Thousands of miles he has traveled with the angel across deserts and cities and oceans.
Flying under the light touch of thin clouds, Jake can see the thick forests below. The high mountain slopes of rugged pine, lower forests of bamboo mixed with palm, hints of yellows and reds and brown between the lime and olive, the mosaic of green that covers the land.
The angel indicating they have reached their destination glides lower, skims the jungle.
Rivers and streams they fly over. A slew of dark tunnel waterways cutting through the undergrowth.
Where the brackish waters become darkest, the angel dives. Drawn into the salt and the wildness, following, Jake holds his nose, the air beginning to reek of muck and warm peat.
The Being he’s following speaks back to him, ‘You do not like these tributaries?'
Jake admits nothing. There’s an unearthly beauty in this eerie, watery quagmire. A land where flooded trees rise up, where shadows of blackness, birds swoop out and away, and where everywhere, if he were in a human body, the linking spidery outcroppings that fill up the passageways would try to strangle.
‘What you see here is the womb,’ the angel speaks into the depths of Jake’s mind. ‘In the rivers that flow here are ten million worlds.’
Jake inches his way forward. From the dank, warmth, bubbles out of holes, cavity openings just below the water, part of these wooden root systems that arch upward.
Slime covers everything.
Through the humid mire, along the soggy, waterlogged tunnels, the path now so dense and tangled that Jake can see little or nothing ahead of him.
Small crabs as they pass disappear. Silver fins pop out and are gone.
Flashing twixt membranes of sodden leaves, the noise above is deafening. In this curious slimy murkiness, croaks, grunts, squawks and buzzing, bats descend through the groves.
‘Rotting leaves that fall to the streams,’ the angel pulses thoughts into him. ‘A chain of life begins here.’
Through the expanse of stems and roots, they move, though the woody walls, the arches, the snake shapes that have such a spongy texture.
From the little holes that seem to poke up out of the sticky, brown water, a continual plop, plop, plop of escaping gas.
All around in the oily vegetation meadows, crabs burrowing down into something, crabs dragging leaves.
A lizard shifts. Mud sloshes. Jake inches from its skin. The lizard plops down into the sucking mud.
High tree roots caked in shells of algae, Jake slivers through. Decomposing vegetation and its slime, with growing fungi on every tree, the undergrowth alive with reptiles, the millions of insects everywhere, he knows the angel is daring him. He forages onwards, follows into the weaving black tunnels.
‘Fungi, moss, stinking leaf-rot,’ the angel’s thoughts blast into his mind, ‘when the crabs slice off the leaves, what they do not eat that is the food for worms and snails and all that lies beneath. Life begins here, with rotting leaves floating upon the water.
‘Listen! From these trees that forget to look like trees is the continuity. These stumps are where life of the world, where Earthly creation is born.’
Between dross and detritus the angel flies. Then rises magnificently. There’s a whirring and scratching and hissing from the bats. Jake follows the angel upwards.
Zipping among the trees they soar through the sun-drenched leaves out into the sky.
The Being laughs, points to where they are going. There are reefs ahead.
Skimming the many flocks of heron, flocks of egret, below a million birds mass across the lagoons. Large colonies wading and hopping and flying, engaged in their social interactions.
On the floating carpet of leaves and branches and greenery, many look also to be walking.
The angel points towards the ocean. ‘Coral is a protection for the womb behind.
‘New coral islands cannot form if the shore crumbles.’ The angel calls inside Jake’s head: ‘The reefs that border this land provide refuge for an array of fish. Storms, when they arrive cut these edges. But through the action of man, all this will soon be gone.
‘When the cropped reefs disappear, the coral goes, then the swamps go. Barnacles, mussels, sea squirts, fish...all will go.’
The angel’s thoughts have come to that of a whisper, ‘Listen to what I say. It is then the man-forests die.’
Jake looks at the Being who looks back at him. The Being seems to smile.
Racing across bays and lagoons extending all around the outcropping of mangrove, from cay to cay they fly.
Over the seagrass beds, the patch reefs, the sand bars of the small, low islands, the chase is the sport.
‘The mangroves form their own land that in time becomes growth for coconut and seagrape and pine and bamboo.’ The angel points to each island as he passes,
to the shallow lagoons, to the trees that act as formidable barriers. ‘The land is being cleared behind, leaving only the mangroves to remain, and they will be gone soon.’
A flock of pelicans crash dive to feed from a shoal of fish. ‘With the coral gone, with the reefs gone, the watery vital soup will wash away. Then birds will wait, but fish without a place to spawn will not be here. The birds will die.’
‘Among the broken shells, among the ocean sponges, life follows time. This is why I have brought you here, to see.’
Jake stares back at the flat coral islands as theyleave, the islands that have come and now surround the mangrove forests.
He sees the ocean swells behind the islands, and inside the peaceful surface waters, tamed swells, calm and quite, a harbor safe for all its life.
Miles out to sea, the small palms dotted on the bars of coral and sand, the trees appear so alone in the outer islands. Fragile, stunted growth attempting to keep all there is of the few strips of land together.
Flying upwards, Jake asks, ‘Does this mean that because the trees are being cut, human life is endangered?’
‘Many have it in their dreams,’ is the reply, ’when all the trees are down, when land is used only for palm oil and concrete, humankind is not likely to carry the changes.’
Away and up, the angel veers into clouds.
For hours they seem to fly, soaring across the thick expanses.
Emerge they then into a spine of mountains.
Jake looks back at the angel, at all that it is, at the water droplets flashing from its back. Then he stares down at the land mass below.
‘An ancient island,” the angel says. ‘Many creatures you would find nowhere else once lived here. Only a few short years it has taken for many to disappear.‘
They swoop, cruising over the foothills, then the seeming endless stretches of tree stumps. The country below looks completely desolate.
Gliding across the brown, dead earth, whirls of dust blow over them. ‘This once was wooded, greenland. The lake you see ahead used to be three times the size. All manner of creatures had a life here. Few creatures remain. The humans have all gone.’
They fly down to the dirty shore, and as they stand beside the water, dark waves lap against their feet. The angel watches Jake.
Jake stares at the angel.
The thoughts he hears hold in their tone a singular bleakness. ‘See, they had no money. It was all taken from them, their ability to live and thrive. There was no choice for them but to cut the trees, burn the roots for firewood. Once the trees were gone, the runoff from the rain sluiced the soil into the streams. Now the
soil has undone the lake. There is no oxygen.
‘The fish have died. What does exist in this once clear water, feed on the dead the decay.’
Jake can feel the powerful energy. He knows the angel is expressing great disturbance.
‘A thriving community once lived here. Then more people came, beyond what the land could sustain. They were driven from where they were. This is not farming land.
‘All the people were starving. They had no choice. The struggling poor chopped up the trees.
‘When the trees were no longer, then all the herbs and plants that grew in the canopy, they were no longer, all the animals that reared their young among the trees, these were gone. There was no food for the people.’
Jake gazes at the lapping waves. “As the fish died, all has now become as you see. Those who were forced to move by those few who have money and took their land, these poor now worthless hoped that here would be a future, but now they have had to move again.
Those who lived as children in small villages that they were torn from, they have moved and moved again.
‘In a distant city they live, in the outskirts where even a larger city has grown and where they all now survive, in shanties.”
The angel points back at the bleakness that stretches all around.
Then the thoughts stop.