Thirst

5 min


River Merced plummets down the rocky hill, day and night disrupting my meditation. 

The squirrels scamper around collecting cones, tickling my body with every move.

The bats are an entirely different species! They go crazy during twilight, make weird patterns in flight disturbing my star gaze. They ensure I never sleep. Nevertheless, I love their company.

I like the birds the best, they know exactly when the insects overbreed. I enjoy watching them disappear in the sky. The chirpy blind chicks open up their golden beaks in search of the mother.

I lull them back to slumber. I tell them stories about how once their great grand mother almost dived to death and I caught her to safety. A colourful flying lizard brushes by my side with a ‘tsk tsk’. Whoever says the Jungle is a quiet place! 

It is summer and I feel thirsty all the time. I reach out to Merced from under the ground with a hundred limbs. The grizzlies give me a bear hug. The myriad carpet of wild flowers decorate my ‘neighbourwood’.  The birds, bats, squirrels and insects dwell on me.

I live here, in the Yosemite valley for over 500 years, I stand two hundred and fifty feet tall, and twenty three feet wide. I am a giant Sequoia. I don’t see, I don’t speak, I don’t hear, I don’t walk, I feel.

The woods in its entirety, is inhabited by members of my family. We overlook the granite 

monster El Capitan.  Our ‘neighbourwood’ is unoccupied by the advanced species of monkeys. 

Think of them and there they are. A couple of monkeys with artificial fur try to climb the steep cliff of El Capitan with a rope to hold on.  Why are they doing it? These monkeys are always inquisitive. The rabbits don’t try to fly, the birds don’t hang upside down. However the modern monkeys try to imitate every other form of life. They don’t resemble their ancestors. They keep changing and so are those round legged things that help them climb the hills in rapid speed. These animals are complex creatures. They come here to admire rainbows by the waterfalls but throw unnatural things in the river.  

Their fascination to numbers is still a wonder to me.  A bunch of them visited our ‘neighbourwood’ last year. They worked for weeks together to measure my uncle’s height. He is the tallest in this valley, I felt them saying, he is the tallest and oldest in the world.  But why spend so many days to measure something that each animal, each bird and even the earthworms knew. They wanted the numbers.

Come summer and the monkeys swarm the valley like bees. They are such great fun to feel! How I wish I had those things called eyes to watch these creatures! 

I try to talk to them in many ways though I don’t speak their language. They seem to  understand yet choose to ignore.

I feel the sun setting, and the air carrying different aromas of the monkey meal. The camping site outside our ‘neighbourwood’ is abuzz throughout this season. They make jungly noise. Another sleepless night awaits me. 

Venus and a couple of other stars are twinkling brightly in the sky. Most of the birds are home and a few late comers are hurrying back. I feel slightly uneasy. The wind carries a strange thick sheet of grey. 

My sibling’s branches touch me as a sudden gust of wind shakes the both of us. I feel thirsty like never before. Within minutes the…

 ***

Mr. and Mrs. Cooper are in tears. I hear them speak. They are holding me in their hands. I have eyes, a mouth and a nose.

I am wrapped with the colourful fur and I get to change it too.

I never have to stretch myself for water. This is life.

I can run around and fall without getting hurt in the play pen. My parents celebrate the milestones of my growth. I get love, I get gifts, I get food, I get information. I make friends and play with them. I go to school and learn to read and write. This is fun. This is suave.

“I like it!”

“What do you like my mini Cooper?”

“Liif!”

Mama bursts into laughter, gives me a high five and treats me with chocolate ice-cream.

It tastes delicious, and I ask for one more.

I lose interest in the ice-cream as I watch the trees outside turning black in the blazing hues of the sunset. 

At night, I reach home with a crestfallen face. 

I see a frown on mama’s face as she feels me, “You are running a very high temperature baby!” I close my half open eyelids, I feel the heat, I’m thirsty.  

***

The flames are thirsty as well. 

Within minutes  smoke besieges the star studded sky. The silver moon, turns to pale yellow and retreats into the background. I can feel the hot air.

Open up your wings dear nestlings, rush my baby bats, run dear grizzlies and rabbits, our home is on fire! Are you listening to me? Run to the Merced!

I can’t see them running, But I repeat my words as the air grows thicker and hotter. 

The serene Merced still tumbles down the cliff and flows through the valley. It tries to quench the thirst of the flames. 

The grass glows in yellow and the leaves fly like lanterns. Barks of fir crack and the maples melt like syrup. The incinerated trunks fall on each other like tumbling blocks. The branches, leaves, flowers, seeds, blades of grass turn orange in unison.

The big hole that the monkeys had once carved through my trunk lets the fire in and the dry branches fall first. It vaporises all the water that I drank from the Merced for all the 500 years. This fire isn’t like the ones I have felt before. 

Who is this ticking me now? Haven’t my kids escaped yet?

Its the flame, It isn’t just thirsty, it is hungry, like a monster with ever-growing jaws, It tries to devour all of my two hundred and fifty feet whole! How do I resist? Where do I move?

***

Unable to move, I kick my hands and legs. “Hills”, “water”, “rocks”, “trees”, I blabber in slumber.

Mama places her hand gently on my head. 

“It’s okay baby, you’ll be alright soon!” 

I like this privilege of being human! The cure, the care and the comfort is soothing.

Mama covers me with a blanket. Dreams envelope me.

***

The ‘neighbourwood’ turns into cinder land.

The tallest tree in the world stands ablaze like the supreme destroyer.

The pillar of fire lights up the welkin and the smoulders penetrate the roots beneath. 

The glow of the embers reflects on the granite as the green pastures of the valley turn red.

The entangled family of roots pulls us down, one by one. We fall to the ground with deafening thuds. I know, they hear me, the monkeys that lit the first match stick.

***

“Do you hear me, listen to me dear. Don’t run alone into the woods”.

My dad tries to catch up with me as I explore the valley with a pair of limbs.

“I’m old enough to find my way.”

I run through the grass to find the Merced. The lazy river sparkles in the afternoon Sun.

A snow rabbit shies away and with a familiar smile I follow it.

My legs stop involuntarily as I close my eyes to feel it. There are no cinders. There is no ash. 

The ‘neighbourwood’ glistens green with hundreds of Sequoia saplings. 

These plants have sprouted from the cones that the fire brought down from the branches on the top.

I walk further in, taking each step with caution. The ground is dotted with snails and slugs.

Butterflies and moths emerge from the plants as I trudge through the wilderness.

My parents’ instruction to watch out fades away in the distance. 

A squirrel brushes my feet and I feel the tickle. I open my eyes. Here it is. The huge trunk of a fallen giant sequoia. It lies on the ground, a diminutive form of the 250 feet grandeur, plants penetrating through the dead branches, mushrooms feeding on its 500 year old bark.

“This is a tree trunk. The great fire must have brought it down.” Dad says. 

I take a sharp stone and carve the word ‘Cooper’ on the trunk.

He gives me a proud high five. The spelling is correct. 

A red ant colony has made the scorched part of the trunk its home.

I place my hand on it, a few red ants crawl over my fingers. Dad exclaims, “Have you gone crazy? They will bite you!”

He hurriedly pulls me back as I stagger and fall to the ground.  The smell of the mud, the colours on the flowers, the sultry forest air and the rhythm of Merced fill my senses.

This is the real life! I feel it!

 I pretend to count the rings on the exposed part of the trunk. 

“Five hundred!”

“Haha! You started learning big numbers at school!”

He gives me another high five. 

“Its so hot, drink some water.”

Mama offers a bottle and I look at the distant waterfalls with thirsty eyes. I miss those hundred limbs.

Author’s note:

Sequoias rely on fire to release most seeds from their cones, to expose bare mineral soil in which seedlings can take root, to recycle nutrients into the soil, and to open holes in the forest canopy through which sunlight can reach young seedlings.

Source: https://www.nps.gov/seki/learn/nature/fic_segi.htm

***

Photo By: Jeb Buchman

***

This is an entry for #InnsWoods, #Artales18, A Room8 writing event. Checkout the event guidelines here:  https://writers.artoonsinn.com/artales18
The event is sponsored by Manoj Paprikar, Author of Death at Midnight by ArtoonsInn room9 publications. Manoj Paprikar is a doctor by profession and a writer at heart. Through his latest venture with room9publications, he earnestly brings forth the plight of the medical profession that affects both the healthcare providers and patients at large.
Get your copy of Death at Midnight here:
www.artoonsinn.com/shop or
https://www.amazon.in/dp/8194132649

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