The Poison Pie Publishing House presents:
The Ornithological Collection of Uwetsiageyv
(link to main page of novel)
December 1, 2016
Farewell, Alexei Nilych Kirillov
“Today is the first day of the last month of the year,” the voice of giant said to the crow girl.
Uwetsiageyv had given no thought to calendars since her arrival in the Sea of Birds. Although the flora was largely composed of deciduous trees, the climate seemed impervious to the change of seasons. The islands had seemed caught in an endless late spring or early summer. She accepted an incomplete understanding of the interaction between the imposition of a perennial summer with not only the trees but the birds as well, who in other places also relied on the annual cycle. She did not attempt to extrapolate the adjustments made to their logistics of living in order to accommodate a timeless stasis.
“The snow is likely falling on the roof of my orphanage,” said the crow girl.
“I hear each flake accumulate on the roof tiles,” agreed the giant.
Uwetsiageyv assumed the giant spoke in hyperbole but she could not be certain. “They will hang a wreath made of evergreen twigs and adorned with holly berries on the front door. If a child is caught touching it, they will lose their outdoor privileges for the rest of the holiday season.”
The giant did not like the tone of the conversation that had followed her innocent remark. With no attempt at subtlety, she changed the course of the discussion. “What are you going to do about the prophecy?”
The crow girl smiled. She did not know precisely where to direct the expression, for the voice of giant did not reside within a specific spot but seemed rather to surround her, more or less like a breeze. “What a funny thing to ask; I was just thinking the same thing myself.”
She looked up at the owl in the beech tree but discovered that he had left, in perfect silence, leaving her alone with Kawoladesgv.
“Maybe, I will put the prophecy in a headlock until it falls asleep,” she said.
The voice of the giant sounded wordlessly through the high branches.
“I have to show it that I am master of my own destiny. I have to exercise my free will.” She said the words without any great enthusiasm.
“Do you have to?” asked the giant.
“The problem is,” said Uwetsiageyv, “I don’t know exactly where the prophecy ends and free will begins. It all seems sort of muddled together.”
“I see,” said the voice of the giant. “What a problem to have.”
Uwetsiageyv could not decide whether, by these words, Kawoladesgv intended to convey sympathy or sarcasm or some combination of the two.
“I’ll tell you what I have always thought about this,” said the voice of the giant. “The desire to confirm one’s free will is most ardently felt only at the extremes. If one is imprisoned or subject to the dominion of another, the need for free will is practical and is felt keenly. If, at the other end of the spectrum, one is left entirely to one’s own devices, then one again feels drawn to exercise free will in order to define a role for oneself within the surrounding reality.”
These thoughts resonated with the crow girl though she could not herself have articulated them so clearly. “So what is one to do?”
“Find a place in the middle,” advised the voice of the giant, “not too close to either extreme, where the colors from the palette of prophecies and free will are blended in strokes that possess their own appeal.”
The crow girl considered the words of the giant for some time. Eventually, in a tone of amazement, Uwetsiageyv exclaimed, “That’s exactly where I am!”
“How lucky you are to have recognized this!” agreed the giant with similar zeal.
December 2, 2016
The sun rose over the Island of Great Horned Owls just as it did over all the other islands in the Sea of Birds. Some days passed, which are not explicitly recounted here. The crow girl and the voice of the giant came to a mutual understanding of each other. This understanding differed from that between Uwetsiageyv and Old Magpie, because those two bird girls could be considered, in a broad sense, reflections of each other at different points in their lives. No such comparison could be made with the voice of the giant, who preferred to spend most of her time dwelling as an abstraction in the distant Realm of Abstractions. For all her oddities, Uwetsiageyv was a creature of flesh and blood.
“I won’t hear you anymore when I leave this island,” Uwetsiageyv said to Kawoladesgv.
“Sadly, no,” answered the voice. “My refrain won’t mean anything to you, now that we have met.”
Feeling sentimental, Uwetsiageyv asked, “Can you say it one more time before I go?”
The giant obliged her. “Uwetsiageyv, come to me, my child. I have been waiting a long time.”
The crow girl breathed deeply the air that carried the voice, then exhaled. She felt a lightness as if she might float a few inches above the ground, without any beating of her wings.
In a hypnotic whisper, the voice of the giant said, “Ten thousand days will pass before you think of me again. Until then, the only voice you will recall from this isle is the stuttered song of the great horned owl. You will attribute whatever insight you have gleaned while here to the proverbial wisdom of the owl. You will find a great joy in your breast, over-flowing. Ten thousand things will pass before you—beasts, men, trees, birds—all of them will evoke an outpouring of joy. That the world is filled with causes for both misery and joy cannot be disputed, but in you, child, nature has chosen henceforth to err on the side of joy. Let there be no reservation within you in this dispensation. Let there be no need for rationale or justification. Let the sensation spill forth naturally and unceasingly. Uwetsiageyv, Uwetsiageyv, this is my gift to you.”
Kawoladesgv carried the sleeping child as high into the air as her giant stature would permit. She gently released her, wings outspread, on a steady current. When the crow girl awoke, she thought to herself, “I must have fallen asleep.” The thought did not provoke any special worry. The careful reader will recall that there was precedent for her falling asleep during flight. When she had left Chickadee Island in the company of Kònèy & Chwèt, she had dreamt of the leviathan that had nearly snatched the crow from the sky. How could such an unlikely event be forgotten?
Chapter 37. Tyto alba
December 5, 2016
A Rite of Courtship
Flying, as if without memory, Uwetsiageyv coasted high above the waters of the Sea of Birds. She no longer heard any voice carried on the wind nor did she seek for it. A different song carried on the wavelength of interstellar light penetrated her outstretched wings. Ageless cosmic radiation plummeted through her, leaving her none the wiser, as it does to the best of us.
At night an island appeared beneath her. Strangely, she could not see it but she knew it to be there. Perhaps her ears detected a subtle change in the undulation of the waves as the sea bed grew shallower in the vicinity of the island. In any case, the crow girl descended from the heights, just as surely as if a voice had summoned her.
This island, like all those she had encountered in the Land of Giants, bore a suspicious similarity to a petrified giant. However, unlike other islands, this larger mass of land contained another stone figure, as if she were kneeling and upon her lap lay the head of a fallen doe, its body extending out into a second isle connected to the first only by the isthmus of the neck. The four legs of the deer extended out in distinct peninsulas into the sea. Between them the waters were shallow and lined with white sand. Had Uwetsiageyv arrived during the day, she could not have helped but to observe the sparkling turquoise of these coves.
Before setting foot on the island, Uwetsiageyv studied the manner in which the giant woman cradled the giant deer. The crow girl wanted to believe in a fable in which the young maiden, gathering herbs in the woods, came upon an injured deer and offered it succor. However, an alternate, uninvited interpretation entered her mind and pushed all other perspectives to the background. In this version, a prospective suitor to the young maiden demonstrated his intentions by presenting to her a gift, a deer, slain by his own hand. If the woman prepared the deer she accepted his overture and a wedding ceremony would follow. By declining the deer, she also made clear her intentions to the suitor.
Uwetsiageyv studied the face of the giant, veiled beneath a canopy of leaves. She seemed to have been caught in the act of deciding what to do with the deer. There was a tenderness in her posture and the way her hands rested along the jawline of the doe, though it was already dead. The maiden’s answer was forever postponed.
A rasping call interrupted the thoughts of the crow girl. She followed the sound to the beach, which curved along the belly of the deer. There she found Chwèt standing, as still as a statue, on the sand.
He did not move as her wings fluttered, depositing her beside him, though he could not possibly have remained unaware of the disturbance of the air so near to him.
Because the owl would not speak to her, Uwetsiageyv took it upon herself to initiate the greeting, though it did not exactly seem her place to do so. “Welcome,” she said, “to the Island of Barn Owls.”
The owl could not entirely stifle a snigger. It was not so much that he found her words to be absurd as it was the experience of a fondness that quite unexpectedly surged up within him at the reappearance of the crow girl.
December 6, 2016
A Belated Introduction
“Chwèt,” said the crow girl to the owl, “may I call you Chwèt?” Throughout their acquaintance, she had never been formally introduced to the owl.
“You may,” said the owl. His head rotated smoothly to the side so that he faced Uwetsiageyv. “Where is your friend, Mr. R. A. Peach?”
Uwetsiageyv wondered if this question served as a remonstration since it was the dwarf who had revealed the owl’s name to her. “He is waiting at the table of reconciliation for the giant to arrive.”
The owl nodded. “You have fulfilled the prophecy then.”
Such a declaration came as quite a shock to Uwetsiageyv, who had up to that point considered the fulfillment of the prophecy a nebulous goal always dwelling somewhere in the future. “I am not sure about that,” she protested tentatively. Needing more time for thought, she changed the subject, “Where is Kònèy?”
“You will find him on the next island.”
In the moments that followed, the silence between them was disturbed only by the rhythm of the waves against the shore. The absence of the native owls seemed conspicuous. Uwetsiageyv turned to the tree line behind her. “Where are the barn owls?”
“I am the only one that remains,” acknowledged the owl.
“What happened to them all?”
“Some kind of avian flu or another highly pathogenic virus swept through the island, decimating our population. Those few that remained left rather than risk continued exposure.” The owl returned his gaze to the dark horizon of the sea.
“I’m sorry,” said Uwetsiageyv. “Why didn’t you go with them?”
“They selected me to scour the islands for a cure.”
“Did you find one?”
“But you told me that you were searching for the same thing that everyone else was.”
“I am—a way to come to a comfortable arrangement with the terms of our existence.”
“Usually, people think of doing that on more philosophical terms.”
“I suppose,” agreed the owl doubtfully.
The crow girl returned her attention to the silent tree line. “Maybe there are still a few barn owls here. Maybe some returned while you were out searching.”
“They will not come back until the island is cured,” said the owl with finality.
“Where did the virus come from?”
The owl sighed, as if considering a decision of great gravity. “The crows concocted it in their laboratories and in a fit of pique unleashed it upon us.”
“They would never do that!” Uwetsiageyv exclaimed. She hurriedly explained to the owl that viruses arose naturally. They were not always cultivated with ill intent. Her words seemed to have no effect on the imperturbable owl. “What proof do you have?” she demanded.
“I have traveled to many islands in the company of the last crow. You would do better to direct your question to him.”
December 7, 2016
An Historical Dispute
Chwèt guided Uwetsiageyv up the slope of the deer’s ribcage toward the interior of the island. Many species of deciduous trees appeared in the forest but in each place where a grand, white oak grew, a wide berth had been given. The owl led Uwetsiageyv through several such clearings until they reached a ridge, which they followed to the neck of the deer, over its head and onto the rim of the lap of the giant. Their ascent up the central mountain of the island followed the reverse path of a stream.
At one point the pair entered a copse of river birch, their pinkish-white bark peeling away in papery sheets. Here, with the owl standing silently by, Uwetsiageyv knelt and drank from the stream.
Once they had resumed their progress, Uwetsiageyv could no longer contain herself. “There must be some mistake,” she said to the owl.
“A mistake of what kind?”
“About the sickness that claimed your kin. What possible reason could the crows have for doing such a thing?”
“I can think of many,” answered the owl. “Our flocks didn’t get along. Our islands were placed too close to each other. We did not enjoy their black silhouettes darkening our horizons. They envied the pleasing geometry and snow white feathers of our circular faces. They, as crows, were born to a low station and bore their resentment out on any who crossed their path.”
Uwetsiageyv listened to this litany. In reciting it, the owl could not hide from her his own sense of grievance. A suspicion grew that the whole story had not been revealed to her. “Did the owls do something to provoke the crows?”
“Do you suppose the annihilation of a species is predicated on a logical rationale?”
Uwetsiageyv frowned, then asked the question again. “So what did you do?”
The owl paused in his ascent and turned his body to face the girl. “If you ask the crow, as I already instructed you to do, he will tell you that we released a crow-smiting virus of our own first.”
“Did you?” Uwetsiageyv asked alarmed. She dimly recalled the fantasy of the rock-throwing bird boys as recounted by the scarlet tanager.
“An historical dispute regarding the timing persists to this day.”
Uwetsiageyv quietly processed this sentence, before repeating it to herself.
The owl added, “There is even one strain of thought, largely discredited, which insists that there was only one strain, which mutated into two, adversely affecting both flocks. This line of investigation insists that it is impossible to unravel which of the two groups, both of whom worked feverishly toward the eradication of the other, actually bred the organism that eventually ran amok and decimated the populations of both crow and owl.”
December 8, 2016
A Retroactive Prophecy
Donning the hat of the skeptic, Uwetsiageyv said, “It’s not an air-tight case.”
“Most assuredly, it is not,” agreed the owl.
Both crow girl and the owl recognized the important role of ambiguity. That such a cataclysmic spectacle should be riddled with uncertainty seemed not only appropriate but essential.
Uwetsiageyv could not yet conceive of the next step for the owl. Clearly, there were no other barn owls on this island. “You followed the dwarf and me back to the Land of Giants. Why?”
“We had been out so long searching, we had forgotten the way home.”
Uwetsiageyv suspected that the owl had intentionally misconstrued her question.
The sun peered between the foliage above them. They moved from the river birches to a spot beneath the white oak, where they were dappled in sunlight.
“But why come back here?” pressed the crow girl.
“We searched all the other islands,” said the owl. “There was nowhere else to look.”
“But what can you find here?”
“I’ve found you,” said the owl pointedly.
“The much prophesied maiden of reconciliation.”
“That’s over-stating things, I’m afraid,” said the crow girl.
“Did you not lead the dwarf to the table to make peace with the giant in defiance of an ancient, hereditary enmity?”
“I did,” Uwetsiageyv admitted, “but as far as I know the giant hasn’t shown up yet.”
“It’s only a matter of time,” the owl assured her.
Uwetsiageyv didn’t know what else to say so she asked, “Are you still angry with the crow?”
“It seems that I should be,” said the owl.
“But his suffering is no less than your own,” she reminded him.
The owl nodded.
“And in traveling the Sea of Birds in his company, you have developed an understanding of him, perhaps even an affection for him.”
“That’s taking it a tad too far,” protested the owl.
“The crow is a black mirror to your white face.”
“You have a way with words,” said the owl in a complimentary tone.
“One day,” prophesied Uwetsiageyv, “you and he shall fly the heavens in the other’s company and the only peace each shall know is what you share with the other.”
The owl emitted a raspy laugh, for this is exactly as it had transpired.
December 9, 2016
Iterations of a Message
Although her time on the largely deserted Island of Barn Owls had been brief, Uwetsiageyv sensed that the hour to depart was fast approaching.
“Would you like me to relay a message to the crow for you?” she inquired, full of hope.
The owl considered the invitation for some time, delaying her departure. For much of the evening, his answer seemed imminent but failed to arrive. He wandered listlessly beneath the canopy of the forest with Uwetsiageyv in tow. In moonlight, he eventually said to her, “It is better to identify a tangible, fallible foe than to accuse all of nature of being set against us.”
Uwetsiageyv digested the owl’s words only briefly before replying, “That is a terrible message. There is no way I am going to tell that to the crow. Think of something else.”
His initial attempt rejected, the owl spent well past the midnight considering a replacement. Unsure of its reception, he sidled up to Uwetsiageyv and whispered it in her ear.
She backed up a step and shouted, “Even worse!” It was such a pathetic suggestion that I, as narrator, refuse to perpetuate the sentiment by recording it in print.
A third time the owl tried to compose a message to the crow. When he realized privately that he was not proceeding along the appropriate direction, he did what he should have done at the beginning and asked the crow girl for help.
She readily agreed. “How about this? ‘I had a pleasant time traveling the Sea of Birds with you. I hope you are doing well. We should consider resuming our journey into lands unknown when the urge to travel stirs within you again.’”
“Is that really what you think I should say?” asked the owl.
“Exactly that,” confirmed the crow girl. Her tone left not a shadow of doubt.
“Where would we go?” asked the owl. “We have searched every corner of every island of the Sea of Birds. What allure it may have held is now exhausted.”
“Hmm,” said Uwetsiageyv, racking her imagination, “I hear the Fen of Insects is lovely this time of year. If not that, perhaps the Reef of Invertebrates?”
The owl was still considering prospective destinations when he bid Uwetsiageyv farewell.
“Good luck,” said the owl.
With a heave of her great, black wings, Uwetsiageyv rose. It was with some reluctance that she left a piece of herself on this island, with its bleak history and its dim future. From the air she betrayed nothing but said, “When you are traveling again, come visit my library.” She then quickly ascended and disappeared into what little darkness remained before the arrival of another dawn.
Chapter 38. Corvus brachyrhynchos
December 12, 2016
An Unknown Form
Uwetsiageyv was drawn to a mass of fog settled at a stationary point on the endless sea. The area of the fog bank was more than sufficient to cover a giant or a giant-sized island. The crow girl suspected that it was just such a feature, upon which the fog had snagged.
It was still early morning. Soon, she imagined, the rising sun would burn off the haze, but she chose not to circle overhead and await the gradual unveiling of the giant. So sure was Uwetsiageyv that she would find a place to rest within the fog, she coasted down into the cloud.
Even so, the abrupt appearance of the leafless, bony crown of a hemlock tree, taller than its peers, surprised her, causing her to jerk upward. She carefully skimmed above the forest canopy, sometimes losing sight of it completely in the mist, but often able to detect its general presence by a patch of leafy green here and there. Engulfed in the silent haze, she keenly felt the absence of all birdsong.
She followed the contours of the hidden island downward until the canopy appeared to vanish, at which point she suspected she had reached the edge of the island.
She landed on the beach in very low spirits. She could not help but think that the crow had summoned the fog in an attempt to hide himself from her. She felt most unwelcome. Here the fog was so dense that, as she stood halfway between the tree line and the shore, she could see neither, though she heard the soft pulse of the surf.
“Kònèy,” she called into the unseen depths of the fog. “It is I, Uwetsiageyv. I am here. Come out!”
Although she had yet to discover any evidence to support her conviction, she had little doubt that she now stood upon the Island of American Crows.
December 13, 2016
Uwetsiageyv found the crow standing alone in the fog. Contrary to her expectation, the haze had not lifted with the sun. The crow appeared to her as a dark patch in the mist.
“You are hiding,” she said by way of greeting and immediately regretted it.
“I have nothing to hide,” insisted the crow, who seemed not at all surprised by her presence.
She could not deny that hearing again the dissonant voice of the crow pleased her to no end. “I have just arrived from the Island of Barn Owls.”
“Did you find it pleasant there?” he asked solicitously.
“I enjoyed the company of the solitary resident,” Uwetsiageyv replied.
“Oh,” said the crow. “I shall endeavor to out-do his hospitality.” With these words, the crow led her into the forest, in which she found from below the same mixture of deciduous trees and hemlocks that she had earlier observed from above. She noticed all of the hemlocks, without exception, had lost their small, flat needles. Clearly, a blight had struck this island.
As if reading her thoughts, the crow spoke without pausing or turning to face her. “You see the work of the hemlock woolly adelgid.”
Devoid of foliage and appearing and disappearing with each step in the fog, the trees provided the island with a standing, skeletal army, cloaked in a ghostly camouflage. Uwetsiageyv followed the crow up the slope of the mountain. Once she said to the crow, “When I arrived, I could not see what sort of giant made up this island, for the fog.”
The crow ignored her statement, as if any resemblance between the shape of the islands and fallen giants had never registered with him.
Eventually the crow led Uwetsiageyv through a high portion of the forest entirely composed of dead hemlocks. He passed through it and descended into a narrow gap between protruding rocks, covered completely by a lush moss, which was wet to the touch as if a sponge, saturated by the surrounding humidity. The rock passage led to a grotto, where the air was close and the floor lay perhaps twenty feet lower than the rest of the forest. But for the dense fog, the sky would have been clearly visible, for the hemlocks no longer provided shade.
To be sure, the crow had brought the maiden to a hidden sanctuary. He gestured to a small, metal urn, next to a shallow pool, fed by rain. She took it and scooped clear water from the pool.
She understood this was a place devoted to ritual, though good or ill she could not know. Her black companion provided no unambiguous context. Here, each action seemed endowed with unknown significance. She drank the water willingly though it seemed equally likely to poison as to replenish.
The crow watched her with his inscrutable, penetrating gaze.
“Are you ready?” he asked her.
“To record the Book of Crows?” she asked.
“Hardly!” cawed the crow and laughed harshly.
“I offer only an appendix, a piece of apocrypha at best tangentially related to your task.”
December 14, 2016
A Private Admission
At the bidding of Uwetsiageyv, the crow first described the history between the crows and the barn owls. As if reciting from a textbook of ancient records, the crow dispassionately recounted how an epidemic swept through both islands. He completely agreed with the earlier account of the owl that the origin of the virus was not definitively known. The crow seemed as willing to accept the blame for his own kind releasing a biological weapon as he was to attribute the devastation to the owls, or, for that matter to chalk it up to the arrival of a naturally evolved microorganism, carried to this part of the world on unfortunate winds.
“And the grandfather of all crows sent you out to find a cure?” asked Uwetsiageyv, when Kònèy appeared to have said all that he had to say on the matter.
The crow appeared surprised at the words of Uwetsiageyv.
She explained, “I heard you say such a thing to the owl once.”
“You misheard me then,” answered the crow. “It is true that I was selected by the elders to scour the islands, but the object of my search was not a cure.”
“It’s what everyone else is looking for,” Uwetsiageyv reminded him.
“Not the crows,” denied Kònèy.
The pair remained standing in the grotto beneath the cover of fog that blanketed the forest. There, even the rhythm of the surf was muffled. Amidst the imperfect silence, Uwetsiageyv waited for the crow to explain himself.
He observed her expectant face. “I would prefer to say no more.”
“But the Book of Crows,” she protested.
“My appendix...” he corrected her, “there should be no few blank pages at the end of it. Each reader should draw from it not the conclusions that I have drawn but their own. It is useless otherwise.”
“But what does it mean?”
“It means,” said the crow seriously, “that I have testified only in the service of the truth.”
“I want to alter the truth,” confessed Uwetsiageyv, “if it brings no one joy.”
“That’s not the way of the crow,” said the crow to the maiden.
“I am only part crow,” she reminded him.
“And the other part?”
The crow fixed Uwetsiageyv with a stern glare. “Librarians too are committed to the preservation of the truth.”
“Oh!” exclaimed the crow maiden for she had long deliberated over the contradiction between her desires and her obligations. Eventually she conceded, “It seems that I am destined to be a fickle and untrustworthy librarian.”
Only once in her long life did Uwetsiageyv share this admission with another. To other visitors of her library, she allowed them to discover nuances within her collection on their own.
December 15, 2016
Words in Fog
Contrary to her expectations, as the day wore on, the fog did not dissipate. If anything, the density of the fog increased. Perhaps a cold front approached that concentrated the mist in the grotto and other low points of the island. In any case, standing beside Uwetsiageyv, the crow slowly began to disappear.
By mid-afternoon, the crow maiden could no longer perceive his features. The crow appeared as only a dark, ambiguous silhouette.
“Kònèy, what is it that you wanted to tell me?”
“It is both difficult to say and all too easy,” answered the crow obliquely.
“Well,” said the Uwetsiageyv, “the fog has arrived to hide us from each other. Surely, under these circumstances, whatever prohibitions previously prevented you from openly speaking your mind have now been lifted.”
A silence ensued. In the impenetrable mist, Uwetsiageyv wondered more than once if she had been abandoned. However, she had traveled far to reach the Island of American Crows and she had not yet exhausted her patience, which was eventually rewarded. To her surprise, his much anticipated appendix had nothing to do with the history of the crows and the owls, nor even with his personal relationship with Chwèt.
Said the crow lad to the crow maiden, “I struggle on a daily basis with my inner conviction that existence is meaningless. Because I spend so much effort each morning collecting the willpower to put myself into a frame of mind where I can address the mundane tasks before me, I have, to my great consternation and disappointment, little energy left over to devote to the important work of being a good person, committing good deeds and making the world a better place.”
The words emerged bodiless from the mist. The voice seemed muted by the heavy medium through which it traveled. So great was this dampening effect that no aspect of the words emerged beyond the confines of the grotto.
Said the crow maiden to the crow lad, “Would it comfort you if I told you that I sympathize with your plight? Would it do any good to say, ‘I am sorry that you were ever made’?”
A sigh emerged but it was not the crow lad who sighed, at least not alone. He was joined by the fog itself, the carpet of wet, vivid moss on unyielding stone, and the heavy air in the circle of dead hemlocks surrounding them. “I have been waiting a very long time to hear someone, besides myself, say those words to me.”
December 16, 2016
Uwetsiageyv left the grotto, accompanied by only the fog. She continued to speak as if the crow remained a step behind her, present but hidden from view by the dense mist.
“I’m not sure where I will go from here,” she said almost absent-mindedly. “There can be no argument that the Land of Giants has an abundance of appeal. I shall always treasure the friends I made here—the grackles who rode out the storm with me, though they teased me for my fear, the barn swallows who, beneath the boughs of a sycamore tree, described free will and illusion in such fluid terms that it was impossible to distinguish between them, and, not the least, Mr. R. A. Peach, who, even now, is stretched out as long as his form allows on a stone table, dreaming of a violence so perfect that it will cleanse the world of its desire for all further strife.”
“I tell you this,” said the crow maiden to the fog, “all of it was by chance and yet, it could not have been any other way. Soon, I shall farewell you following the customs of the purple martins, who sang to me ‘the dawn song’ at the time of my departure.”
As she recounted these thoughts and more, she descended the mountain, making for the shoreline. The fog did not diminish in intensity.
During the descent, the fog asked here, “Will you do what I could not?”
“And what is that?”
“You know what it is,” said the fog, “but it is a necessary component of the ritual that you say the words to me.”
“I don’t remember them,” admitted Uwetsiageyv. “If you say the words, I will recite them after you.”
“I, Uwetsiageyv the crow maiden,” intoned the fog.
“I, Uwetsiageyv the crow maiden,” the girl obediently repeated.
“Pledge to experience the variegated bounty of this world and find a surplus of joy in it.”
“Pledge to experience the variegated bounty of this world and find a surplus of joy in it.”
“I will not only show that joy to others but also will share with them the path by which I found it,” concluded the fog.
“I will not only show that joy to others but also will share with them the path by which I found it,” answered the girl.
“There, it is done,” announced the fog. Relief was evident in the tone of its disembodied voice.
“Silly crow, I have cast the spell only to please you,” said the maiden. “Even were I of a different mind, there is no other purpose my library can come to achieve.”
V. A Closing
1 chapter × 3 parts/chapter = 3 parts
Chapter 39. Visiting Hours
December 19, 2016
Those patrons who have visited the library of Uwetsiageyv describe it in preternatural terms. The architecture of the edifice is completely rendered in the classical arboreal tradition. The institution, being equal parts conventional library and aviary, possesses wide spaces open to the skies above.
Standing in one of the many clearings, a visitor experiences the reality of the declaration the crow girl first made to the scarlet tanager on the Island of Mourning Doves, “In my library, each book is a bird and each bird is a book.”
They fly about the visitors. Some glide with an agile grace and others flap about with an ungainly stroke. Their songs are composed of passages found within themselves. Some are pleasing to the ear while others strike a discordant note.
So meticulously constructed is the library of the crow maiden that when one peers up to observe a flocking collection in flight, each bird appears as a silhouette framed in an unnatural sky that resembles more than anything else an astronomical photograph of a distant nebula. Shades of purples lit from within give way to ripples of violet and clouds of fuchsia. Patches of cerulean blue also are said to appear sporadically in the sky but are ephemeral and prove frustratingly difficult to focus upon.
As the head librarian, Uwetsiageyv has chosen not to exclusively loan out books to men and women of the past and future. Rather, she makes her collection accessible to a broad readership, including birds of all kinds. In fact, often times the only visitors to be found in her library are birds. Some, like the owl, diligently study the texts. Others, we mention no names, flit about in a capricious manner and glance only momentarily at the illustrations. In either case, each visitor carries important information back into the natural or urban environment in which they dwell. What happens after that—whether the information impacts the world in a positive way—is beyond the control of a librarian.
Any librarian knows the limits of her power. She can only provide access to knowledge. She cannot shape the manner in which it is used. One bird may sit outside your window and ardently sing its message to you from dawn to dusk yet you may remain oblivious to its good intent. Certainly, in cases of such missed opportunities, is it not an error to lay the blame at the feet of the librarian?
December 20, 2016
Uwetsiageyv has hosted many notable visitors to her library. The most noteworthy are, of course, those who managed to escape the eye of history and are therefore unknown to us, except through the ripples of indirect influence they had on those around them, which have subsequently been propagated through time to create our current reality.
Fellow librarians also traveled to see the wonder of the Ornithological Collection of Uwetsiageyv. Among these was the notorious librarian, Hong Samud, he of the Portable Library, a magnificent construct of his own creation, which contained a single, spiraling hallway lined with an infinite number of portals, one leading to each library in this physics-based reality as well as to libraries in many other realms.
Little is known of Hong Samud other than that he was a swarthy, diminutive man who hailed from a tropical archipelago and who pursued a life as a professional academician in foreign lands until he lost the appetite for such endeavors.
An account of the first visit of Hong Samud to the library of the crow maiden is provided in an unpublished manuscript titled, “The Portable Library of Hong Samud”, held in the vaults of the Poison Pie Publishing House of Knoxville, Tennessee. This manuscript is subtitled, “a novel which grew as a vine grows, guided by an innate, phototactic sensitivity”. From this admittedly paltry shred of evidence, we understand that Hong Samud, like Uwetsiageyv, pursued the light.
I, the narrator, know of Hong Samud only because, once upon a time, I spent empty afternoons wandering around the stacks of the local, university library, where I pored over old texts. In the days of rubber stamps, one could easily determine how many decades had passed since the hands of another patron had disturbed a book. With the advent of electronic checkout, even that information was lost. In the limitless uncertainty that reigned in quiet aisles, I encountered Hong Samud, who had ventured through one of his portals and arrived, by chance he claimed, in my company.
It was he who regaled me with the wonders of a library in which birds and books were indistinguishable. With reverence did he describe the contents of countless, airborne volumes of that fantastic and remote Athenaeum. He spoke with love of the winged librarian, as if she were his own daughter.
I pleaded with him to take me there, but the most I could wring from him was a weak promise that, at the next opportunity, he would mention to the librarian my interest.
Of course, I would not have been able to relate this tale if the kind efforts of Hong Samud on my behalf had not come to fruition.
December 21, 2016
Two Hundred and One, But Who’s Counting?
When I was within the airy chambers of the Ornithological Collection of Uwetsiageyv, I felt infused by the vast accumulation of knowledge, though, I admit that I was overwhelmed and did not make the best of my time there.
The head librarian came out to see me, as she had previously arranged with Hong Samud. In her presence, I at once felt at ease.
She asked me about the birds I had known.
I described them to her as best I was able.
She asked me to reproduce calls and songs I had heard, but I was utterly unable to satisfy her. I shrugged helplessly.
“Conk-la-ree?” she asked, trying to be helpful.
I stared stupidly at her, for I could not understand what she meant. As her gaze became more scrutinizing, I felt compelled to explain to her that, by some crook of genomes or simply chance, my brain was wired in such a way that it had no memory for melody. I could not recall a single birdsong though I had heard them every day. Whatever mechanism others used to register, store and recall the song of birds, I seemed to be totally lacking.
“What are you good for?” she asked me, as if it were only a jest.
I told her that I am good for one thing and one thing only. I like to sit first thing in the morning, before any of the day’s work is begun, and write a little bit about stories that have no beginning and no end and only come into focus for the few moments when I am setting down the words.
This answer seemed to satisfy the crow maiden. She allowed me to browse through her library to my heart’s content, secure in the knowledge that I would retain nothing of the wisdom that passed before my eyes.
Later, in retrospect, I realized that the librarian questioned me so meticulously on my understanding of birds in hopes of discovering some avian element within me. Had she done so, it would have fallen within her purview as director of acquisitions, to salvage that part of me and to add it to her collection. In my obstinate insistence on proclaiming my shortcomings, I prevented any such portion of me from being preserved. Had this same conclusion come to pass by accident rather than through my own efforts I would have been no less disappointed.
Consequently, the only sense I could extract from this visit, was an (unnecessary) validation of an ephemerality that I have not fully come to embrace. Soon! Soon, I will be gone and I mean to make sure that no trace of me shall be left behind, save what birds can intuit.
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