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A Path to Amazonia

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A Path to Amazonia

by Anne Patterson Friedman

Emilia turned her back on the city's steely heart. She crossed the parking lot and stepped into the botanical garden, passing beneath the entryway's white arch. One glimpse of the lush collection was all it took to trigger her smile. Yes, here she would find what she needed--a receptive tree, one that could hear her message and pass it on.

It was summer, mid-week, the hottest part of a South Florida afternoon, so she could claim the ten acres as her private oasis. And, oh, how she welcomed the solitude, a break from her hectic job. If she had to argue one more traffic case in that stuffy court . . . well, she wouldn't think about that now.

The garden, devoted to Amazonian species, seemed so like home, the little she could remember of that far place, nearly twenty years behind her. She inhaled the familiar blossom-scented air and wondered--could she really talk to a tree? Though she had never done so, she was determined to try. It was the only way to reach her grandfather. And only he could explain her nightmares.

Near the garden's center, she wandered off the asphalt path. She worked between blooms of red heliconias, knelt at the base of a kapok tree, and placed her right palm against dew-slicked bark. The tree trembled at her touch. Branches above shook, showering her with debris--seed tufts, dead twigs, wind-tattered leaves.

Alarmed by what seemed an angry reaction, she tried to pull her hand back, but her palm would not release. Though she struggled to the point of pain, there was no freeing her skin. And then, her fingertips--they disappeared! Into the tree, up to the middle joints.

She called out, hoping someone else had entered the garden, but there was no response. Another call, a scream. Silence.

After breathing deep to quell her shaking, she stared at her trapped hand. Why would the tree do this to her? She recalled a morning outside the village, when her grandfather, Miero, had pointed to a cashew nut tree and described its personality--generous, not so smart, sentimental. Was this kapok evil?

She addressed it with her thoughts, asking why it had trapped her. Hearing no response, she stared at the bark, imagined sending her sight through the cambium, straight to the tree's heart.

An empty moment passed, and then, Emilia sensed a presence. A voice sounded inside her head, asking her not to be frightened. Yes, the tree had spoken! Of that, she was certain. But she could not do as it asked. Fear, like the bark, held her with a grip that would not relent.

She formed more words within, sent them off with force and clarity, pleading with the kapok to release her. The answer was no; she was interesting; it wanted to understand her, and that would take time.

She told the tree that she needed to reach her grandfather, Miero, a shaman famous for his affinity with arboreal beings, a man who could speak with trees, even at a distance. She explained that she'd lived in the United States since age eight, in foster homes, and had no idea where her village in Amazonia was. When she asked if the kapok could reach Miero, coldness ran through her, as though the tree's presence had withdrawn. She waited for a response, but none came.

She yelled for help until her throat tightened from fatigued. Then, giving up on a rescue, she felt her body relax. Maybe her predicament wasn't so dire. Her captor's voice had sounded warm. She'd felt the tones stroking her deep inside, reaching pockets of encapsulated pain.

Yes, her fear had diminished, but another feeling grew by the moment--exhilaration. She, Emilia, had talked with a tree.

She sat, leaning against a buttressing root. As she imagined sap dripping into her arm like a life-saving transfusion, the garden seemed to wake. Transfixed, she gazed and listened.

She could see the entire scene at once, in resplendent detail, each leaf vein, each tendril snaking toward its target. Thousands of insects flapped, munched, stepped, buzzed, spit. A torrent of scents flowed in through her nose, igniting an explosion of pleasure. A dance of smell, sound, sight, touch, and taste enveloped her, each sense dissolving its boundaries, merging and diverging again. And woven through the spectacle, as perceivable as material things, were snippets of tree-thought.

The garden's inhabitants, she realized, ached, as she ached, for compatible ground. They yearned to sink roots into native soils that, having shaped their natures, understood their special needs.

She listened to each voice, until a message from the kapok silenced them, a message laden with blame. Though Emilia didn't know the location of her childhood home, there were many villages in Amazonia, all facing the onslaught of forces aiming to clear-cut the land. She should be using her skills to protect them.

A scene from her nightmares opened in her mind--a chain saw buzzed, a massive trunk crashed to the ground. For weeks now, the dreams had tormented her, always about the rainforest under threat. She shuddered as a wave of guilt overtook her.

She had years of education, a law degree. Yes, she should go to South America, do what she could. But could she really help stop the destruction? Though she had represented wronged parties before, those cases had been minor civil suits. In Amazonia, she would be up against powerful corporations, greedy interests that would stop at nothing to reach their goals.

Through a distorting film of tears, she watched the foliage around her tinge pink in the lapsing afternoon. When the near-full moon laid down its sheen, she heard a groan from the dirt, a crunch of stone on stone, as if the Earth's crust were cracking open. Tremors shook the garden. She wrapped her free arm around the tree and held it tight.

Moments later, the lurching subsided, but not all was still; a subtle sideways pull pervaded Emilia's body. And above, through lacework branches, she spotted stars rushing by. Her mind sought an explanation, found it, and would not accept it. But her body knew--it was the ground that was moving. The ground! Sweeping the garden, sweeping her, beneath a frozen sky.

The kapok trembled again, and Emilia's fingers slid free. She stood, debating--stay or run? She listened for the tree's guiding words. Hearing only the whoosh of wind-jostled leaves, she turned, wove through prickly underbrush, found the asphalt path, and set off down it.

When she reached the entryway's white arch, she gasped. Beyond it spread an infinite night sky. That and nothing more. The garden was a floating island, its border a precipitous drop.

She backed away from the ragged edge and ran, seeking the thickest stand of trees. In the dim light, she tripped, fell, slammed her head against a root.

#

Waking, Emilia opened her eyes to matted leaves, the cushion beneath her cheek. She rose amid plants now mottled with sun and shade. Glancing up at a backdrop of blue, she was relieved to see the white plume of a stationary cloud. She felt no sideways pull, no hint of motion. Had the bizarre experience been a dream? A mental breakdown?

Her temple throbbed. Running fingers through her hair, she felt a knot on her scalp and remembered the fall. Yes, a possible explanation. Delusions, perhaps, induced by . . . a concussion? In any case, she was back to normal now. It was time to go, to return to her car and reality.

As she made her way along the asphalt path, the usual worries resurfaced. The bizarre experience had left her resolved--she would travel to South America one day, when the time was right--but she had responsibilities to face in the present, including that legal brief to prepare, bills to pay, appointments to keep, calls to return. She stepped beneath the white arch, then stopped short, gaping at the sight before her.

The land didn't end in a frightening drop, but the parking lot--the entire city!--had vanished. Spreading out beyond the garden were more Amazonian trees, and winding through them was a sandy path. Emilia blinked in disbelief, for there lay the trail to her village.

Up that streak of sand, a figure approached. Emilia, shaken by the uncertainty around her, was about to hide, until she recognized her grandfather's gentle face. Yes, though shortened and bent with age, it was definitely Miero. His arms bore the tribal tattoos she remembered, and down his side was another unique feature, a scar from a jaguar attack.

As he drew near, she inhaled the familiar scent of medicinal herbs. He gave her that look, the one she remembered from her childhood, the one that made her seem to float, as if she were half her weight.

"Welcome home," he said, his voice roughened from years of wear. He turned toward the garden's trees, spent a long moment in silence, then faced Emilia. "I've been searching for you through my dreams, with no success. Fortunately, you reached out to me. And just in time."

Emilia shook her head. "How did this happen?"

"You, me, the trees--we all played a part. But why ask how? The question is why." He glanced up the trail. "Amazonia is threatened. It needs your special abilities."

Emilia felt the burden of his expectations. "I'll do all I can, but that may be limited. First, I should study this country's statutes, find out how my law degree can be used here."

He chuckled. "Not those abilities." He motioned toward the trail. "Now come. You have much to learn. And I, preparing to fly on, have little time for teaching."

Emilia stood a moment, absorbing his words, then smiled and kicked off her shoes. She savored each step, each touch of compatible ground.

©2011

 

 

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