In which our hero sleeps peacefully under the rain, deals tactfully yet forcefully with some ants, ponders the nature of various foodstuffs, considers the possibilities of nonhuman irony, and questions the wisdom of scientific classification.
The sound of the rain that streamed all night onto the stone roof of the hut, a real rarity these days, cooled Franco’s mind, averting the febrile night that would otherwise have been indicated given the uncertainty of what lie ahead at Davos. It was a welcome intervention, because too often a great deal of energy is spent when one is asleep, tossing and turning, reworking the known facts, when what was needed was new information, not new permutations and configurations of what one already knew. And the woods were scarce possessors of the kind of information that Franco needed, and stingy even when it came to divulging the things they did know.
Had the ants that were now crawling along the length of Franco’s arm not been a timely instantiation of steadfast industry, Franco would have felt annoyed, and even angry, but the way they navigated the forest of fine hairs that looped over his forearm reminded him that an appreciation of persistence was usually a better response than resentment. His patience dissolved, however, when he saw that the ants had infiltrated his bread, and he immediately set to blasting them into the stratosphere, or at least what probably counted as the stratosphere from an ant’s perspective, with a series of sharp and well aimed blows, turning the hunk of dark brown bread this way and that to expose each ant to his breath’s greatest pressure and velocity. They had ventured onto the cheese and wine, but their efforts there were less rewarded, as they seemed at a loss about what to do with the yellow waxy surface that offered a great deal of fat but virtually no sugar, or in the case of the wine, plenty of sugar by volume, but sugar that was locked in a thin dry film that had formed in the crevice between the lip of the stainless steel container and its similarly inert cap. So even for ants, it was the poorest and most humble of the trio who provided the most nourishment and sustenance, if not in substance then in accessibility, and when one is hungry, it is the latter that provides the only meaningful measure.
Milk, that sticky must from a beloved animal, so lonely in her stone stall, would have been welcome, although it pained Franco to think of taking something from someone who had already given so much. Still, theft was better than murder, and she did not seem to have too many moral qualms about munching the bright green grass that sprouted so optimistically from the earth, offering itself to whoever needed nourishment. But Franco was human, not bovine, and he had to struggle with such problems on his own and not transpose them onto a cow who was probably as blind to moral quandaries as Franco was to certain understandings of flowers, compared, for example, to a bee.
After attending to his morning ablutions, about which a truly comprehensive social history remains to be written, at least to Franco’s knowledge, Franco packed his things and set off, such a satisfying feeling but one that was not without a tinge of regret and heartache. The radical shift in space immersed him in a mild trance, nothing like that which he experienced the day before with the tree, but one that reintroduced him to a sphere of being that seemed more real to him than any other. It was the blowing of ants off of a piece of bread that belonged to dream space. Reality was this fuzzy middle ground that was marked by ambiguity and stasis, a space of pure being that was devoid of focus or ambition. But Franco was on just the edge of this phase, and as he moved forward, he moved out of it and away from it, and toward an imaginary world of trail and tree and eventually, if he remembered correctly and as he anticipated and hoped, open space and sunshine, and the grey and reassuring presence of stone, whose donkey like self-containment, provided so much comfort.
Samedan was a long day away, but once there Franco would be halfway to Davos, a realization that calmed the apprehension he felt about what lie at his destination: the milling, the ill fitting shoes and clothing, the shaved faces and strange sounds and smells that are particular to herds of human beings. Humor helped reconcile the tension. What would a tree joke be? Offering a kind of sap that looked like the real thing but was really something else in disguise? Sending a root teasingly into the tangle of your neighbor, something that would take several weeks if not months? Tree jokes were slow to play out. Imagine what stony humor was like, trajectories of decades or centuries, if not eons, exposing yourself to seemingly innumerable successions of wind and rain until a split in the right place allows you to give your pal a playful bump. Ha! Take that!
The luck of being alive gave Franco the same peculiar lightness in his legs that was at once energizing and bothersome, for as in sleep, a lack of awareness of one’s legs is to be preferred over an over awareness of them. But the tingle in his mind, which was also a tingle in his brain, one in the same, soon settled down, and Franco found his pace along the trail that ran transversally across the conoid forms of the morainic landscape, a great instance of a geological joke writ large. Let’s make him walk funny, Franco could hear the conoids say, like a goat, which he isn’t, this mild descendent of the plains. Franco suddenly felt bad about what he had done to the ants that morning, but really, there was no other choice. Besides, a tumble through space probably did them some good, for what is the point of being an ant if you never find yourself blasted into the ether of your existence?
Franco scolded himself for thinking so much about animals. He really was no expert. He was, after all, a forensic botanist and should confine his thoughts to the vegetal arena, although he knew as well as many others that these lines were not so easily drawn. He liked the word ‘forensic’ and it was this euphony that led him into his present occupation as much as if not more than the nature of the actual work itself. I am botanicus forens, Franco said to himself, using the ersatz Latin that Linnaeus had inaugurated with his binomial taxonomic system, forens botanicus. Franco did not know what the real Latin should be, and in any case it did not matter, for a system the traded happily in einsteinium and californium should not be taken too seriously. After all, what was this all about anyway? He once cut a piece of redwood that very well could have been pine or fir, and that slab of trout looked an awful lot like salmon, the fleshy fillet reminding him analogically to the shaved faces that babies and children found so odd, preferring by far the wispy threads of youth or the hardier wires of advanced age, whatever nature ordained at the moment. In some cases, the wisdom of children was without parallel.