The idea was to adopt the point of view of select native organisms to sketch a subjective, fragmented portrait of the island, based on observations during my stay, using perspective, empathy and humor.
++++ palm ++++
i knew it was just a matter of time. but it’s important to keep up appearances, i thought. tall and slim, with my nuts at the top. once in a while, i let one drop. this is my gift to the island. anyone who dares to climb my torso and touch my private parts should know they have it coming. i wonder if the humans who drink my clear milk can taste my bitterness when they incinerate plastics and let diesel seep into the soil.
my siblings and i, beacons of baan mai. soak in the tides, survey the boats, sway with the wind, sweat with the rain. caress the air with feathered digits. and of course, blessed by the big buddha on the hilly horizon. a royal perch for the heavy hornbill. home to the golden tree snake. bejewelled by the translucent exuviae of a reborn cicada. because on the ground, we rule.
the question is, why me? neither an elder nor a sprout, just another misplaced middle child in a clan of kings. four full moons ago, it started with the beetle. she burrowed underground. i could sense her within my roots. me, tickled by her visit. she, searching for the perfect nest. because i am royalty, i thought, she chose me. then, she disappeared. it wasn’t long before i understood the curse that she had layed upon me. dozens of larvae, hatching from abandoned eggs, emerged into my entrails. hungry and blind, they ate their way through my wood. the squirming in my loins went on for days and nights, invisible to the outer world. it’s important to keep up appearances, i thought. finally, the grubs disappeared on six legs.
still, i stood straight, tall and lean. yet, turmoil had grown inside me. and dare i say, other species can sense insecurity. the fungi that grew on my skin started out as friends. we exchanged nutrients; both of us grew stronger together. but once they felt the chemical change under my bark, they too began to bite. mycelium crept into my guts, into the crevices left by raw trails. they spread and settled into patches of poisonous white fur, chewing away at the walls between the tunnels. slowly but surely, i was being eaten alive. ravaged within, savaged without. night after day, from moon up to sun down. until sunday, june 24, at 13 hours 8 minutes and 53 seconds, I crashed. i can no longer keep up appearances, i thought. this is my gift to the island.
++++ colony ++++
major 5736: vertical is now horizontal. pass it on.
major 5860: forwardbound, access to roots. check.
major 5817: trunk end, tunnels rotting, mycelium present.
major 5838: scout black ant seized, quartered, dead.
major 5839: carrying to nest 4.
minor 4072: red honeydew milked from scale insects at pasture 2.
minor 4073: carrying to nest 5.
major 6825: commuting to nest 9.
major 6812: carrying major 6813 to help build new nest.
major 3693: stretching out, can’t reach.
major 3694: climbing over, stretching out, can’t reach.
major 3695: climbing over, linking in, stretching out, can’t reach.
major 3696: climbing over, linking in, bridging up, stretching out… leaf reached.
majors 3693+3694+3695+3696: pull!
majors 3493+3494+3495+3496: pull!
majors 3711 through 3722: staple bite. hold. wait.
major 2561: carrying larva across seam. left, tap for silk. right, tap for silk. forward to next stitch, repeat.
major 9480: intruder at northwest. clamp jaw bite.
major 9488: intruder at northwest. attack stance spray.
major 7261: intruder at southeast. attack stance spray.
major 7269: intruder at southeast. clamp jaw bite.
minor 7200: intruders invading nest 1. all save the queen!
minor 7253: protect our larvae!
minor 7218: citric attack!
major 7264: no use, we’re a delicacy.
major 7237: once licked, twice bitten, all minced into garlic tapenade.
major 7999: nest may be cooked, but colony will survive.
major 8000: bon appétit, humans!
++++ hermit ++++
what are you, blind? can’t you see i live here? i know my jade green shell is drop-dead gorgeous, that’s why i chose it. i like the way it accents my bright red body. my old shell didn’t do me justice, but at least it fit. anyway, i outgrew it last month. this jewel fits me like a gem. i’ve finally found the perfect shell, and it’s mine. so bugger off, little crab, you’re too small. better yet, wait in line with the others. your time will come if you’re patient. the last time a human tried to steal my shell, i pinched so hard she tossed me back into the water on the spot. anyway, i prefer kayak rides. one can travel very far, see many more shells of all colors and stripes. in fact, on the other shore i spotted a sharp black and white shell on a snail at high tide. now that would help me stand out among my peers. not like those entire nudie beaches branded blue and red. and some crabs are so flashy they don’t even need shells. just hiding all that iridescent purple blue pink yellow gaudiness underneath a rock, what a waste. besides, they’re huge. if i want a break from the spotlight i’ll duck into some barnacled coral. block the hole with a slug. as long as a moray eel hasn’t already laid dibs, i’m safe. i mean, i’m not always looking for a fight. those sand-camouflaged cannibals are ruthless. if one of them isn’t brandishing some other crab’s claw like a victory torch, it’s dragging another severed torso off for dinner. i may be a scavenger, but i’m not a barbarian. sand bubblers, on the other hand, they have a sense of esthetics. those tiny critters sieve their nutrients right out of the sand at low tide, then after breakfast they leave us with a bubbly mandala on the beach. all that’s really missing is color. now what would mantis shrimp see? even the little ones reflect color, algae green legs moving like a millipede under the microscope, or so i’ve heard. and peacock mantis shrimp, they see psychedelic rainbows. i mean, they are psychedelic rainbows. but then, color isn’t everything. look at the cucumbers, then look at the urchins: same color, totally different shape. the urchins, however, have pretty blue eyes and a pulsing orange heart. not to mention long and elegant spines. but then, i can’t say i spend much time with the filter feeders in the lower sublittoral. in fact, if i’m not getting run over by a stampede of slater bugs scattering across the rocks at dusk, i’m deafened by the snapping of pistol shrimp popping their prey at low tide. anyway—what’s going on?! egret sees red!? no, let go! put me down! my shell, my precious jade shell!
Thank you — to Andy, for leading and encouraging independent discovery of our immediate natural environment, to Tasneem, for her scientific expertise and optimizing our kayak trip around the island, to all the “dinasaurs” who shared this experience with me.