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May 20, 2024

The Garden of Peed-In 05

By Paula Petruzzi


Zan and Nar became obsessed with those damned truffle-dreams, and the wondrous objects that the dreams were showing them. It made them restless. They paced around, from the beach to the cave to the river, and they couldn't seem to relax. All that pacing drove me crazy. There was tension in the air -- suddenly, Paradise just wasn't good enough for 'em. Maybe Wimsie and I were more resistant to the allure of shiny things. I don't know. I mean, sure, it would be fun to ride in one of those colorful, rolling caves, but I didn't sit under the pistachio tree and mope about it. I understood that it was just a dream, like the other dream we had. The Big, Cosmic Dream. But it seemed to be a big problem for the humans. They made frequent trips out to Truffle Island, and they ate the truffles as fast as that poor little tree could grow them. The seeds inside the truffles were high on the list of the squirrels' favorite snacks, and that led to several amusing incidents involving squirrels and the desperate humans who were trying to get the truffles away from the squirrels. I had given up on the idea of digging up the Truffle Tree. It was far too late for that, so I just stayed out of the way and waited to see what would happen.

One rainy day, Zan decided to work on something she'd seen in one of her dreams: a "basket." First, she arranged two layers of reeds at right angles to each other, so it looked like a small version of the raft. Then she put one of her big clay bowls right in the middle of it. She stripped the leaves from a long section of vine, and then, using the clay bowl as a form, she wound the vine around the bowl while weaving the reeds in vertically. It was tricky, but she got the hang of it. She wove her way up to the top of the bowl, and at that point, she wasn't sure what to do with the ends of the reeds that were sticking out. Obviously, the basket would fall apart if she chopped those loose ends off. She finally made a sort of rim out of them by bending them sideways, twisting them, and tucking them in. It looked okay to me, especially for a first try, but when she put coconuts in the basket, picked it up, and walked around the cave with it, the rim came apart. That little setback didn't stop Zan. She found a way to braid the ends of the reeds together along the top of the basket, and that gave it a sturdy rim that could put up with anything. Even coconuts. She made another basket, and another, and before long she had a nice set of baskets. They were lighter than the clay bowls but not watertight, so we still needed the bowls and jars to put water in.

When the rain let up, Nar went outside and frowned at the river again. He had started doing that a couple of days ago, after waking up from one of his truffle-dreams. I reviewed my own truffle-dreams, trying to find a reason for his fixation, but there hadn't been a river in any of them, as far as I knew. A duck-pond, but no river. I figured he was just cranky because he wanted to get across the damn thing.

If we wanted to cross the river, we had to swim, and that was a chore because the current was so strong. We had to start swimming a considerable distance upriver. Otherwise, the current would carry us out into the bay before we got to the other side. It was a nuisance, I must admit, and I wanted to see what Nar was going to do about it, especially since there might be some yummy snacks over there. We hadn't done much exploring in that direction. By the time we dragged ourselves out of the water and up the opposite bank, we were too tired to give a damn about exploring.

In the middle of the river was a gravel bar, just barely sticking up above the water. Nar folded his arms and stared at it for a long time, as if he were trying to remember something from his dream. Then he climbed the bank and rested his hand on one of the larger hemlock trees that grew along the river. He leaned back, running his gaze up the tree, and then he turned and looked at the gravel bar.

I could see what he was thinking. Occasionally, a tree would fall down and land right across a creek or stream, and we could walk on it and get to the other side without getting our feet wet. But there was no way that he was going to make a tree the size of that hemlock fall over. He would just have to wait for the river to undercut it, or maybe it would get too top-heavy for its roots and do the job all by itself. It would take a lot of digging for Wimsie and me to part that tree from the riverbank, and I really wasn't that eager to get across the river. Faced with the prospect of sore paws, I would stay on this side, and to hell with it. But Nar wouldn't let the matter rest, and I had a feeling that the tree was doomed.

Later that day, I was awakened from my nap by a noise that I had never heard before: tap-tap-tap, tap-tap-tap. At first, I thought it was a woodpecker. But it couldn't have been a woodpecker, because I knew what a beak hitting wood sounded like, and that wasn't it. On and on it went, echoing back at me from the cliff. I lay there for several minutes, too lazy to get up and investigate. When it became obvious that I wasn't going to get back to sleep any time soon, I shuffled down to the beach to find out what was making all the racket.

It was Nar, bashing rocks together. I couldn't figure out what the hell he was trying to do. He would pound on a rock for a while, and then he would take the rock that he had just been pounding on and hack at a piece of driftwood with it. After watching this process for a while, it occurred to me that Nar was trying to make a rock that had a sharp edge. He discarded several rocks of different kinds that hadn't worked very well; some of them crumbled, and others broke the wrong way. Then he tried a good-sized chunk of flint. It didn't break the same way the other rocks had, and he slowed down and took his time with it. When he was done, the flint had a pretty decent edge. He chopped through the driftwood with it, but it still took him some effort. After a bit of thought, he chipped away at the other end of the flint, and then he attached it to a long, sturdy piece of wood with a section of vine. "If it worked for the paddles, why won't it work for this?" he said to me, not realizing that I understood his language. I still had no idea what he was going to do with his flint-on-a-stick, but it became crystal clear when he rested it on his shoulder and marched over to the big hemlock tree that he had been staring at earlier that day, the one that could reach the gravel bar if it fell over. It was a good theory, but in practice, it didn't work. Not even close. Holding the free end of the stick in both hands, he swung the flint at the tree a couple of times, and he managed to knock some bark off before the flint came loose from the stick. Plainly, his new toy wasn't up to the task.

At that point, Zan stopped by to see what Nar was up to. She was carrying an empty basket, which meant that she was on her way to collect items for dinner. "What are you doing?" she asked Nar, who had picked up the flint and was studying it closely. I could see that he intended to try again.

"I made a thing to cut wood with," he said as he checked the fit of the stick against the flint. "I call it an 'axe.' But I need a different stick."

"Why do you want to cut wood?" Zan wondered, staring at the axe curiously.

Nar pointed at the hemlock that he had been chopping at. "If I can cut through that tree, and it falls that way," he said, indicating the gravel bar, "we can walk halfway across the river on it."

"What about the other half of the way?" Zan said, with a little smile. She was one thought ahead of him, as usual.

"I'll cut a tree down on the other side, so it hits the gravel bar," Nar said matter-of-factly. "The trees will make a 'bridge,' which is a thing that you can use to get across water. I saw some bridges in my dreams, but they were a lot bigger and fancier than ours." Then he noticed something. "What is that?" he asked, leaning forward to get a better look at the item that was hanging around Zan's neck. It was made of several thin pieces of vine, all braided together, with colorful pebbles woven into the vines.

"I remembered something from one of my dreams," she explained. "Some of the people, the women, were wearing pretty things on their neck. I think they called it 'jewelry,' and they also had some on their wrists and fingers and even on their ears."

"Why would they do that?" Nar asked, completely at a loss.

Zan shrugged. "I don't know. Just because the jewelry is pretty, I guess. Like a peacock's tail."

"Oh," Nar said, and he wandered away with his flint. I padded along behind him as he roamed the hillside, searching for sticks to make a better axe with. It was more fun than watching beavers work on a dam. He tried out several sticks, attaching the flint to each one and then swinging it at the hemlock, but the flint didn't want to stay on the stick. Then he found a stick that was split on the end, and he jammed the flint into the split and wrapped it with vine. I had a good feeling about that one. It looked like the flint was going to stay put.

This time, he did something different. Instead of testing the axe on the hemlock first, he started with a smaller tree, about the size of the logs in the raft. That little birch didn't stand a chance. He sliced right through it, and then he moved on to a bigger tree.

Unfortunately, Wimsie had been watching, and she went over and nuzzled the fallen birch. "But it was a cute tree!" she protested. "Why did he do that?"

It broke my heart to see Wimsie's heart breaking. I could see that Nar was simply being methodical, trying out his axe on small trees before taking on the big one, but methodical had just come into conflict with cute. I tried to give her a quick answer. "He's just practicing, so he can chop down the big tree and we can walk across the river on it."

"So?" Wimsie said, unmollified.

I tried reason. "Beavers chew trees down. Even cute ones."

"Beavers need trees for food," she said, throwing reason right back at me, "and they build homes with them. They don't just leave them lying on the ground."

"But what if there are even cuter things on the other side of the river?" I said, trying to fit cute into a logical argument. "And they're over there being cute, but you can't visit them because of the river." I thought that was a good approach. The one time that she had tried to swim across the river, she had wound up out in the bay, and she hadn't tried it again.

Wimsie looked from the birch to the river and back again, as she ran the information that I had just given her through whatever arcane process of calculation her mind used. I had piqued her curiosity, and she finally said, "Well, okay." Then she perked up. "Maybe there's a Truffle Tree!"

That was absolutely the last thing we needed -- a Truffle Tree, right on the other side of the river. I fervently hoped that there wasn't one, but I said, "Maybe. There could be."

"A Truffle Tree!" she repeated happily, and she galloped away to find Zan, who had disappeared over the ridge. I was glad that Wimsie had taken off, because the next tree that Nar cut down was a good-sized beech, and it landed right on a cute little pine.

Nar practiced his chopping skills on another beech, and then he set to work on the hemlock. Stroke by stroke, he hacked his way through the tree. Zan had heard the other trees fall, and she and Wimsie came over to watch. At one point, he made a bad swing, and the edge of the flint broke. Refusing to give up, he ran down to the beach to get his bashing-rock. He put a new edge on the flint and went back to his task. When he had chipped away enough wood, the part that was left splintered and gave way. The sight of that tree falling was awesome. It landed just upriver of the gravel bar, and the current pushed it until it hit the gravel and couldn't go any further. It almost looked as if Nar had known what he was doing.

"It worked!" Zan cheered, clapping her hands.

Nar gave her a weak smile. "But it's only half done," he said, trying to catch his breath. "I'll cut a tree down on the other side tomorrow."

Nar's muscles had other ideas. The poor guy had worn himself out, and the next day, he was too sore to move. That tree had really made him work for it. It took him several days to recover, but he really wanted to finish his bridge. Finally, he picked up his axe again. The flint was starting to come loose, so he re-wrapped it with a new piece of vine. Then he went down to the river and spent some time lopping the branches off the hemlock that he had cut down. When he had turned the tree into a fairly decent walkway, with no major obstructions, he tied the axe to his back and swam from the gravel bar to the other side of the river.

Wimsie and I picked out a spot on the bank where we could soak up some sun while keeping an eye on the action. I turned around several times, tramping the ferns down and making a comfortable little nest, and then I was ready to indulge in my favorite pastime: Watching Nar Fuck Things Up. Watching other males fuck things up was a fairly common activity among several species, including crows and chimps. Nar had already outdone any chimp that I had ever seen, including the one that had lost its grip on a branch while showing off for the ladies. On its way down, the chimp had bounced off four other branches before landing on a beehive. Needless to say, the ladies had thought it was hilarious, and so had I. But Nar was a fount of entertainment.

Nar inspected several trees, before selecting another large hemlock for the other half of his bridge. The tree was slightly downstream of the gravel bar, which meant that he would have to make it fall a bit upstream instead of straight across the river. His technique had improved, and he made good progress through the trunk. While he was chopping, I happened to glance up at the treetops. I noticed something that he hadn't, probably because I was farther away and looking at it from a different angle. "That tree isn't going to fall straight down," I told Wimsie. "The top branches of that other tree are in the way, see?" I pointed my snout at a smaller hemlock that was closer to the water than the one that he was cutting down. Sure enough, when the big tree gave way, it ricocheted off the smaller tree; and then, as if Nar had planned it that way, it landed right in the middle of the gravel bar. Nar lopped the branches off the tree that he had just felled, and then he ran to get Zan so he could show her the new bridge.

Wimsie wasn't about to wait -- after all, there might be something cute that she needed to see -- so she leaped up, ran down to the river, and skittered across the logs. I had only been over there a couple of times myself, so I followed her.

There wasn't much of a beach on the other side of the river, and there was no cliff at all. Just a gentle, grassy slope, with scattered trees and bushes. We paced along the shore until we came to the rocky point of land that marked one end of the bay. Past the point was a marshy area with a large stand of tall, straight, jointed plants that I immediately had a name for: bamboo. There was hardly anything else growing there except the bamboo, and the stand went on for as far as we could see, so we back-tracked and started poking around in the bushes, looking for snacks. Wimsie's sensitive nose homed in on some macadamia bushes, which were extremely rare. Macadamia nuts were our favorite kind of nuts. Slathered in honey, which is how Zan gave them to us sometimes, they were almost as good as truffles.

Zan and Nar soon joined us. They wandered up and down the slope, taking an inventory of all the edibles, and then they strolled along the shore. When they saw the bamboo, they got really excited. In fact, they were more excited about those goofy-looking plants than they had been when Zan had found the macadamia bushes. Nar ran to get his axe, and he cut down about a dozen stalks of bamboo and dragged them toward the bridge. I didn't see what the big deal was with the bamboo, so I grabbed a few more snacks. Then Wimsie and I crossed the bridge to scout out a place for an afternoon nap.

Nar spread out the stalks of bamboo on the grass near the cave, and then he went back for more. I figured that he was going to add them to the raft, or even use them to make a new raft. Little did I know that the discovery of the bamboo marked the end of our peace and quiet.

To be continued...

Article © Paula Petruzzi. All rights reserved.
Published on 2013-12-30
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