Shalisa Peninsula stretched out its quiet length of old green growth, terminating its reach at a place where Sea and Wind met to play the boisterous, rough-and-tumble games they so much loved to share, without the disapproving scrutiny of Bay and Cliff Spirits, who wanted none of that kind of sport within the circle of their protected jurisdiction.
The point of the peninsula with its shores of rough cliff, and bluff topped with a thatch of windswept grasses interspersed with small, rock-hugging shrubby plants and flowers, all leaning inland with persistent fortitude, towered above its beach of tumbled rock and pebbles, facing the heaving and crashing of incredible forces from weather and ocean when, together, those elements fashioned a storm or, singly, decided just to get into a huff.
Peninsula thrust itself boldly and sturdily outward, unflinchingly resisting the raw sweep of the Pacific with bare, muscular, hard shoulders, shaped and scarred by the clashes of the two brotherly spirits who met there, at times with laughing joy and at others with angry pushing and shoving between the two, but always with the strength and unheeding passage of those who want their own way and are set on getting it, and both had determined that the rocky point was being obtuse and in their path and ought to move.
Spirit of the Point steadfastly refused to retreat from their assaults.
Beach at Peninsulas point presented a fair, calm face when Weather was kind and Wind and Sea had tired of their games for awhile, but its polished stones which had been ground round and oval and flat by the efforts of Sea, Tide, Wind and Rain, and its lack of barnacles or other home seeking molluscs and small creatures of beach and shore, its scoured, well-defined high tide line, cut into the base of cliff and bluff, gave fair warning to anyone able to read those signs, that this was not a place of comfort.
Even when Sun shone warm and friendly, the reach of Wind was always felt, and those mariners who chose to visit the barren tide-swept stretch there at the firmly planted rocky feet of Peninsula, wisely limited the length of their visits and departed after a short time, not wanting to be caught should Sea and Wind decide to hold another contest together and turn the beach into an inhospitable tract of heaving, thrashing white water.
Visitors who came to the point by land, and wanting to reach the beach from that approach, needed a large amount of strength and bravery to get there. The climb down was difficult and the return journey even more so, but the attraction for a visit from the bay dwellers was a lode of common jade rock as well as some rhodonite and quartz, exposed by the action of the elements, which was used for the crafting of fine bowls, ornaments and jewellery.
Those with the courage to collect this covetted stone by the land route were admired almost as much for their audacity in obtaining it as for the beauty of their polished end products. Although the sea route was safer, some carvers felt that the very act of gaining their materials by using the cliff face heightened their senses and enhanced their vision as to what the pieces they gathered should becomerepresentations depicting land things, creatures of the peninsula they saw all around them, or a purely artistic representation of the spirits they knew were there, unseen but strongly felt.
The length of the outside ocean-facing waters along the peninsula were routinely used for travel when the weather was favourable, and the beaches on the inside shore were a pleasure to visit when Tide was out, but Sea along its length there was a force to be reckoned with.
The inside waters separating peninsula from mainland were exposed to the force of winds, and the sea riding in from its great unhindered sweep westward slammed up against inshore islands and peninsula as it reached the northern continental coast. It didnt appreciate being brought to this abrupt halt in its unobstructed journey. Tide, cribbed between mainland and peninsula, crammed itself into this inlet with the strength of the Pacific urging it on, and came hard up against a cul-de-sac which forced it back on itself, creating dangerous undertows and back eddies.
The shores there felt the heft of rip-tides surging back and forth, making it a challenge for anyone unwise enough to use those waters for any reason other than mistaken safety. That was a playground for the boisterous Spirits and it was mostly left as sucha place of treacherous water the land inhabitants would venture into only with great caution, or the reckless daring of the young. Fish and their sea dwelling companions had no such qualms, which left them available for predation from fishermen ashore.
Only Fog loved this space, regarded with such wary eyes by others. Fog and Peninsula were friends of long standing. Sea was always bringing Wind and Wind was always having a change of mind, blowing now hot, now cold, so that the air around was constantly meeting with higher or lower temperatures as it went up and down and around warm Cliff and cool water, or perhaps the opposite. Sliding up and down Cliff and sneaking around Point to be carried laughing out to play with Sea was a favourite pastime for FogWheeee!and helping Peninsula and Bay play hide and seek with mariners was the game loved most there. The waters between mainland and peninsula, and the point which levered Fog out and around and down to the bay were a well-used area for this kind of fun.
The Old Ones Footprint, lying at the base of this isolated stretch of land, situated as it was on the outward facing shore, was an unexpected pocket of shelter from the elements, mitigating somewhat the rowdiness of Sea and Weather. Bay was held reasonably safe within the protective embrace of Cliff and spared from the full shock of Tide by the islets opposite and The Little Toe of The Old Ones Footprint where Guardian held court. It was the introduction to the beginning of more southerly places, leading first to Shalisa Creek Village and from there, farther south to less stern and demanding shores.
The Shalisa who had settled this green length of land knew their territory well. The bay had been haven and home, the peninsula a fine place for gathering food and commodities to be used for the many items made from the strong and varied plant material which grew along its length. Sedges and grasses for weaving, wood of the yew tree for fish hooks, paddles and digging sticks, the bark of numerous trees and plants to be utilised for an amazing variety of fabricating and medicinal applications. Mushrooms, blue camas bulbs, wild onions, berries, roots, herbs and leaves for food, healing and as teas, dyes to beautify their handiworka wealth of growtheverything seemed to have its use.
There was fishing from the shores with net and line, the collecting of shellfish and seaweed along the beaches where boats set out to go farther from land, bringing back the larger sea dwellers which were the bounty of Sea. Everything taken had received a respectful request which preceded the gathering, addressed to plant, animal or sea life, asking permission to do so, and words of grateful thanks and appreciation always followed.
Everything this finger of sea-washed land offered had enhanced the lives of those who lived with Bay and Shore, and the people had been well aware of that fact.
Now the peninsula pointed north in peaceful neglect, left to itself without the intrusion of bay residents on their collecting and harvesting forays which for years had been non-existent. Browsing deer followed along well-trodden trails, some of which led to pools or small streams for cool water. Raccoons had their own paths and habituated places to wander and forage in. Birdlife found havens for themselves in the rich canopy of trees. Evergreens had their new growing tips vandalised by young ravens who landed on them and bent them until they broke from the weight of the birds dancing and twisting, to make them ooze sweet, sticky sap. Ground-hugging life grew fat and contented on the plethora of food and the plentiful opportunities for a home. Small shore dwellers had no complaints they were almost as much at home in the waters as were the fish, and seafood was abundant.
Those willing to put some effort into it had a good life.
The trees which grew in places of sunshine, deciduous, coniferous or evergreen arbutus, were hung in spring and summer with flowering vines of orange honeysuckle and clusters of creamy clematis, as well as the massed dogwood and arbutus blossoms of the trees themselves, and sunny spaces below were filled in with flowers, all well spiced with tasty insects for those who appreciated such meals.
Insects, it seems, had become the staple commodity which fed many mouths, making it fortunate for others that there were such uncountable numbers and varieties of them, and that they multiplied with huge abandon, hiding their prospective progeny with careful, ingenious methods, putting them out of sight and reach of prying paws and eyessticky cocoons well-hidden under tree bark and fastened within inaccessible crevices, eggs attached to roots of plants in friendly dark earth or crumbling, mouldering, standing and fallen trees, in the ponds and swamps, under rocks, swarming colonies in the ground and above, some species managing to be so prolific that even the hammering sharp beaks of woodpeckers could not completely extirpate the explosive termite family from damp, disintegrating wood.
In the colder months, fir cones and berries and seeds from the abounding plant life were available for the forest dwellers, along with the browse found where they sheltered from rain, wind and occasional snow, in small protected meadows and under trees surrounding hollow depressions in the ground. When spring came once more, there was the lush, tender, longed-for new growth covering the whole of their contained world, surrounded as it was with water on three sides.
Shalisa Peninsula held its own quiet, uninterrupted, continuing circle of life which was disturbed only occasionally by an adventuresome young male bear or cougar, hiking up from the foot of the peninsula or swimming across the narrow stretch of water from the mainland, causing temporary terror and trepidation among the deer and other four-footed populations until the villains returned the way they had come.
This was usually the outcome of such brash adventures when the hardy individuals who had worked their way up from the south, or had braved the stretch of surly water with optimistic ideas of a territorial and romantic bent, found no lovely maiden bears or cougars wandering around without protective papas or jealous prospective lovers, or any other likely kith and kin companions to chum up with, and the territory was, after much exploration, found to be more limited than their home grounds had been.
For food the bears found only the usual fat grubs under rotting logs, the occasional low-situated bee hive, filled with incredibly sweet, flavourful honey which could be had for the price of a few stings here and there, the grasses and plants they could have had where theyd come from, and the inshore fish and shellfish they were used to everywhere else along the coast.
The cougars were even less encouraged, finding no hoped-for farmers sheep, goats or cattle, only raccoons and rodents and, if opportunity presented itself, small swift deer, the pursuit of which seemed to require more energy to obtain than it replaced.
True, there was negligible competition for these good things of life, but there was not the unhampered companionship they had sought for either.
Disappointed with the unproductiveness of this otherwise enchanting place unpopulated by their own species, and feeling rather lonely and confined after awhile, the youthful buccaneer bears and courageous lithe cougars returned to the mainlands well-stocked larder of rabbits and other small animals, lambs, stray calves of any species, salmon streams and, for the bears in certain places, delightfully full garbage cans and dumps filled with outrageously wonderful smells and castoffs, which took only a bit of pushing around to help fill an empty stomach.
As for maidenswellmaybe next year.
- - -
Having been left in peace for so long at this point in time, the wild populace was therefore startled on this particular June day by loud shouts and a noisy hullabaloo of laughter and voices rising up to the top of the trees from the beach and then proceeding to infiltrate the forest floor itself.
Not too many of the residents waited to find out who or what was approaching. They fled, leaving it to those without feet, to the oncoming intruders, and to the insects, who couldnt have cared less what got at them. It was always somebody who was hungry, angry or just plain mean. They ignored the noise and carried blissfully on with their buzzing and mating.
Theres a great little meadow up here a little way in, came Rose Holds continuing verbal travelogue about the site which would be their goal after the climb the group was making had been accomplished, With a stream we can get water from and a little pond so we can clean up with a nice swim, and lots of places in the open for a fire and for bedding down.
We should live so long, puffed Armand, as he scrabbled up the slope, feeling the effects he was now suffering from the lack of exercise and loafing hed been indulging in since arriving at Shalisa Creek Bay. Up you go Bernice. Grab that bush there and haul away.
Scrambling, grasping and gasping, the crew arrived at the top, rubbing scraped knees and licking gouged hands, to find that the path to the little meadow had become somewhat overgrown since Rose had been there last likealmost eradicated.
The pond is over this wayI think, she offered, trying to hide her doubt as she headed off.
A tramp through the bushes began, with Rose leading the way and Armand bringing up the rear. The resident vegetation, thinking to aid the retreat of the forest dwellers, decided to slow the advance of this threatening invasion.
There was a sudden loud howl from Morgan.
Oww! You let that branch snap back in my face.
Helpful instructions from Armand were,
Space out from each other, at least five feet.
Ive only got two! complained Walter.
Just get back some, ordered Morgan who was behind him and had been the victim of the swift snapping switch.
Walter immediately stopped and started to do that, backing into Morgan.
Oh forstand still until I say goand get off my feet!
How can I stand still and get off your feet at the same time? queried the little boy.
Big brother reached out, put his hands under little brothers arms, lifted him up and set him back down ahead.
Concentrated tramping, over old fallen trees thick with mosses and lichens, around rock and bush obstacles and through tall underbrush until,
Yah! from Therése, as she stumbled on a trailing blackberry bush and it wrapped itself quickly around her ankle, tripping her and releasing more thorns into hands and knees.
Confusion in the ranks as Isabel turned back to help her up, retrieved the duffle bag her sister had let fall, and offered sympathy as Therése and Armand picked out thorns, and those ahead just kept going at a good pace.
Wait! Wait! shouted Isabel as the leaders disappeared into the cover of big old trees and unruly growth.
Medical aid accomplished, the tail of the procession hurried to catch up with the head. There was another spacing out exercise until,
Ouch! Damn! swore Rose. Sorrya wasp got me. Hold on. I have to put some stuff on it. Armand?
Unfortunately, called the doctor, a little sheepishly, We have left the first aid kit in the boat to be carried up later with the other things. Are you allergic to wasp bites? There are some antihistamine tablets there.
The travellers coming from behind congealed into a clump with the others at this latest halt in the tour.
Im not waiting to find out, replied Rose, in genuine distress. Just go straight ahead and Ill go back down and get the kit and catch up to you.
Rose made haste back toward the beach, while Armand, considering where straight ahead might be, said,
Nows the time to get out your compass, Morgan.
A moments silence until the boy confessed, just like the doctor had done,
I left it on the boat.
Are we lost already? asked Therése, regarding the trunks of several large trees which seemed to encircle them, as she revealed the doubts which had been with her for awhile.
Are there any bears around? queried Bernice looking anxiously about.
Maybe wed better wait for Rose, suggested Isabel, voicing uncertainty.
Hooh, murmured Heron as the young group stood there perplexed, plainly waiting for instructions from Armand, Were fine explorersjust like our ancestors.
Armand, sensing the consternation in the ranks, was about to give directions when he stopped himself from doing so, remembering the mandate of the whole enterprise independence.
Okay, heres a chance to do a bit of orienteering, Morgan, he suggested. Start using all that information about sun and sea which you have stored in your head and tell us which way to go.
Morgan, seeing all eyes now turned in his direction, hesitated for a moment, looking up into the branches of the big, elderly, surrounding group of forest citizens as though hoping to gather information. They looked back down at him from their great height and wisdom of age, their heads out of sight in the cover of their greenery which kept any use of Suns position out of the equation for the moment, and waited too, offering no help and instead, issuing a droll sound from their swaying branches as Breeze came along to see what was going on.
There seemed to be nothing for it but to make a decision or be relegated to the realm of impotent navigator. The thought of being the butt of so many future jokes about getting lost in his own back yard galvanised Morgans wits.
Okay, he announced with convincing conviction, starting off, Rose said straight ahead and thats exactly what well do. Keep the sea behind us. This way.
Impressed by the authoritative order coming from their brother the children followed, while Armand, surprised at this piece of questionable knowledge as he thought of Peninsula surrounded by Sea on all sides, brought up the rear, laughing quietly to himself.
- - -
The meadow was finally discovered after Rose caught up with them, not too far in, just as she had said, but not before mosquito bites, stubbed toes, bruised shins and a collision with a stand of stinging nettles which Morgan walked into as he went to do something no one else could do for him, had been dealt with.
The snickers from the others couldnt be completely smothered as Armand attended to this latest disaster, using some dock leaves Rose gathered as an antidote remembered from childhood.
I thought you all knew what nettles looked like, commented Rose, feeling a bit guilty for not having issued a warning about lurking dangers. Everybody take a good look and dont get into it yourselvesnot at Morgan! At the plant!
The grassy area around the pond had been closing in with new growth for some years and was getting overwhelmed by it, but there was a space around the waters margin adequate to accommodate eight people and the luggage they lugged up from the beach. After this second trip of climbing down and up and hiking through again, they set it down gratefully and began fashioning a camp in the sunny little clearing.
You were right about this at least, Armand encouraged Rose after he had cared for the walking wounded one more time and was sitting down rubbing his right ankle. Bruises and bumps and bites, then added, But, dont worry. Your face will return to its usual beauty, probably within a week.
Rose, trying not to massage the painful swelling near the outside corner of her right eye which had partially closed and discoloured it, thinking of the remark which Bernice had made that she looked like a nice witch, replied,
Well at least I dont have to look at me, andis that a limp youve acquired along the way or did you suddenly develop arthritis?
I gave it a bit of a twist getting off METHEGLIN, admitted Armand, turning down his sock to reveal his fat red ankle. Slid on a rock which had seaweed growing on it.
Umoh dearI guess this is a case of physician heal thyself, she suggested with a sympathetic smile tinged with amusement.
Unfortunately its not that easy, returned Armand. Rather like that warning to members of the legal profession who insist on managing their own defencethat theyll have a fool for a client and a fool for a lawyer.
Are you telling me, laughed Rose, That medical men are in the same pot as I and my colleagues?
If you wont tell anyone else neither will I, returned Armand with an exaggerated conspiratorial glance around.
Its a deal, she agreed, But are you going to be able to manage on that ankle or shall we call the whole thing off?
Certainly not to do that last, he told her quietly. Unless you cant hack it. Have a look around at the faces you can see. Shall we be the ones to chicken out?
The young six of the company, forgetting for the moment their scratches, cuts and assaults by unfriendly plants and insects, were into enjoying their field trip, excitedly choosing the places for their sleeping mats and rolling them out with shouts of, Bernice an me get this little hill, and comments about Dont get too close to the pondits wet there.
Well have to suffer in silence, surrendered Rose.
Ill put a tensor bandage on it later, said Armand, thinking aloud.
Whichthe suffering or the silence? enquired Rose, voicing false confusion.
The suffering, since we dont have any ice, returned Armand. Im not sure about the silence. It may not respond to treatment. You might hear muffled cursing along the way.
Lacking ice, Ill put a few smooth rocks into the pond to get cold, Rose told him. We can both use them.
These field trips are supposed to be educational? he queried with doubtful laughter.
So Im told, she replied.
Well, I think Im learning to mind my own business in future, he said with a wry grin. Wonder what theyre learning. Perhaps how not to be whimps?
No, were learning that, she returned, I think theyre learning how to enjoy themselvesas if they needed any lessons. Lets go have a swim. Maybe the cool water will be good for your ankle and my face.
After the swim, the fire which was lit beside the little pond flickered, smoked for awhile and reluctantly got itself going after much blowing, fanning, coughing, running eyes and additions of dry twigs, but at least it kept the mosquitoes away.
There was no fish for dinner and a suggestion that clams might be substituted was vetoed by Rose who reminded them that there was no r in the month of June, and no shell fish would be harvested during any month without this rigid requirement, so the oysters would be tasteless and watery, while the clams would be brown, chewy and not worth eating. Also there might be the danger of red tide although it was a little early for that. How about mussels? Same thing, only their breeding season was even longer than the others, and harvesting was at those times also suspended, not only to keep insult from fussy palates, but to let the shelled populations of the water replenish themselves.
Scrambled eggs filled the gap, half of them having fallen along with Therése and fared even worse than she had, so that before they arrived at the camp site they were already halfway to becoming dinnerafter the shells were picked out.
Vengeance was wreaked on the nettles in the area, although they were innocent of having participated in the sneak attack against Morgan. Nevertheless, they were harvested with gloves and great care, cut up, and thrown into a pot as spinach. They got back at the avengers though, being well past their spring primethey were tough.
A concoction of flour, water, salutary salt and oil was baked in a frying pan much like flatbreads. There was a laughter and shriek-filled period as everyone, flattening their round handfuls with their palms, tried their skill at tossing the limp discs up and over in the air like pizza dough, and only a few were lost in the pond when they were thrown off course, or stuck too long with the hands attempting the manoeuvre, someone having forgotten to flour them first.
Armand added to the repast by offering a supply of dried soup mix to start with.
This is not exactly living off the land, he explained apologetically, But travellers have always carried dried food with them. After all, we had oatmeal with reconstituted powdered milk for breakfast, and cheese with the miners lettuce we gathered for our lunch, and flour, and salt and... .
He was backed up by Rose, who mentioned that the season was a little early for bountiful gathering, and dried fruit and berries and smoked salmon had often been taken along on canoe trips.
Where are they? Bernice asked eagerly.
I think the organisers of this trip didnt figure wed be gone that long, dodged Rose. Maybe our next trip will be more traditional.
Nobody was rude enough to suggest that perhaps the organising had slipped up in a few places this time around.
Now theres a project for the bay, commented Armand. A smoke house for all the fish we catch.
Were not allowed to catch any, Morgan reminded him.
Well, maybe not in the bay, reasoned the doctor, But we do go after them elsewhere.
He cant catch any anyway, laughed Isabel. Maybe I should try.
I did so! Morgan defended himself.
It was too young and didnt know any better, said Walter.
Just like were finding out, commented Heron.
Well, maybe everyone who brought a rod should try, suggested Armand, hoping to head things in a better direction. Then we can find out if we all know nothing.
Nobody argued the point. They were all much too hungry which, considering the offerings for dinner, was probably a good thing. Fruit with the usual Rose cookies filled out the meal as dessert and no one was about to complain that these items werent exactly part of living off the land eitherRose in particular, when Armand brought out a bottle of wine to be shared with his distressed demoiselle.
The food might not have been much of a resounding success, but it was written up with glowing reports by more than one partaker later in the day, and the trek to the pond received various treatments, ranging from Boy we sure got tired in Walters book to We almost got lost by Therése to I did a pretty good job of scouting the path as the navigator from Morgan.
As the sun became more westerly and they began to discuss the things they had seen along the way, a certain air of satisfaction began to settle over the group lounging by the fire as it finally made itself into a real, warm blaze, disregarding the fact that on this fine evening, nobody really needed it, but it was happy to be part of their envisioned camping scenarioand it kept the mosquitoes away.
Quiet Evening began to move over Peninsula and as Sun left this curiosity of people among the trees there, light and shadow changed sight and colour, seeming to illumine the scene with more intensity as the Purkinje effect set in. The green of the feathery cedar trees seemed tinged with more intense colour, the firs took on an extra depth, the shadows shaded toward blue, and the daisies seemed alight like little fluorescent lamps.
All the trees and moss and everything look like in a fairy tale, said Therése with happy wonder in her voice. Look at the reflections in the pond.
Everythings so all together in harmony, agreed Isabel, Like a whole perfect painting.
Yeah, agreed Morgan, But I think were supposed to be thinking about fish and independence.
You and your fish, laughed Isabel, And anyway, everything we see here is doing its own thingthe trees, the birds, that squirrel yelling at us up there. Theyre all pretty independent. Its really great.
The peninsula was always a wonderful place for me too, Rose told them. Theres something so constantly ongoing about it. It just keeps growing and renewing itselfchanging with the seasons and the years, expanding and contracting as it cooperates with the vagaries of nature, receiving and giving back and keeping everything going all by itself. I often think about how long this place has been busy doing that with nothing but its own energy century after century, and how beautiful its all become because of that constant exchange between the earth and trees and plants and all the creatures coming and going.
Its magic, said Bernice, with conviction.
There was a thoughtful silence all around until Armand intervened with,
We came here with the idea of trying to be a little more independent, but I think independence can be a relative thing. Maybe it would be better for us to think of interdependencethe need of all things for all others. Thats what Rose has just brought to our attention. Everything seems to have its own independence, but only if everything else does its own thing too. The actions of one are seen in everything else. Rippling and changing just as everything actually does, the reflection in the pond might be that connectionan envisioning of whats to be done between earth and everything above ita shimmering preview of natures plan for the reality which comes into being, created by the magic below.
He reached out and gathered up a handful of the soil beside him.
Do you know what I have here? he asked, holding it out in a loose fist.
Dirt, said the twins together.
Lots of stuff from plants and maybe a worm, offered Morgan.
Flower seeds for next year, was Theréses suggestion.
A piece of Earth Spirit, said Heron.
A little bit of the universe, said Isabel.
Rose, looking into Armands eyes, and seeing there something purposeful in the glance he gave her, kept silent and waited, feeling there was more than idle talk about to be put forth.
Youre all quite right, smiled Armand, But theres something else. In my hand I hold a horde of little magicians who perform all that magic we were speaking of.
Where? demanded the twins, running over and taking a look into the little handful of earth and seeing simply that.
Havent you told me that you can see dragons? asked Armand.
Yes! came the positive reply from both.
Uncle Twimby told us about the one in the steamy house stove, Bernice related, An its a really nice one when it gets going. Its always pretty an warm.
Ah. Then perhaps I need to explain how you can also see these little magicians as we talk more about them, Armand suggested. You two have been looking for buried pirate treasure as we went along, but heres gold right under our feet and it belongs to all of us.
The twins regarded him with delight, thinking of buried treasure.
Lets get the shovel! exclaimed Walter excitedly.
Hold on, laughed Armand. This gold is different. Its made by the little beings Im talking about who are the companions of Earth Spirit Heron mentioned. Theyre the true alchemists of the world. They take dirt and castoff débris and turn it into gold, and the gold which they make with their transmutations is food. Food for everyone. Working silently and tirelessly and without stopping, they make the material which plants need for growingplants which feed birds and animals, all three of which feed and clothe us. I have in my hand tiny little beings which cant be seen with ordinary eyesMicrobesmicro beings, if you willand because of them we and this peninsula around us have everything we need to survive.
As the two leaned closer, he opened his palm and extended it, asking,
Do you know how many little magicians I hold in this slight handful?
Lots I bet, offered Walter.
Bernice shook her head.
Millions and millions! Armand informed his audience.
There was a surprised reaction of amazement from all the children and a couple of expressions of doubt.
Its true, he assured them. Would I lie to you? Somewhere around four or five million of some kind could fit in the cubed dot of an ia cube a millimetre in sizeand here they are, going about, busy with their own little concerns and, while theyre at it, making for us this lovely place we call home. Without them we have nothing.
But I cant see them, said Bernice, disappointed and only half believing.
Thats because they hide themselves, explained Armand. You probably turn away from mouldy things, holding your small pretty nose, but thats the cloak of mystery the little magicians use to hide their tricks. When you see mould you can be sure youre looking at millions and millions hiding there, and that is the stuff of life. Without this busy world of decomposition there would be no other life. Were the microbes to disappear there would be no more cycle of breaking down and building up, so growing things wouldnt be able to grow anymore.
A large silence followed that statement.
See the fallen twigs and old trees and leaves? the doctor continued, backing up his words. Just like our compost heap at home. Thats where they particularly like to live. Its a candy store for them if its kept nice and moist. Here, deposited on the forest floor, is everything waiting to be reissued as gourmet plant dinner. The microbes are the chefs of the plant world.
How can they do that? asked Therése.
In a way its like the snap together construction set you youngsters have, used by many to make many different things. These little people are also the original recyclers. They take complicated things apart, use some pieces to make their own food and even modify them in different ways, taking off little pieces here and there to shape the part they need, making it fit just right, then they set aside the rest, and that rest is mostly what the plants need. They take the leftover pieces and put them back together again in their own way.
Like little jugglers these magicians make everything go around and around and the props they use to help them in their circle of casting up and catching are sun, rain and air. Pick up a handful of living earth and you hold the world there in your palmplants, animals, people. Were all little earthlings, working together to make the fascinating things we see all around us hereall this green and growing and moving world. Thats why I said I believe were interlocked, and not at all independent.
Armand stopped speaking, regarded those before him, and saw wide-eyed intrigue there. He gave his soft laugh then, trying to mitigate the serious cast of his words, saying,
Ah, but thats too involved. Lets just enjoy what we do see with our unaided eyesthis beautiful, magical place of the Shalisa.
After another silence Therése, truly interested in knowing how to arrive at the beginning of this path which Armand seemed to take for granted as leading somewhere, asked,
How do you really know the magicians are there if you cant see them Uncle Doc?
Oh, but I have seen themthrough my microscope, he replied. Theyre just as real as we are. If youd like to have a closer look at the little magicians when we get home we can get out my microscope and have a go at it.
Hey, that would be great! the boy accepted immediately. Ive never looked through one before.
Oh, what fun! exclaimed Therése.
It seems I should have thought of it long ago, Armand smiled.
Can we see dragons that way too? asked Walter.
Unfortunately, no, was the disappointing reply. Theyre made of a stuff rather like air, quite invisible, but there nevertheless.
Its like the spirits, I guess, offered Heron as an explanation. We dont see them but we know theyre here all around us.
Herons right, agreed the doctor. There are some things we dont need to see. We just know theyre there.
Weve been neglecting a great teacher here, remarked Rose with admiration in her voice. I think well co-opt him into our roster of professors next term.
We can all learn oodles with such a good teacher, agreed Therése.
The students do the learning, smiled Armand. A teacher can only put things out there. You have to do the work to get something out of it.
Do we kill the little magicians when we walk on them? asked Bernice, suddenly feeling like an executioner as she picked up one foot and then the other, looking underneath each one.
Well, like the dragons, they live in a space too fine and rarefied for us to damage them much, Armand reassured her, But we can destroy their cloaks of invisibility and a lot of their hard work with our big feet. Let me just say, walk upon this Earth gently and softly and with great care, for were treading upon Life itself.
- - -
Life itself manifested itself shortly after everyone had settled down to sleep. From the small hill the twins had chosen for their own there came a disruption of,
Ouch! Somethings biting me all over!
Everyone woke up. There was a scramble as the twins deserted their sleeping bags, scratching and jumping around while everybody came with flashlights and concerned words and faces.
Youre sleeping on an anthill, was the verdict from Rose at last. Move away. Well take your things and shake them out and youll have to find somewhere else to bunk down.
Uncle Doc! came the twin cry.
The ants, scattered and scurrying, ran frantically about and reorganised, doing their own little bit toward helping Earth Spirit keep things in balance.