Written By: Richard C. Rutherford
We had no choice. Looking back while running forward, we ran to the trees, ran under their protective canopy. And it was just natural to reach up and grab a low branch, brachiate. An arboreal life is smooth, flowing. Hands callous, arms stretch, the hips sag and the toes point. In the beginning, we had casualties—smashed and punctured. But we are fearless, and we endure—not as individuals with thin membranes, but as a species.
We owned the forest, but missed what we’d lost. We shared our stories and when we grieved we climbed to the treetops and swayed. Looking back, always looking back. Some devised plans to return, to take it all back or die trying. Most of us just rode the canopies, the ground oscillating below. Seeing from above is god-like.
The Europeans eased onto ocean pathways—with compasses, maps and sextants—and sailed to new boundaries. Quest fluttered the flag, promise and mandate built the ships. Raid and plunder the point of tools.
Sighting was a claim. Landing took possession. Maps and property required only specific lines and assignations. Those without ownership had no place to stand. Trespassers: they too inherit the earth.
I loved raising cattle. I’d have chosen the life even without livestock, but then I would have no right to stand in pastures in starlight, holding my arm up, reaching into the Milky Way. When flash floods filled ravines, I ran to the brown, surging, boulder-knocking creek sides to throw rocks in, like I did as a child. When a bank gave way, I marveled. There, on the newly revealed cliff, earthworms and root hairs hung—vulnerable, exposed, attached to nothing.
I know where the golden eagle sits when he eats his housecats. I anticipate the confluence of rain and calendar, take pride in projecting which plants flower, when. I know ants march at my feet carrying seeds for the queen, because I’ve lain where tiny trails are close enough to smell. Tattered male coyotes pace, downwind from the females, catching mice, biding time. Eons pass between heartbeats of rock.
I loved owning these creatures—ear tagging, castrating, weaning, branding, buying and selling—such an uneasy feeling of power.
What if I refused to own them? Would cattle be free?
Airspace. Space is one thing. Air is another. If land and life and water are commodities, why not air molecules? How long will it take to seize possession of the atmosphere?
Her name was Gaiamoon, and she was humble and good, gathering mass in her swirling skirts—dancing in the sun, bliss before the cataclysm.
In 1969 Apollo brought back lunar rocks. She grieved, sobbed: a shuddering inhalation, a fine vibration.
That’s how we sensed her, when she touched her sister again.
So much loss. We felt it in the trees.
About the Author
Richard C Rutherford is previously published in Conclave: A Journal of Character, upcoming in Hypertext, Red Fez, LA Review, The Tishman Review, and Fiction Southeast. He has a large collection of phone-sized stories and essays. He has daughters, so he’s a feminist. He reads Julia Whitty, Kevin Barry, DeLillo.