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Stories from the Verse
For Better or Verse
Chapter 36: Hastings 106
Table of Contents
Previous chapter: Chapter 35: Slade 56
Her initial sweep of the island had not revealed even a fraction of what it held. Today, as Lauren climbed to the summit of the mountain, she realized that there was far more here than she had imagined, let alone noticed.
She did not get too close to the crater. Steam rose from it, and she thought it likely that it was hot enough to be a problem. There might also be gasses in the steam. There did not seem much reason at the moment to try to look down into the hot magma which was sure to be there, to risk swooning or having the edge crumble or otherwise ending her time here very painfully. Besides, she had made this last climb to get a better view of the island and the world, and the closer she was to the rising cloud the less she would be able to see.
She still did not see land; she did see birds, much like gulls, moving out over the water, so she believed there must be land somewhere. If she left the island, she could follow the gulls; that would very likely take her to land elsewhere. At the moment, there was no compelling reason to leave the island.
But she saw that the land below had many variations to it. Most surprising, there was a lake on the north side which she had completely missed, having gone around it. There were also several smaller ponds visible, scattered among the trees. She realized that she was using these words mostly to mean big water and little water, and that they probably had a different definition that had nothing to do with the size; but the words described what she saw, at least to herself.
She had already noticed that the nature of the growth changed when she moved from south to north. Now she saw that it was also different on the high ground as compared with the valleys, and that it looked different around the streams than elsewhere. Apart from all this, there were sections of the wood that just looked different for no reason which was apparent from this vantage. There would be a lot to explore.
Her first thought had been to sweep down the far side of the island and see how far she could go. She had traveled the interior from south to north, east of the peak but over the rise, and then skirted part of the northern coast and climbed the rise to her camp, then crossed to her starting point. She had never been to the eastern shore. She now realized that she had not been to the nearer western shore, either, nor to much of the southern shore. While there was some allure to making the trek to the far end and back (a trip she now realized would take more than two days) there was a lot of sense to exploring closer to camp at first, knowing what was at hand, and then spreading out from there. Walking to the far shore would give her the illusion that she had seen the whole island, but it would be patently untrue, and she should not allow herself that feeling.
Once she had circled the peak, she decided to return to camp by a different route, to swing down the northern slope some and then curve back, so as to see more of the world.
She was surprised at how much there was to see. When she first arrived, she had seen the forest as many tall trees. Now that she had begun identifying their fruit, she saw that there were many different kinds of trees; and although most of them had that odd palm-like form that suggested giant blades of grass, she was beginning to sort out the variety. She also began cataloging in her mind the types of ground cover, from ferns to cabbages to ivies to grasses to seedlings of the great trees.
Even the ground revealed an unexpected diversity. In places it was jagged and sharp, difficult to traverse even in her sneakers. In these places, dirt often was trapped in the crags, and grass grew in the dirt, and often broke up the rock creating loose stone and gravel. Elsewhere the bare stone was smooth and shiny, hot as summer asphalt where it lay in the sun, cool as marble stairs where shade protected it, and slick as a waterslide around streams. More of the island was given to dirt, the rich loam of decaying leaves and trees accumulated over at least centuries, soft underfoot, releasing a hearty earthy fragrance with each invasion of her step, and heavily overgrown. Here and there were patches of sand, which seemed to have blown up from the coast and settled in hollows, supporting a different mix of plants given over primarily to the grasses.
She allowed her path to meander quite a bit. Her internal compass could return her to camp in the dark, even in the total darkness which did not exist here, provided she didn't misstep into some unseen crevice or over some ledge. With no fear of becoming lost, exploring was the order of the hour. She remembered tales of Darwin, cataloguing all the creatures he saw on islands much like this, and wondered whether it would help her, or anyone else, to make records of what she found.
She wondered again whether there was anyone else to help, whether there was anyone else in this entire world, indeed, in this entire universe, that she might help. Was she alone?
She was never so not alone as when she was alone. God was always with her, and when it was only she and God it sometimes seemed as if there was not enough room in all the universes for anyone else. Yet there was something melancholy in the possibility that there were no other people here, and she preferred to think that they were out there, somewhere, and just did not know about her island yet.
She returned to her camp in the fading light and ate several pieces of her fruit. She watched the sun sink into the sea, and prayed and sang and settled into bed, drifting off to sleep yet again.
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with ten other sequential chapters of this novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #174: Versers Achieve. Given a moment, this link should take you directly to the section relevant to this chapter. It may contain spoilers of upcoming chapters.
As to the old stories that have long been here: