If I had known what was coming, and how bad it was going to get, I would have chewed the Truffle Tree into unrecognizable bits -- even if I had to swim out there blindfolded, with three legs tied together, in the rain. But I'm getting ahead of myself again. The trouble, and I mean the big trouble, started after one of Nar's truffle-dreams.
The humans had finally calmed down, and accepted their dreams as merely something to do while they were asleep. And then, one night, Nar had a dream that was different from all the others. He was so excited about it that he tried to wake Zan up so he could tell her. All the noise that he was making woke me up, and I glanced out the window and saw that the sky was still dark, with a crisp half-moon hanging low on the horizon. It was entirely too early to be starting the day. Wimsie raised her head and cocked her ears at me, wondering what all the fuss was. I rolled my eyes, and we lay there and eavesdropped on the humans' conversation.
"Zan! Wake up!" Nar said, poking her in the back.
Zan sat up slowly, blinking and looking around. "What?"
"I have to tell you the dream I just had!" Nar practically shouted, even though Zan was right next to him.
"I was having my own dream, you know," Zan said crossly. "And I won't be able to remember any of it, with you yelling like that."
"But you need to hear this!" Nar insisted. Then he realized that he was being an asshole. "It will make up for your lost dream. I know it will. We've been doing it wrong."
Zan's curiosity overcame her annoyance. "Doing what wrong?"
"All this!" He made a sweeping gesture with his arm. "We've been trying to make our place look like the dream place, and we can't. We don't have the right tools, or the right . . . " He tried to come up with a word. " . . . materials. But that doesn't matter, because all we have to do is build a . . . " He frowned, trying to remember another word. " . . . boat, and ride on the boat to the place that we dream about. It's out there, Zan! Everything that we've been trying to make is already there, and so are those other people." He sat back and crossed his arms triumphantly, as if he had just solved the Great Cosmic Mystery. "It's out there, and we just have to find it."
What you need to find are your marbles, I thought after Nar had finished his speech, because you lost them somewhere. Nar actually believed that his dream-world was real, and that we could reach it by riding on a thing called a "boat." I resolved to humor him. But in the back of my mind, I began to wonder if such a place really did exist. Wimsie and I had never seen it, and we had covered a lot of ground in all our wandering. Maybe we just hadn't gone far enough in the right direction.
The truffle-dream world had more people, and more noise, and more stuff going on all the time. It also had -- more dogs. The dogs in our dreams had been odd-looking, but maybe they would be fun to hang around with. And I wouldn't mind taking a ride in one of those shiny, rolling caves. It would be great to travel around while sitting on my ass. I weighed the pros and cons, trying to decide if it would be worth it.
And then Wimsie, bless her heart, put everything in perspective. She stuck her nose under my ear and whispered, "Maybe we can find the field where those round green things are. Zan could get one, and we could play chase-the-green-thing."
Once again, Wimsie had set our priorities straight. Her Quest For The Green Things was reason enough to go, at least for me. I nudged her and turned my attention back to the humans.
Zan had been quiet while she tried to sort out what Nar had just told her. "What is a 'boat?'" she finally asked.
"It's like a really big raft," Nar said, leaning forward, "but it has sides and not just a bottom. And it has some big pieces of cloth called 'sails,' on a pole that sticks up in the middle of the boat, and the wind pushes on the cloth and makes the boat move. It's sort of like . . . He trailed off, unable to think of a comparison that would work.
Zan thought of one herself. "Like when geese are swimming, and the breeze pushes them along on the water?"
"That's it!" Nar said, almost shouting again. "Just like the geese!"
It sounded good to me, but Zan looked skeptical. She crossed her arms and said, "So where is the place that the wind is going to push us to, and why can't we just get there on the raft?"
"In my last dream," Nar explained, "I wasn't just watching those big flying caves . . . wait . . . they're called 'planes' . . . but I was in one. First I was on the ground, with a bunch of other people, and then we climbed up a thing called 'stairs' and went into the plane. And the plane started moving, and it went up into the air like a bird taking off."
Zan laughed as she tried to picture it. "I wish I could have seen that! You, flying like a bird!"
"I did fly!" Nar said, a bit indignant. "Not like a bird, but I was way up in the air! And you can fly, too, once we get to the place that we keep dreaming about. But here's the important part: there were windows in the plane, and when I looked down, all I saw was water." He pointed in the direction of the islands. "We flew over a lot of water before the plane landed on the other side."
"So the dream-place is across the lake!" Zan said, and her face lit up like the morning sky. It was apparent that Zan's marbles were rolling away to join Nar's. Unfortunately, they weren't the kind of marbles that Wimsie could pounce on, and I suspected that we had seen the last of them.
"Yes," Nar said, "but the other side of the lake is so far away that we can't even see it from the islands. It would be hard for us to paddle that far, and the raft is too small, anyway, because we have to take food and water with us. The people on the plane brought supplies with them. There was a woman on the plane who gave everyone a meal and something to drink. She handed me a small, clear jug that had pink water in it. The water tasted sort of like strawberries . . . "
"Fruit-water," Zan said, interrupting him. "I never thought of that. Maybe I'll make some."
"My point is," Nar continued, "that we have to plan ahead, and bring plenty of stuff with us. That's why we need a sail-boat, like the one I saw right before we landed."
Nar was wrong about one thing: we didn't really need a boat. From what he had said, it sounded as if the other humans were accustomed to flying across the lake in the plane, and if they had made one trip, they would probably make more. So all we had to do was walk around the lake in either direction, and sooner or later we were bound to see a plane. Then we could figure out where it had come from, or where it was going. At least it would keep solid ground under our feet. But Nar wanted a boat, and I knew that nothing would stop him from trying to make one.
"Well, how much food do you think we'll need?" Zan asked impatiently. "I'll see what we have, and start filling our baskets and jars."
"Slow down," Nar said, laughing and holding up a hand as if Zan had just lobbed a peach-pit at him. "The boat isn't even built yet! I'll need a better axe, and some other tools. I couldn't tell how fast the plane was moving, or how far it went, so I don't know how long it will take us to cross the lake. We'll have to wait and see how much the boat can hold."
"Our blanket is the only piece of cloth we have," Zan reminded him. "Is it big enough for a sail?"
Nar shook his head. "The boat I saw had two sails, and they were a lot bigger than the blanket is. They have to be big, so the wind can push the boat."
"Then I'll need more wool," Zan pointed out, "and that means we have to go find those sheep again." They laughed at the idea, and then, too excited to sleep, they picked up a couple of reed mats and went to make a fire. We hadn't had one the previous evening. Wimsie curled up for one more snooze, but I wanted to hear more of their conversation, so I followed the humans to the beach. Nar was pretty good at making fires, and he soon had a huge blaze going.
"How big is the boat going to be?" Zan asked, after they had settled on their mats.
Nar thought about it. "The one I saw was four or five rafts long. But a boat isn't made the same way that a raft is. Instead of just tying a bunch of smaller trees together, I'll cut up some bigger trees into different kinds of pieces and use those to make the boat." He gazed out at the islands, almost hidden by the morning mist. "Somehow, I just know how to build a boat, like I know how to build a house."
Somehow, my hind leg, I thought, and the fur prickled along my back. It's those damn truffles. They're showing you how to do all this shit. Somehow.
"First I have to make a frame," Nar continued, "like an outline of the boat, and then I can fasten the 'planks' to it. Planks are long, flat slabs of wood. The sides and bottom are covered with planks, and the bottom has to be strong enough to hold the pole for the sails. And when it's all done, we can fill in the cracks between the planks with pine sap, so water doesn't leak into the boat."
Zan shrugged. "It sounds simple enough." She reached for another handful of sticks and added them to the fire.
In my opinion, Nar was doomed to fail. Oh, sure, building a boat sounded simple, but after all the trouble he'd had with the loom, I predicted that we would be taking a nice long hike around the lake rather than sailing across it. And in the meantime, his attempt to build a boat would provide plenty of opportunities for him to Fuck Things Up. It was going to be quite a show.
The humans chatted about the boat, and the wonderful things that were waiting for them in dream-land, until the sky turned pink and a sliver of sun appeared above the rocky point on the other side of the bay. When there was enough light to see by, Nar turned around on his mat so he was facing the river. "Oaks are the best trees to use for boats," he said, pointing at the tallest tree in sight. It was an enormous red oak, with branches so big they qualified as trees all on their own. That oak tree rained acorns -- and Nar wanted to turn it into a boat?
The same thought had crossed Zan's mind. "But we get food from those trees!" she protested. "Why can't we use a different kind of tree?"
Wimsie plopped down on the sand beside me, and she leaned over and whispered, "What are they talking about?"
"Nar wants to chop down the oak trees by the river," I told her. She looked at me as if I had just sprouted antlers, but she was too shocked to say anything.
Nar had fallen silent, too. Apparently, he had been so wrapped up in his plans for building a boat that he had forgotten about the acorns. They were one of our favorite snacks, and really easy to get. All we had to do was pick them up off the ground. And it was convenient to have oak trees so close to the beach. If he cut those trees down, our acorn supply would be considerably diminished, and we would have to go upriver if we wanted some. Nar fidgeted with the stick that he was holding, and I could see that he didn't want to get rid of those oaks. He finally said, "But I need big, straight trees for making planks, and I'm pretty sure that the boat is supposed to be made out of oak."
Zan wasn't giving up her acorns that easily. "Aren't there any other big, straight trees around?" she asked, scanning the trees that were visible from the fire-place. "What about those pines?"
"Oaks have harder wood than pines," Nar said. "I found that out when I was testing my axes. A boat made of soft wood will fall apart, and if that happens, we'll have to swim home."
Practical when she had to be, Zan conceded the point and went to make breakfast. But she had the last word, so to speak, by giving each of us a big helping of acorns.
Nar wolfed his food down, which was something that he rarely did, and then he headed for the beach to look for more flints. He wanted to make several new axes before he started his big project. I tagged along for the hell of it, and I even snouted out a couple of decent flints for him. They were easy for me to find, because each kind of rock had its own distinctive odor.
We were on our way back to Nar's rock-bashing place, when Zan and Wimsie came running down the beach. They stopped right in front of us, and when Zan had caught her breath, she said, "I just thought of a tree that you might be able to use for the boat! It's taller than our biggest oak, and it isn't a food tree or a pine. You could chop it down and find out how hard the wood is."
"What tree?" Nar asked, a bit of hope in his voice.
"The one with the silver leaves, out there on that rocky island all by itself," Zan said, giving him a smug little smile.
Nar's eyes went wide with surprise. "I completely forgot about that tree!" He looked out at the lake. "The trouble is, we'd have to haul the wood from the island to the beach. I suppose we could float it behind the raft . . . "
"But the tree doesn't make any nuts or fruit," Zan pointed out, "so if you can't use the wood, we haven't really lost anything."
"And if I can, I won't need the oaks!" Nar said. "Let's do it!" They strolled up the hill toward the house, discussing their plans for the demise of the silver tree.
Wimsie gave me a pleading look. "But that's the Fuzzie Tree! He's going to cut down the Fuzzie Tree?"
I used the same argument that I had used before. "Remember when Nar cut down that cute little birch tree, and you were sad?" It was cruel to remind her of it, but I had to.
"Yes," Wimsie whined.
"And I told you that he was practicing so he could cut down a bigger tree, and we could walk across the river on it, and there might be cute things over there that you could go and visit?"
"Yes," she whimpered.
"And there were cute things over there, right?" I continued.
She perked up and wagged her tail. "Trilliums!" she yipped happily. "And salamanders!"
I wagged, too. "Well, if you found those cute things on the other side of the river, after Nar cut down the little birch, then think of all the cute things you might find on the other side of the lake, after he cuts down the big Fuzzie Tree."
She kept wagging. So far, so good. "Nar needs the big tree to make a big raft, and then we can go across the lake." Then I remembered something. "Those round green things might be over there."
That did it. "The round green things!" she yelped, and she ran in circles around me.
Damn, I was good. I almost felt ashamed of myself, because I didn't really think that we could get to dream-land on a boat, but I intended to keep up the fiction as long as I could for Wimsie's sake.
Then Wimsie nipped my backside and tore off down the beach. I was so out of shape that I couldn't catch her, and that was shameful.
Nar spent the next few days working on his new axes. He tried different combinations of flints and handles, until he finally had three good, solid axes that he was satisfied with. Then he wrapped them in a reed mat and tied the whole bundle to the top of the raft so it wouldn't fall off and sink. Zan had put together two baskets of snacks, and she tied those to the raft, too.
When the humans had everything ready for their excursion to Fuzzie Tree Island, they climbed on the raft and waited to see if Wimsie and I wanted to go. I was in the mood for a little outing, but Wimsie didn't want to see the Fuzzie Tree cut down. I finally persuaded her to come along by mentioning that the squeaky-birds were going to be sad when their tree was gone, and that she could help them by keeping them company while Nar did his chopping. With an Important Task ahead of her, Wimsie scooted past me and onto the raft.
The trip went smoothly, except for a couple of playful dolphins who bumped the raft with their snouts. As we approached the very last island, the Fuzzie Tree came into view, and Wimsie whimpered and put her head down on her paws. Even from a distance, the tree was magnificent. Its silver leaves shimmered in the sunshine, and even its gray bark seemed to shine. It was almost as if the tree was saying, Look at me. You don't really want to cut me down, do you? And the little birds were on duty, swooping around the tree and snapping up the fluffy white seeds that drifted down from its branches.
Wimsie was the first one off the raft. She played with her bird friends one last time, prancing and dancing over the rocks while Nar removed his bundle of axes from the raft and unwrapped it. He selected his best axe and made his way over to the trunk of the tree, looking for a good place to stand. Then he picked his target and swung the axe. When the flint hit the tree, it made a strange noise that didn't really sound like a flint hitting a tree. The noise echoed back from the rocks, and it seemed to me that the echoes went on for a lot longer than they should have. Startled by the sound, the birds scattered and flew away to the other islands, and Wimsie scurried back to the raft. I was glad that she had taken herself out of range of the truffle-crazy human's swinging axe.
As Nar continued to chop at the trunk, his progress gradually slowed as the tough wood blunted the edge of the flint. The tree's wood was at least as hard as oak. He examined the flint, and then he traded the worn axe for a new one and went back to work. It was obvious that the Fuzzie Tree wasn't going to give up without a fight, so I hauled myself to my feet and went to check on Wimsie. At this point, I wasn't sure who I was rooting for, Nar or the tree.
Nar went through his entire set of axes, and when the edge on the last one was gone, he had to stop and resharpen it with the bashing-rock that he had brought. Finally, he knocked out a critical chunk of wood, and the uncut part of the trunk cracked and split and the tree began to fall.
Wimsie whined as the tree went down. It was the kind of whine that made flying bats run into things, and I could see that she was weighing the impending lack of fuzzies against the chance of finding something cute on the other side of the lake.
And then, something happened that was so startling it cut Wimsie off in mid-whine: the Fuzzie Tree vanished, right before it hit the ground. Now Wimsie and I had traveled long distances, and seen many strange things, but we had never seen a tree disappear. It was completely outside the parameters of normal tree behavior. We looked at each other, and then we trotted over to see if we could find out where it had gone.
Zan and Nar were just standing there with their mouths hanging open, so I took it upon myself to investigate. I slowly approached the spot where the tree should have landed, glancing up now and then in case it decided to pop in again and finish falling. Then I worked my way toward the stump and made a complete circle around it. I figured that since the tree was odd enough to have disappeared from view, it might also have been odd enough to land in a spot other than the one that it had been headed for. I walked in a big spiral, moving further and further from the stump, but the tree stubbornly remained absent. I hadn't really expected to find it anyway. That tree would have made a damn big noise if it had landed anywhere on the island, or even in the water, but it had made no sound at all after it had vanished. As an afterthought, I stood on my hind legs and poked my nose at the empty air above the stump, in case the invisible tree had somehow returned to the place it had been cut from. It hadn't, and I was out of ideas. The humans had stood there while I did all the work, so I gave them a wag and then plopped down on the rock with my paws crossed as if to say, "Okay, you two take it from here."
Almost in a daze, Nar walked over to the place where the tree was supposed to be, extending his arms and moving his hands back and forth through the mysteriously empty space. "Where did it go?" he said, completely baffled by the curious turn of events. He glanced around the island, and then he frowned at the water. "It couldn't have fallen in the water," he muttered, but he just had to make sure. With one hand shading his eyes, he picked his way along the shore, all the way around the island, presumably looking for the imprint of a floating, invisible tree in the water. When he reached the spot that he had started from, he stood there, shaking his head. Then he walked over to the stump and put his hand on it, as if he expected it to tell him where the rest of the tree was.
I nudged Wimsie, who had been watching Nar's every move in the hope that he would locate her beloved Fuzzie Tree. "He's stumped," I told her, giving her a doggie grin to accompany the pun.
She clicked her teeth together an inch from my nose. "So where did the tree go, Fez?" she asked. "Do you know?"
"No, I don't," I admitted. "I've never seen one do that before."
A moment later, we heard Nar yell, "Hey! The stump is gone!" We looked over that way, and sure enough, the stump, along with all the roots, had disappeared. Frankly, I had been somewhat surprised that the stump hadn't vanished along with the rest of the tree. But now it had. The entire tree, from top to bottom, had gone . . . somewhere.
To be continued...