Thursday, May 31, 2012


This area around this time gets a green only plants know. Leaves that have known sunlight so bright and long throughout the spring, the lasting summer. When was I last here? Not since I was childless, wifeless, for a time, homeless. During those days career was a word I used to chase away while others chased it their youths. Perhaps it might have been I that pissed away the years. Let’s face it, most of us end up doing so. But only some of us regret it.

Where are my rotten kids? That's something parents get honest about phrasing and asking. Stare at these spearish overgrowths of bamboo long enough and your mind drifts off to some yonder time zone that cannot be retread. There's a son and a daughter sequestered to some unknown corner playing hide-and-seek inside the clearly marked boundaries of the “Do not trample, sensitive rhizomes,” posts. Here greens and wilds and quiet spaces are a resource like time and productivity and profit. Quiet spaces. I remember once when such things came so free and freely in my adopted country. We had congressionally designated wildernesses without constricting quota systems and any brave man or woman (or they both, together), ready for adventure could hitch a ride to the trailhead. No cars and expensive car maintenance needed! Just fetch out that finger and get into the passenger side or back and listen to the sauntering old tales of well-made travelers in their Synchros.

That one year, I was on assignment also in Zhejiang, near these parts, before there was ever a park. Who knew they would dedicate minor shrines to a plant once deemed too common to be considered noble. Too bad we couldn’t as well save the panda. It was autumn then just as the summer monsoons were fading away westward back towards that upthrust spine of the Himalayas separating India and China.

I had been living among a father, mother, and daughter, having my own bed raised up by bamboo, sitting in chairs made of bamboo, cooking with bamboo utensils, eating bamboo. Did you know you can boil water in bamboo? A saying runs in this region: if it has four legs and is not a table, or if it flies and is not a plane, we cook it. They had to them only the essentials, nothing beyond their family name and a few ragged shirts. For everything else the forest was their supermarket.

I bet men walked these banks millennia ago in footwear of bamboo. For those that didn’t, with a heavy load, they rode the wash of watercourse on bamboo rafts or skiffs, thrusting into the currents with poles of bamboo. And in their quivers, arrows made of the same. One bloodied, for the unfortunate one that met his end at the end of sharpened bamboo.

It was after the rat attack of 2061 that Min taught me how to write the character for bamboo using a bamboo brush on traditionally made bamboo pressed paper, scrolls, rather, from hardened dry strips. I studied the most critical stroke swiped so timidly across the paper. The gou lacked completeness. It is the stalks of the bamboo, two of them, zhu, that represent every possibly known bamboo permutation from this basic DNA.

“I don't understand. Why aren't you really angry? Why don't you go down and complain about. Your entire crop is gone. You have nothing to eat.”

He shrugged his shoulders and an eye. “Eh. What can you do?”

He seemed to note I was more upset with my sloppy calligraphy than his unwinnable case.

“You’re going to starve. You have to come to the city, find work.”

“I know that's what everyone else is doing. But we’ll be alright.”

“I don’t get you. It's like you don't even care. It's like you even revere the very thing that broke your farm.”

He let out a breath but it was not a sigh. He waved his arms and hands. A blush of bamboo grew and spread out of dark, wet ink.

A wise man said farmers were the first warriors. There was nothing ever truer than this in the case of Min. For months the bamboo surrounding the farm had been bursting of life and their stems clumping of flowers ready to set forth another generation of ancient culm at intervals only lucky men survive. This was not good for my mild hay fever. Walking a game trail nearby the house, there was more than the usual scurry of rats making their ways in between my legs and the stalks twice as tall as I. The sound of rats legion can be likened to a rushing stream. Min joined me and confirmed. These were not the rats that invaded his kitchen every dinner. They had bloomed alongside the flowering bamboo, timed to partake in this rare and choreographed explosion, just as Min’s family had done so for decades. This is how plants shared, without discrimination.

The rice fields did not see through to the fall. The carp needed the health of the rice fields to flourish. Their scaling bodies flushed down the muddied terraced fields. Black rats understand only obliteration. And yet Min found no virtue faulting anything, anyone. This is amusing since the only other species that can breed so aplenty are but humans. While not the usual crop of food, certainly, though, the people of the region had their fill of rats in their bellies for a season. And here I am, with two rats of my own.

I hear one of them through the forest as if a breeze. She sticks her head out from the foliage, her tiny hands barely able to part aside the emerald thickness.

“Dad, you gonna come play with us?”

I look at her, not saying a thing, trying to spot the whiskers.

If anything a grumble of curses. I turn around and start counting down.

When it takes a year in advance to reserve park space this precious, I’m not going to waste it brooding.

Story by HVH who is not a father--yet--perhaps ever.