I staggered and nearly fell, so unaccustomed was I to the firm, unswaying earth.
The grass underfoot was not the ubiquitous gluegrass that the colonists hate. It did not cling to boots and clothing, carrying its mucilaginous spores. This grass was fine and sweet smelling, a pleasure to touch and an invitation to lie upon. I had heard of such grasses from the elders, but had thought them fantasy. The trees seemed even taller from beneath, and the profusion of birdlife and wildflowers was even more breathtaking than the soft grass and immense trees. Standing alone, cut off fully from my fellow man, I broke down into tears at the beauty around me and at the poverty of life as I had previously known it. Beside this, our settlement, our fields, and our silly pretensions to manhood looked pale and drab.
I stayed in that clearing for three days, living without shelter under the canopy of trees. On the first day I washed my clothes and built a bonfire to dry them. Then I bathed again and luxuriated in a clean body, cleanly clothed. I cooked the fish I had caught, but I did not see any large herbivores, nor did I wish to try to kill any of the small creatures around me. Never had I seen such a profusion of life except in the migratory herds during the melt, and I did not wish to subtract as much as one creature from it.
Each night I heard the crooning and the incessant “dilwildi, dilwildi.” I saw the large flying creatures several times at a distance during the day and every night close up in the darkness. I was convinced that they were not birds.
There is a creature called a milik which feeds on the dried seedpods of the siskal. There are never very many of these creatures and they are quite small, but they do provide a certain amount of sport and a bit of fresh meat in the off seasons. In order to snare them, boys often row far upstream on the Lydia during low winter. Six years ago, my father got the idea of attaching a sail to our gig and sailing upstream before the wind, then drifting back down. Since then several others have copied his idea.
Papa never had to contend with tacking against the wind, so his gig had neither keel nor centerboard. The sail itself was a large, clumsy square of sewn up herby hides. After ten weeks at sea I was only too familiar with the gig’s shortcomings.
Refashioning my rigging into a lateen pattern and building sideboards took the better part of three days, after which I decided to hunt. Though I had not wanted to set snares for the smaller creatures, I was not reluctant to face a herby and there were herby tracks in abundance along the inlet.
Herbies are burro-bodied, tapir-headed, earless, and tailless herbivores. They are devoid of defense, depending on their speed, agility, and prodigious birthrate to perpetuate their species. I had seen no large herbivore tracks other than these and no large carnivore tracks at all. This was an oddity, for without carnivores to thin their numbers, the herbies would soon have eaten the island into barrenness.
Several times I had heard the herbys come to drink during the night, so after finishing my work in the gig I slept away the afternoon in preparation for a night hunt.
Of course I could not stalk, but I had discovered their favorite watering place and took my place in the lower branches of a tree waiting in ambush. They came after midnight and I had calculated right in getting myself downwind of them. I killed one cleanly as he stooped to drink. more tomorrow