Kind of getting away: 8

I killed something today.

Accident. Volkies are nearly invisible. It was going to happen sooner or later. Coming back from O.’s in the evening when suddenly there was something on the road improbably dark and tight against the beam. Small. It sensed the air moving, maybe it heard something, and then exploded blackly upward and for a moment it was harsh in the light. I remember the clutching feet, small clutching feet put out ahead of itself. Then there were only small motes dusting the edge of the beam and nothing else.

I got out and went to see what it was. There was blood matted into its feathers[1]. I didn’t know what it was. Its body was heavy and felt like it was coming apart. I turned it around and the colour got me. If you went and queried the undergrowths across the universe they would nominate this colour as the contraction of their being. The eyes were from another universe entirely. Small things like moths batted at me.

I should probably let the Volkie drive itself. At night, at least. It’s for my safety too.

[1] It’s the wrong word. But it’s the one we use.

Kind of getting away: 7

Usually I don’t pay too much attention to my inbox. But something interesting came in today. The people back at Anh. have compiled a picture book, essentially, of Tokata’s life. It’s called the Field Guide to Life on Tokata, but I think that name is meant to be ironic. The book is pretty well-made. You can find all the common large animals in it. There are Gossers and Greyshots and Labridines and Trammers, five or six species of each.

There is something wrong about pictures. I always tell people this. If you want to go out, certainly if you want to track, don’t look at pictures. The hardest thing to show is what is really there. Pictures are grotestque. The make the real seem small, dim, receding, shockingly bathetic. They stare out at you and they shine with an obscene excess of life. In the book they are always poised. They are aimed at some conclusion. In the wild they are never poised. In the book they are always moving such that all their features are apparent. They are whole. They become threadbare because they are trying to take you with them, they are waiting to be introduced. But in the wild they are only half-complete. They are either still so you don’t see anything or they go so fast that they are beyond the spaces of mere movement. Then they are noticed but not seen. The thing I tell people is that you must learn the shapes. Then you might see it from very far off and still be able to tell what it is. It will be nothing a smear crying out against the distance but that should be enough. This close, they are devoid of shape. They swell bigger than their natural space. They are all finesse and detail. What has been taken? Savage meaninglessness, violence devoid of intent or signal, that is the stuff which they live by and which represents what it means for them to be free, not free in the sense of some praiseworthy or admirable aspect, but just the fact of difference. There is a way of putting this that is not mystic, but it has never been found.

Or I’m just saying this because I’ve more or less forgotten to draw. I do great rough outlines, though. I really do.

Letters: 2

John:

Now I am crossing the seracs. The worst of the icefall is behind me. I cannot tell you what this place is like and how terrifying it is. The grinding ice moving in the matchless dark – bergs that have come down the broad valleys between the mountains – that have stayed too long and too late on land – all wrongfooted and impatient all foundering towards the sea – all this cruel seething rock in the cold.  This place is bigger than Lyskamm or Kanchenjunga. You cannot imagine the sounds that come at night – sometimes a great crack will ring out and I will startle, thinking it is a weapon. But it is only the ice. From where I am – I am on a thin ledge of ice, and I am following it around the glacier to reach the station – you can see the scale of this scene. Each moving block of ice is the size of a skyscraper leaning brokenly. When the glacier heaves these blocks turn and topple – it looks slow but that is only because of the distance. Some of them, even though they are a  very pure chalky blue, reveal undersides dirty grey and brown with the rock they have crushed beneath them. Such majesty – that is the word – but this also brings with it a certain sadness – not the sadness of a tragedy, but a different kind of sadness that continues all the way down – sadness that occupies the same space as breathing – if you asked me now I would tell you it is the fact of witnessing this kind of destruction, but on all honesty I cannot truly tell. Two days ago – before I started the crossing – I saw from a ridge a section of the sheet the size of a city, miles and miles of grinding and broken ice, collapse in on itself, into the water. The sound of it – it was shuddering – it was of the great order of noises – like the Cannons at Toven. It was like birth. I couldn’t tell when the calving began at first, but the movement caught my eye and I stood for a long time to watch – I wish very much that you were here to see this. The whole place reminds me of you.

Remember me,

Ary

Kind of getting away: 5

Helper and I got quite a lot of tagging done along the coast yesterday. But today something happened. I was compiling a migration report when Helper called. Usually helper is quiet. That is why it’s mine. So I know something was happening.

“They’re building a road,” it said. “I thought you might want to know.”

“I told them I didn’t need one,” I said.

“Well, you mentioned it before you left. They might have forgotten.”

“I’ll talk to them,” I said. “How many are there?”

“I can put you through directly.” Helper was like that.

“No, don’t busy yourself with this. I’ll go out and talk to them.”

Helper assumed that I would not be taking to Volkie. It knows my habits very well. “Get the allweathers on. It’s cold. There are two of them.”

“How far away are they?”

“About four ks from the house.”

Helper told me where they were and I took the allweathers and went out, walking quickly. I know the terrain around the house very well now.

The weather was more wet than cold and I reached them about a kilometre and a half from the house. The two construction drones were the durable heavy-duty type, the kind with the yellow stripe. They were working very fast.

“Hello, Erth,” the closer one said when it saw me. “You’re getting your own road, now.”

“I don’t need it,” I said.

They were finishing the bridge that linked my bit of the archipelago to the main island. It was a sleek and delicate structure. It’s a classically Kingdom thing: light on the material, big on the structure, unobtrusive. Volkies can fly without any problem but they spend a lot less energy when going overground. This road linked my place to O.’s, and O’s to the next one over three hundred ks away, and so on.

“Oh,” the C.D. said. It was very polite. It tipped towards its partner for a moment to indicate that it was talking to it. “We weren’t told. We’ve just finished the bridge.”

“I know,” I said. “But I’m fine without the road, really.”

“It will be very convenient for you,” the C.D. said.

“I mentioned this when we were all in the Main Building,” I said. “I said it was okay, I didn’t need the road to come to my place.”

The C.D. talked to its companion again. “It’s really no trouble for us. We’ll be quick about it and we won’t make much noise.”

I felt like telling it to take apart the bridge and the road all the way back to O.’s place. I’m the last one in this line, after all. “I don’t want a road,” I said, and then I asked them to take it apart. But I felt bad about it. I could imagine the two C.D.s  all alone in the wildness, building that road for thousands of ks, following their instructions, avoiding all the sensitive spots, trying to disturb as little of this world as they can. I guess in a strange way I felt sorry for them. It was an irrational feeling. They like building; they were made for it. In any case I couldn’t simply tell them to take that the road and bridge apart. That seemed a bit – cruel? Maybe. Of course they could have said no to me, but c.d.s aren’t particularly assertive. The few I’ve met don’t like fuss. So I said, “It’s best if you stop here, just after the bridge. They can walk the rest of the way.”

“Are you sure about this? It’s about two kilometres to yours.”

I looked at the bridge. “Look, thanks a lot for the bridge. I think that’s good. I think that helps. But, you know, I’m not really trying to get people to come over to mine or anything like that.”

The C.D. tugged a large bundle of carbon fibre into the air. “I understand. For a moment there I thought we might need to get rid of the road all the way back to Ogford’s place. I hope we’ve not caused any trouble.”

“None at all. I hope you’ve been having a good time.”

“This is the best assignment we’ve gotten so far. It’s interesting. We’ve got the next road on the far side to build. Do you want us to put up a sign here?”

It is silly, putting up a sign there,  since I suspect nobody will take the road, and anyone who does will know where they’re going. But I said, “That’s fine.”

“We need to tell the rest about this, just in case – you know.”

“No, no, that’s not a problem.” My hair was dripping now. I was starting to feel sheepish.

That’s all that happened, really. I can see the bridge if I go a little way up the mountain. No harm done, I guess. It’s not ugly. If it looked bad I might have had a real problem. But it was never going to be that.

Kind of getting away: 4

So I’m having the same dream again. This tells me that I’ve properly adjusted to the place. At least that is the meaning I have given to it. Should I ask for more? I don’t dare, not yet.

I’m standing on a shore and there is a vast creature that is coming through the water towards me. A tiny, pitted, bulbous body, shiny in a metallic way, propped on eight many-jointed legs, hooked at their ends. The entire scene is grey. The legs go up so high that the body is in the clouds, kilometres up. The legs come out of the body nearly horizontal but then bend downwards sharply. The creature might be wading through the ocean or walking on top of it. Its movement is ancient and jerky. One leg moves at a time, or two. But no more. It might be alive.

This has become a shared ritual between my mind and I. It is a naked relationship. Our expressions are only ever blunted. I wonder what the message is, this time.

Now that I think about it, this is not in fact the first time I have dreamt on Tokata. The night after the storm I did have a dream. It’s interesting how dreams are so difficult to remember. They’re always there but I find that I need something to remind me that they even happened. What I have now is this image:

I am on a shore yet again. But this is a different shore. Or maybe it is the same shore but the water has gone away, has retreated or wandered up some snarl of rivers and simply forgotten to come back. So the sand goes on nearly to the horizon. There’s a huge ship, an oil tanker[1], stranded on the shore, pointed straight at me. It is old. The bottom half of it has been painted red; the upper is grey. Mute calligraphies of rust come down its side. It is not quite falling apart yet. I can remember this quite clearly, actually. I don’t know why, but this is very clear: scrawls quietly going down the great flanks of metal. Pouring out of the hawsepipes. There is something intimate about rust, and that is true here also. Even though I am standing quite far away from the ship I remember looking up at it. It must have been big. Maybe too big, about a hundred metres in height. A small section of the bulbous bow has collapsed. A sound comes. It is like a foghorn, loud and distant. Now life erupts out of the hole in the bow, a mass as solid as basalt. Animals, things with eyes and mouths and teeth and things without, all pouring out. Lithe things lope away across the flats. The sand churns. Winged things shriek, taut with antipathy, and go into the sky. Their sound is a giant whisper. Soft things bubble out of the hole like viscera and writhe on the drying sand. Invertebrate agonies. Huge objects loll out of that hole, expanses of shining skin made limp out of water. Forked tongues go hesitant into the air. A bellow lumbers out across the sand. Nameless muscular things fan out from the ship, moving as if unfamiliar with their own weight. Slit pupils glare without blinking at the sun. The sun is setting, I think, and the water is red, the air is rosy, the sky very high and limned everywhere with amber. Warm colours to cope with all that atmosphere.

I have realised something. I mean right now, at this precise moment, as I write this. Just imagine – if I had not written this, this would never have occurred to me. What I now know, and this is certain, is that this is a gift. This has been given. And I am supposed to receive it. I must go out and receive it.

Is this the Wash? I cannot remember clearly enough to tell. It might be the Wash, but the Wash is not so dry, maybe. This might be the Wash at the lowest tide. I don’t know.

One more thing about this dream I had in the tent after the storm. But this is not that unique. It’s happened to me several times and I don’t worry about it. But I was lying there, in the dark, and my eyes were closed. And there was something all around me, breathing, a fraction of a millimetre from my skin, walling me off from everything else. I didn’t know how to react to it because it had no real signature. It was not menacing or anything else. It was an imagined thing. I think everyone gets that feeling sometimes, actually. Or maybe that’s not true. That’s possible. I have every right to assume that there is something different about me.

[1] I think it’s an oil tanker. I have a picture in my head and I’ve looked it up.