below. The bathing hole was perfectly proportioned to the human body; it corresponded precisely with the setting of a hundred different insipid Impressionist paintings, all invariably entitled La Baigneuse, The Bather. The pool was so extraordinarily similar to his dim recollections from art history classes that, when he first stumbled upon it some months ago, he was positively astounded that it did not contain at least one bathing wood-nymph Naiad.

Ah, that was an image! Keeping his eyes closed, moving by sound towards the pool, he explored the theme. (“Why not?” he thought to himself as he rubbed the day’s worth of dirt caked to his arm. “I am, after all, certifiably a dirty old man.”) He would have to crawl on his belly through thick rhododendron for the last dozen yards before reaching the pool. As he Marined beneath the broad-leafed shrubs, he would come to hear the plashing splish of water applied to human limbs. Still lying prone, he would project his head beyond the ledge and see, indeed (A specimen! A specimen far more beautiful than the caddisflies he once proudly displayed to colleagues), his wood-nymph. Naked, she would stand thigh-deep in the stream. Water would run in rivulets from full wet hair past superb temples and down exquisite cheeks. Would the cheeks be pale? Tan? Iridescent green? Irrelevant. No: tan. Water would kiss and tickle her elfin ears. It would thwock wetly against crevices both in rock and in flesh. It would curl and purl around her pudendum, caress (of course) her clitoris, move swiftly and supply around equally supple limbs. As she proceeded into deeper water, her mammaries would demonstrate their buoyancy; her nipples would stand alert in the coolth.

At some bahis firmaları point, he would make a sound, and with animal alertness she would orient towards him. Her pulse would beat tensely and prominently in her throat; every hair in her body would stand quivering and erect in its pore like a delicate flower grown tumid on morning dew. Water droplets balanced on tense hairs would reflect and refract the moonlight, transforming her into a glimmering spirit before him. She would eye him appraisingly, then smile. Fully clothed, he would leap from the ledge into the water; she (of course, of course) would rush to his embrace. Their limbs would entwine like creeping vines and, like vines, their clasping bodies would press and strangle the (tall, yes; strong, yes) tree that grew between them. She would pull briefly away, examining the pulsing member that throbbed in his sodden trousers, twitching like a live fish. She would doggypaddle back to him through shallow water, then rise to her two feet in order to enclose his mouth in her own. As her tongue explored his mouth, her right arm would twine itself around his shoulders; her left would swiftly pop his pantsbutton and pull his jeans to his knees. Her legs would loop around his and—quickly now—they would twitch, tripping him. He would fall back into the water and, stunned, lie there floating. She would climb on top of his prone form, rendering him into a ship with which she could sail around the bathing hole. As she clenched him tightly, he would feel warmth radiating from her body, contrasting with the cold water. Moving slowly so as not to capsize himself, he would reach his hands up, run them slowly up and down the goosebumps on her back. She would raise herself slightly in order to reach the buttons on his flannel shirt, and begin undoing them. He would seize the opportunity, slip his hands beneath her, and begin oh so gently to run his fingertips across her breasts. She would appear to approve of this development, and in order to make his task easier she would rise further from his breast, sitting halfway upright. Unfortunately, this higher center of gravity would cause him to sink beneath the surface, and his thick and ragged gasps were suddenly filled with water rather than air. Choking, he would move to stand, slip on slick rocks, and find himself kneeling in the pool, the water coursing just below his heaving chin. As he coughed, he would cling to his Naiad; as his eyes cleared, he would discover that she, too, was kneeling in the water. Without breaking his embrace, he would move his arms lower, so that they encircled her belly beneath the rippling waves. He would gently nuzzle her neck; she would whimper. Raising his head, he would kiss her forehead, then her nose, then her mouth, passionately. His hands would move upwards, grabbing her bosom; he would caress her breasts, still tenderly, but with vigor and insistence.

She would rise to her feet, placing her navel level with his mouth. He would ecstatically drink the sweet streamwater that had collected in this cavity; then, inspired, he would move lower, to a surer source of fluids. As his tongue parted her labia, her sudden moan would echo in the reverberant hills. Her legs would move up from the streambed, and her thighs would find new purchase as they twined themselves above his shoulders. He would drink. An idea would occur to him, and he would wrack his brain for half-forgotten Chinese love poetry. In his fevered state, only one poem occurred to him in full; not particularly romantic but justly famous. Extending his tongue, he would use the organ to write ornate classical characters on her vulva and clitoris: Chuang qian ming yue guan, yi shi di shang xuan, ju tou wang ming yue, di tou si gu xian. He recalled that his calligraphy teachers had always criticized him for drawing his strokes too heavily and placing his dots with too much pressure. His present companion would not appear to see these as defects. Calling out again as he finished the poem, she would buck her hips and, losing her balance on his shoulders, fall backward into the water. She would swim back to him like a wet lithe otter, although her strokes would be a bit too eager to be entirely graceful. They would both rise to their feet. He would gaze steadily into her passion-filled eyes, embrace her yet again, raise her somewhat upwards so as to ensure proper alignment, and oh so slowly begin to move his lower region. And then, and then, he would—walk blindly into a tree, causing a searing pain to course through his rigid cockbeam. In pain, he hopped about like a deranged gibbon, cursing shitdamnfuckingmothershit-assmotherfuckingdamnfuckshitfuckDamn. He panted. His beautiful erection was unlikely to reappear in the immediate future. “When the hell,” he thought to himself, “will you learn to look where you’re going?”

He looked where he was going, and saw that he was at the edge of the streamside rhododendron thicket. He lowered himself to his hands and knees, and slowly approached the pool from his fantasy. Looking kaçak iddaa down, he saw that it contained only the orange reflection of his loyal happy companion-moon, his swollen gravid woman-moon, his cold and uncaring ball of rocks orbiting 238,857 miles away. His wood-nymph had somehow failed to magically materialize. Ah well. The setting was perfect: she would surely have come into existence before his next visit.

He shed his backpack, then his clothes. He jumped into the cold water, scrubbing his limbs to slough off the filth of a day’s explorations. The water was made briefly muddy, and then ran clear. He scrubbed his scrotum, palpated his perineum. Best keep these things clean, just in case. In case of what? In case.

He climbed out of the water and stood drip-drying in the night air. He took hold of his backpack and dragged it back through the rhododendrons. He fumbled briefly in the backpack and produced a flashlight; shining it around him, he found a small space of flat ground between two enormous rotting logs. He spread a plastic sheet across the ground, laid his army-surplus sleeping bag on top of it, and stretched his tarp across the tops of the logs. Finally, his groping hands encountered his copy of Apuleius in the depths of his pack. He was too tired to read, but the book could serve as a pillow. He promised himself that the next day he would go to one of the cache-boxes he had hidden around the woods, and select another book to carry with him.

As he drifted off to sleep, his mind (and later his dreams) turned to the life in the soil beneath him. In the area directly beneath his body, at least fifty near-microscopic nonpoisonous pseudoscorpions lived their lives. Within their dark subterranean tunnels, the males built grand galleries. They erected a forest of stalks, and on each stalk they deposited a small ball of sperm. Pheromones would waft the smell of sex through the soil, and ardent females would move towards the scents’ source. In some species, the males would dance a tapdance to guide their mates with sound and vibration. The females would reach the galleries; if their mysterious arachnid sensibilities found the galleries unlovely, they would turn and leave. But if the gallery was well-built and the male attractive, the female would lift her open claws and join arms with the male. Joined at the pincers, they would dance a slow waltz: three steps forward, three steps back, to the left, to the right. Suddenly, the male would lift the female above his head, maneuver her to one of the stalks, and plop her down on a sperm-packet. She would primly tuck the packet into her genital opening, and the partners would leave the gallery separately, never to meet again.

In the area beneath the sleeping man, 1,400 collembolans engaged in what can only be described as oral sex. Hermaphroditic earthworms indulged in acts too sordid to be described.

The man woke up, and was temporarily disoriented. He was surrounded by a vast field of small moving lights, which seemed to disappear if he focused on them. No matter how he turned, he saw nothing but lights, and he lost his sense of up and down, forward and back. His mind recalled tales of weary travelers caught in fairy-hills, removed into another reality to serve their hosts’ obscure purposes. He blinked, and the universe resolved itself into sense. The lights above him were stars, intermixed with lazily drifting fireflies. As for the other lights, the lights that surrounded him in a pulsating shimmering haze of irresolvable sparkles: Foxfire! The logs around his sleeping bag were filled with phosphorescent fungi flickering in the night air. He was, of course, accustomed to the more usual, steady glow of Jack-o-Lantern mushrooms and other bioluminescent fungi. This mysterious magical maze of lights, however, this foxfire, was a phenomenon he had only seen once before. Smiling, chuckling, he closed his eyes to the shining magnificence, and against his closed eyelids he drew the still more beautiful picture of a young redheaded mycologist, a student of fungi.

Her name was Marianne. When he met her, they were both participating in an all-taxa ecosystem survey. He had recently been given a postdoctoral fellowship, and was pursuing a career (since abandoned) as a trichopterologist, an expert in caddisflies. The flies had vast ecological importance as an indicator species, and they had the nifty behavioral quirk of building homes by gluing together small rocks. After looking at thousands of the insects under his microscope, he had come to thoroughly despise them. On the first day of the survey, he was looking over the study area, contemplating the brief joy of field collection before the hours and hours of soul-destroying microscope work. He looked down, and was astonished to see a redheaded woman lying flat on the ground in baggy overalls, her face pressed almost directly against his boots. He jumped. She laughed, a melodious cascade of beautiful sound that suddenly ended in a nerdy snort. “You looked lost in thought,” kaçak bahis she said, “and I didn’t want to disturb you. You were, however, standing on Schizophyllum, and I wanted a closer look. You know about Schizophyllum?” she asked as she rose to her feet. He shook his head. “Fascinating little mushroom,” she said. “It has twelve hundred mating types. Only Uredinales have a more complicated sexual cycle, but those ugly little rust fungi aren’t nearly as interesting to look at. By the way, I’m Marianne.” She extended her hand.

They grew close. In the following weeks, they entered into the bogglingly complex courtship ritual of Homo sapiens sapiens. Working late in the microscopy center, they would throw specimens at each other’s faces. When they left at night, he would have pickled mushroom stuck in his hair, and she would have to shake freeze-dried caddisflies from her clothes. When the lead investigator at the study site commented on their high rates of sample loss, they dissolved in giggles. In short time, they started massaging each others’ shoulders to work out the tension of their tedious work. On the first day, he found that her bra straps somewhat hindered the effectiveness of his massaging. On the second day, he was surprised to find that there were no straps to impede his work. She didn’t object when his hands roamed briefly to the front of her chest.

One night shortly after this interesting development, the residents of the male investigators’ field bunkhouse were awakened by a pounding on the door. One of the residents answered the knock; there stood Marianne, asking for our young tricopterologist. Moments later, he was at the door. She dragged him into the woods, saying there was something he simply had to see. She pulled him over a small ridge and into the adjoining valley. She looked left, then right, appearing lost. Suddenly decisive, she marched him around the side of a large boulder. As they reached the other side of the rock, she smiled triumphantly, her arm raised to demonstrate her magnificent find. He looked, and saw nothing but another boulder. He looked at Marianne; she bit her lip in consternation, then snorted, saying “I must have gotten turned around. It’s probably around that next rock.” She grabbed his hand and dragged him around the second stone. And he saw it.

Cold dancing fire stretched in a straight line for fifty feet in front of him. Blue-green sparkles hopped and skittered through his vision. He walked slowly forward, then dropped to his knees, extending his hands into the mass of frolicsome lights. As he touched the ground, he came to understand. Many years ago, a giant ancient tree born before Columbus and grown to become grizzled grandfather of the forest, had died in its time. It had lain here decaying, until all that remained was a fifty-foot line of exceptionally moist and fertile soil. It supported a constant growth of thick fertile moss; above the moss was a solid bed of fantastically soft and downy maidenhair ferns. The vital fungal fire flamed forth from beneath the primitive plants, slowly consuming the last remains of the ancient tree.

“It’s beautiful,” he gasped.

“It’s foxfire,” she said simply. She moved forward, stopping at his side. They joined hands, staring in rapt attention at the forest laser show.

“When I found it,” she said, “I needed to share it with you.”

He nodded, still observing the hypnotic lights.

She moved in front of him, making eye contact. “You know,” she said, “there are other things I’d like to share with you.”

He stared at her, a look of immense stupidity plastered across his face as he started to make sense of her words.

She giggled, kissed him quickly. “You’re cute,” she said. And without further ado, she stripped off her clothes and lay down on the soft bed of ferns.

His poor weak brain was still trying to come to terms with the situation. He stood staring dimwittedly at her bountiful form, lying prostrate on soft ferns in a sea of mystic light. The eldritch fire cast weird fernshadows across her pale body; tender fronds caressed her arms, her breasts, her stomach, her thighs. She looked back at him, smiling.

Finally he found his tongue. “You’re beautiful,” he repeated himself. Then: “Are you sure?” She sighed, rolled over, grabbed her discarded pants, fumbled briefly in the pockets. She threw a condom at him. That answered that.

He clumsily took off his clothes and lay down beside her. He reached out, touched a freckle on her stomach. A shadow seemed to connect that freckle with another, and he followed the shadowline with his fingertips. He played connect-the dots with her freckles; the game soon led his wandering hands to some interesting destinations. As he shifted a fern aside, she giggled. He smiled, plucked a fern, and used it to tickle her mercilessly. She collapsed in laughter; again he heard a musical cascade of sound ending in a decidedly unmusical snort. He decided to be clever. “A geologist,” he whispered, “once told me that ferns often grow above garnet beds. I wonder if I could find any hard little gemstones around here?” Her mouth quirked at his attempted joke; she spread her legs oh so slightly. “You’d better look,” she replied.

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