"Vigorously told deceptions and battle scenes." ~Publishers Weekly review of Eolyn

"The characters are at their best when the events engulfing them are at their worst." ~Publishers Weekly review of High Maga

Friday, May 20, 2011

Lookout Creek

AKMAEL SPENT HOURS wading with the girl Eolyn along the river bank, both of them taking care not to wander too deep into the swift current. The elusive rainbow snail never appeared but many other creatures danced in the water for their entertainment. Large silver fish jumped over the deeper rapids, their strong bodies flashing in the bright spring sun. Darting guppies scattered at their feet and nipped at their toes if they stood still long enough. They found tiny water dragons clinging to the underside of heavy rocks and whirligigs and water beetles filling the still edge of the river with frenetic activity. Bright blue shrimp scuttled along the rocky bottom, and Eolyn caught several to take back home because, as she enthusiastically informed Akmael, they made for an excellent stew. –EOLYN, Chapter 4

Last summer, I wrote a brief post entitled Rivers of Destiny in which I talked about the forest rivers of Costa Rica, and how they inspired the scene in Chapter 4 of my novel where Eolyn and Akmael meet for the first time. I was reminded of that scene, once again, while visiting the third site for the Long-Term Ecological Reflections Program at Andrews Forest.

Lookout Creek runs just behind Andrews Forest Station. It’s a broad (about 10m wide) expanse of crystalline water that in Costa Rica would qualify as a river. In returning to this site, I wasn’t entirely sure whether Tim Fox – who had shown us the reflection plots on our first day here – meant for the reflection to be completed right on the banks of the creek, or just off the banks underneath the forest canopy. In the end, I decided not to worry about this detail. Very unscientific of me, but really one cannot be near a stream without descending to the stream. So no matter where I started the reflection, I would have ended it in the same place: on a dry rock under the warm midday sun, watching the water flow like liquid quartz over rocks bearing earthen shades of brick, jade, rust and clay; marveling at how the water captured the sun’s light in effervescent streams of liquid fire.

The breeze was cool and unobtrusive, flowing downstream like the water. Tim Fox has told me there are studies now of “air sheds”, the movement of air masses along these ravines throughout Andrews Forest. Air, unlike water, will change the direction of its flow, moving downstream during certain periods of the diurnal cycle (usually at night, when air masses cool and grow heavier) and upstream during other periods (usually during the day, when the sun warms the air and draws it back up hill).

Flying insects were out in abundance, bright points of white against the azure sky. At the very tops of the tallest firs, we could see long strands of silk being released by spiders taking advantage of the wind currents to float toward new (and hopefully productive) hunting grounds.

The community of plants that thrive on the rocky silt banks closest to the water are very different from the towering conifers perched on the higher banks. Young stands of alder dominate, their bark smooth and thin, colored dark gray and mottled with ivory patches of lichen. In some cases, the bark was actually a deep jade green, an almost sure sign that the trunk retains some photosynthetic capacity. Which I thought was way cool.

Horse tail plants (Equitaceae) – another one of my favorite families -- were also very common. These are living fossils that once dominated the forests of the late Paleozoic. (That’s over 250 million years ago for those of you who, like me, can never keep those darned geological eras straight.) They are relatives of the ancient trees that gave us coal. Horse tails grow in segments that are easily pulled apart and then snapped back together, much to the delight of the destructive child in me. I’m embarrassed to admit I’ve never bothered to find out whether they can survive the trauma of dismemberment, though I would not be surprised if they can. Some plants are very hardy that way. The tropical family Piperaceae (which gives us black pepper) regularly drops pieces of itself onto the forest floor, where they take root and grow into a whole new plant.

Now wouldn’t that be a need talent to have?

I suppose it’s no accident that Eolyn and Akmael’s first encounter with each other was along the banks of the Tarba River in the South Woods. Forest streams will always be a meeting place for me – a place where the sun breaks through the dense cover of trees and mingles freely with earth and water along a thin corridor of open air. With the forest canopy held at bay, very little can hide here (though the cleverest creatures always find a way to make themselves invisible). Plants and animals that wouldn’t stand a chance in the forest understory often find a foothold, becoming an integral part of the larger landscape. It is a unique habitat where creatures from different worlds can coexist.

This is the fourth installment of a week long series based on my experiences as a writer-in-residence at Andrews Forest in Oregon. 

Many thanks to Rafael Aguilar Chaves for the photos.