Moonlit Forest

India ink on paper. 8 x 11.

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The Great Bear 

She was not golden, and so she had no fear. She spoke in the gray town squares every day, laughing and sneering at the enemies of her truth. None dared burn her, for she had her own fires to kindle. The woods called to her, she said. The earth was crying out for salvation. And thus she departed from the land of gray towers. She entered the dark woods with the book of her seven sacraments. She followed her heart. It was darker and brighter than she had hoped. There were black shadows and bursts of pure light through the spring and autumn leaves. Even the shadows seemed to hum with unseen light that burned her eyes. It was exhausting to walk between the lush boughs and the fallen leaves. It was tiresome to travel at the mercy of the terrain, the rocks and great trunks determining her every footfall. There were no gray mists. At last she came to the cabin, the woodshack, the lion’s den. Inside, it was too silent. She was disappointed to find that there was only one table, one bowl, and one bed. She tried to laugh, and lifted the bowl to her lips, but it was empty. Weary, she climbed into the long, great bed of cold wood and hay, and fell asleep. In the morning, a searing pain awoke her. She opened her eyes to see a solitary, gigantic bear, sleeping on his side with her ribs in his mouth. The bear awoke as well, and spat out her ribs. Why did you eat me? she gasped. I thought your ribs might save the world. The birds were whispering of it for years, but they were wrong. There is nothing in your ribs but death. She looked down into the abyss of her chest, and there was indeed nothing but a whirlpool of black flesh, dark blood and blue bottles. A distant groan like soft thunder passed through the woods. What will happen to me? she asked the bear. I do not know, the bear sighed. I do not think your carcass will make me any honey. And since your ribs grow nothing, I cannot keep you. She passed out, awakening later to find him dragging her body far, far from the woods into a great field of snow. And yet, I came to save you, to save your woods, to save the truth, she choked as her body slid down the slope of a pit. Why was the bowl empty? she cried out with the last of her strength. You stole our grain, the bear sighed. The last thing she saw were her ribs flying down from the bear’s paw to land in wet snow by her feet. A distant voice growled farewell. There were other empty and rotten ribs to eat before the end. 

The Silent Wood

The angel brought the blindfolded doctor into the shade where the dark woods began. This is the border, said the angel. I will escort you into the darkness in a moment before leaving you. What is this place? The doctor trembled, feeling the cold hyrcanian air blowing through black needles and dripping undergrowth. It is the silent wood, also known as the forest of suicides. When someone wants to die, they lose themselves in its depths, walking for days until hunger, exhaustion, hypothermia, wolves or bears finish him off. Then I am to be murdered? Not at all, the angel laughed. You are a man of skills; it will be much easier for you to survive. It is more of a contemplative retreat offered freely. The doctor inhaled the fresh, ozonous air and wanted to believe the angel. Why this punishment or this forest? Some revenge for a tragedy long ago, a malpractice case? Not quite, the angel sighed. They say there are some 164,000,000 life forms in this particular forest. It is the perfect place for you to contemplate the 164,000,000 deaths that will occur in the next ten years from unnecessary or adverse medical interventions—and that is a conservative number. It is also the tonnage of waste your hospitals produce throughout seven countries in only one year. Sadly, the amount of debt created, money wasted or stolen, and the poverty figures far exceeded anything we could dream up in a practical manner—there was no forest big enough to match your needs in that respect, but this one will suffice to give you a general idea. They say that the silence and darkness have a calming, soporific effect, and nothing is better for beginning pure contemplation, confession and penance than a good night’s rest.

The Hunter

The hunter saw her pale body drifting like smoke through the dark woods. She was far more beautiful than moonlight or snowflakes. To capture one was nearly impossible, buf if one did, there were untold surprises and rewards, as the old legends reported. It had been some centuries since one had been captured. Quietly, the hunter moved among the blue and black shapes of the spruce, among the silver and gold of the birch. She was leaning down to drink from a partially frozen stream when he threw the halter around her. Though the blue-green eyes were startled, she made no sound or protest. Instead she bared her midriff and beckoned to him, speaking softly in her ancient language. It only took a few minutes to learn the ancient words, for they lie dormant in the minds of most men. Bewildered and enchanted, the hunter immediately removed the halter, and asked her if it was indeed allowed. She nodded in assent, a gentle and inviting smile on her lips. She whispered that he would require no blade. And so the hunter knelt down beside her, and dipped his fingers into the pale skin of her abdomen. She moaned or sighed. Gelatinous streams of lapis lazuli poured out, and his fingertips quickly found the brilliant gems. He ate them carefully, watching her watch him. The gems tasted sweet like cold, fresh cream. When he thanked her, she said there was more, and pushed his head back down so that he could gulp more of the liquid sapphire and eat the pomegranate-colored gems. Afterwards, the skin closed over the wound as if it had never opened, and she rinsed herself in the stream. The hunter felt like a completely other being, euphoric and slightly afraid, but throbbing with energy, his body electrified. Lost in his trance, he barely noticed her lay him down to take her turn and discover the gems of his abdomen. Staring into the rising stars, he felt nothing but the slow leaking away of his life. She had no legends, or did not remember them. She was not aware that he had no gems, and would later be sad and puzzled by the wound that would not close and the lifeless eyes icing over.

The Fox

Once, there was a fox who lost her way in the woods. She came upon a tribe of flickers and switches. The flickers said that foxes were either dogs or not dogs. The fox shrugged and ate some wild berries. The switches came out in droves to examine her ears, pull her tail, and kick at her paws. What are you? they demanded. I am a fox, she said. And she was a very beautiful fox. What is a fox? they asked. Someone like me, I suppose, she said. The switches whispered amongst themselves, debating whether to skin and vivisect her or pretend she was not obscuring their view of the woods.They wanted to be sure of themselves, however. Describe a fox, they demanded. A fox has pointed ears, a tail, reddish fur, and four paws, she replied. Then a fox is nothing more than a hare, they said, just as a hare passed by. The hare knew about switches and scampered off before having to hear the end of the matter. I don’t look anything like that handsome hare, the fox protested. The switches decided then that she was a stray deer, for deer have reddish fur, pointed ears, tails and four legs. I am not a deer, the fox said. You don’t want to be anything, the switches screamed. Some were already sharpening their awls, rakes, butcher knives and forks. I want to be a fox, the fox said firmly. You will be a hare or a deer, and you will understand that a fox is nothing. Is the fox a tail? Lots of things have tails. Is the fox its paws? Even the children of men have paws. Is the fox its ears? What then are we listening to your nonsense with? A dead and empty thing—that is a fox! A pure nothing! Even if we opened you up, we would find nothing but blood and guts, and everyone has that. A fox is nothing! The poor fox was very hurt to hear these things. Her blood and guts trembled a little. Fearing their filed teeth and sharp trinkets, she ran off into the woods, and kept running as fast as she could. Hunger and exhaustion ached through her bones and sinews. She lost her bearings and did not know who she was or what to do. She saw a hare munching on some herbs and tried to do the same, but the herbs gave her bad dreams. She saw a deer eating some horse chestnuts, and tried to do the same, but the horse chestnuts made her vomit for days. Weakfooted and worn down with grief, she could barely walk the paths of the woods. One day, she stumbled by accident into the open country. Blinded by the sun and wind, she wandered over the pale fields, lost and alone. She went to sleep beneath another horse chestnut tree, the only tree for miles around. At least now she knew that, whatever she was, she would not eat those rotten chestnuts! A fox is either a fox or not a fox, she sighed, and went to sleep. Soft voices called through the darkness of sleep. When she opened her eyes, there were children playing in the roadway. Hail, pretty fox! they cried out with joy. They looked like angels. One by one, they brought her presents–berries and scraps that were good to eat and that filled her bones and sinews, her blood and guts, with a peaceful warmth. They beckoned to her, and she followed them down the road, happy whenever they called her name or stretched out their hands with something good to eat.

The Physic Garden

Once upon a time, there was a magic physic garden. Within the garden, weeds became herbs. Sometimes, herbs left the circle of the garden to become weeds. Sometimes, weeds asked for shelter, and were allowed into the garden if they became herbs. It all depended on a variety of factors–the way the sun was shining, the way the wind was blowing, the work of the garden nymphs and the temperament of the herb or weed. All of these things were regulated by the laws of nature, the laws of the garden, and the laws of the nymphs. As time passed, the nymphs forgot about their work. They spent all of their time playing with the sundials, gazing into the crystal ponds, or collecting shiny things. They added many rules to the law, and forgot many laws. At the same time, there were some weeds who began to feel that the physic garden was unfriendly for keeping out the weeds. Some weeds tried to erase the magic circle. Others were more clever; they enchanted the nymphs with cunning myths. Before long, the nymphs began to think of their own law as nothing more than a myth. They agreed to let more and more weeds in. Some nymphs and herbs still remembered the law, but these were divided into two camps—those who wanted all weeds to disappear and those who respected weeds but wished to follow their own laws and keep the garden intact. As time wore on, the forgetful nymphs and the hateful nymphs divided the ruined, chaotic garden between themselves, and all of the original nymphs and herbs were pushed out into the dark woods. It was not an easy life in the dark woods, but here weeds and herbs grew where they could. Some were chewed by silvery electric deer and others succumbed to radioactive moths and lichens, but the world did not end, medicine continued, and the mindful and lawful nymphs learned to fight mineral bears and robotic ferns. One of them reminded the living things that nature would rebuild the physic gardens, for of these had grown the first woods, the first gardens, and the first meadows. She looked forward to seeing a real bear someday.