The Final Journals of Dr. Peter Lurneman (Journal II)
By Luke Neima
Acacia falcata — Sabah, Malaysia: growth rate 1.2 inches/day. Bambusa Vulgaris — Burma: growth rate up to 3 ft/day. Both greatly overshadowed by the tree I witnessed early this morning, just under the waters of the stream beside my encampment. A v. v. exciting discovery. Could distinguish the trunk's growth w/naked eye. Rate tbd, returned to camp only for equipment.
Am astounded by this finding. In the course of my life I have met several times with ambiguities in already recorded species, but I have never observed anything akin to this. The tree seems to be a species of quebracho, sprouting out of the centre of the stream’s meander. The tree has, since yesterday, breached the surface of the water and branched. I intend to ascertain how far this finding corresponds with the authorized generic characters of the quebracho, and how far it may be necessary to remodel these characters in accordance. Can barely permit myself the time to write this down.
Yesterday I spent many long hours by the river in the full heat of the day, recording the tree’s rate of growth, taking clippings and making sketches. When I returned to camp I was overcome by a spell of dizziness, which I believe to be a symptom of heatstroke. I am badly burnt, and have neglected to bring an adequate supply of sun lotion.
This morning I searched around the camp for something with which to shield myself from the sun. I collected several large palm leaves, and attempted to use mud from the riverbanks to paste them onto my reddened face.
Realising it would be much easier to simply coat myself in the mud, I stripped down and began rolling in it, but I was suddenly seized by a sensation of guilt. I felt as if I was being observed. I knew that I was, of course, entirely alone, and after some time I continued. I could not help but laugh. I feel much better this evening, both in body and in spirit.
As I was working this afternoon, a small, light blue bird, not unlike a kingfisher, fell dead into the stream a few feet away from the river-tree. I waded out into the stream and, as I watched, something sprouted out of the stomach of the fallen animal. Over the course of the day the sprout began to develop into a small tree, displaying similar features to the hardwood just upstream. An incredible occurrence.
I have had a severe cramp in my left hand all day, but, puzzlingly, as I write this it seems to have resolved itself. My calf is still swollen and has begun to smell faintly of rotting oranges, but the area around the bite seems to be hardening. I think the mud may be helping.
Someone came into the grove late last night. Pre-occupied by my findings I was not yet asleep at midnight, when I began to hear noises. From my hammock I noticed a solitary figure moving about amongst the mistrals; I suspected that it might be the same man that I had noticed several days ago, following me. I crept out of my hammock and moved slowly out through the trees and into the bush before rounding back on him from behind. He was hunched over my rucksack, dark and distracted and fiddling with my things. Even from several feet away I could tell that he was the same man as before. I was sure that if I let him leave the grove he would alert the park authorities. Luckily I had been sleeping with my machete.
It took eleven strokes to remove the head from the body, but he did not put up much of a struggle. It was almost as if he were leaning into the blade of the knife, pushing the nape of his neck upward into each blow. Afterward, I cleaned the machete and covered the body with fallen mistral leaves.
The sudden onset of light, the sound of the water’s movement, the intervals between insects on my skin — all of these felt simultaneously exaggerated and flattened this morning. There is an unusual constriction in my chest, and a numbness overlaying my thoughts. I feel a profound lack, and I attribute it everywhere. It distracts me from even the most prosaic considerations, weighing the mind down and divorcing thought from thinker. Though I spent several hours by the stream I was only able to make a few cursory notations. So much detail has been lost, even in one day.
Three more trees have sprouted since my last entry. The five of them are in a quincunxial arrangement, describing a symmetrical X at the bend of the river. The central tree and the two on the inside of the meander have grown rapidly: the first has had a comfortable radiation in its growth and a due expansion of its branches, and the second and third have also branched, although they remain inwardly bare. These three overshadow the outer two trees, which remain under the surface of the water.
I exult on the bank of the river, watching the trees. The arundinaceous stemmed Flagellaria abounds, and the day is like a bottomless jar of fresh water, quenching a thirst that I have carried within me since my earliest youth. I barely feel the heat, I do not get hungry and I find myself laughing, occasionally, out of the simple pleasure of being.
My moods have been swinging wildly. Today I spent the entire day immobile in my hammock, transfixed by recollections of the past. Fragments of my memory moved parallactically amongst themselves – the image of an uncle mussing autumn leaves into my hair in the garden outside my family home, telling me everything would be alright; a girl chasing me around college, trying to kiss me with a cheap lipstick that made my lips burn and swell; a funeral, where I lean over a casket and recognize a face within, but as I look the face alters, the features flickering in an electrostatic interchange of sex, nose length, age, taking the shape of everyone I have ever known.
My supplies run low, but I find myself unconcerned. Instead, I recall seeing my wife for the first time, how I looked at her spots and thought that she resembled a long, thin sapling covered with aphids. She was a serious, efficient woman - and we fell in love so quickly. Several years after we married a small bulbous mound appeared just to the left of her nose. She was distraught, but I found it oddly attractive, and told her so. It grew. For a while I called it her beauty spot, and I would kiss it while we made love, treating it like a third nipple. Another appeared, slightly below her right temple, and then another on the ridge of her forehead, pushing slowly up, half-covered by her hairline. They were all so slight and so touching when they first arrived, but they grew and grew, and when they reached maturity they sprouted hairs. I didn’t mind.
When she died I was working, looking through a microscope at the long fibrous hairs on the bark of an ericaceae. It was one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen. The news of her death shocked me; I let the phone drop from my hand and sank down into the seat by my desk. I struggled to breathe. After some time I looked into the microscope again, and it was as if she were still alive, as if nothing had happened. The ericaceae was still so intensely beautiful.
Each time I go out into the field it is as if I have been granted a reprieve from my grief. When I put my face to the window in the airplane, things are as they should be. And so I am surprised at where my thoughts have led me today. Surprised and slightly disturbed.