by Angela Kempe
I looked out upon the Redwood forest and remembered a long time ago, when while standing still, I could listen to the low song of the woods. Small birds lifting off branches. Flies and mosquitos dancing next to the bank of the creak bed. A small squirrel scurrying up the Redwood bark. I used to smile to myself. Watch a butterfly flutter off. Try to follow it for a while before it drifted too far from the trail and disappeared into the ferns down the basin.
Then, came February and a slew of scientists. Word was the insects were disappearing. That’s when I began listening even harder, not only for the tiny songs of my friends, but the occasional conversation of the unknowing new visitors who roamed the forest in secret with their cumbersome equipment.
“Did you get that sample?”
“Down 60% from last week.”
And their voices faded away.
A part of me had noticed before, but I hadn’t wanted to see. There weren’t as many squirrels and the trees were looking sick. The birds had gone somewhere else. I thought it strange, but went about my day. And then I was standing there and it couldn’t be ignored any longer. The forest was silent.
I always asked myself the same question.
“Is this the end of them?”
Then I’d sit in the muddy edge of the creak and thumb through the cool earth. Try and find one, I thought. Just one and you’ll know it’s still okay.
It took me longer and it took the scientist longer, too. And months went by, and we were both worried as the loud symphony of the forest diminished. I searched for my butterfly. I walked all day long. And finally as the sun began to set, I knew that she had gone.
So, I climbed to the top of the mountain where the trees still stretched higher. I don’t remember if I cried, but I stood there until I was in the dark. I didn’t care. I wanted to know if the night would make its sweet sound again; That rhythmic song of insects dancing.
Ten years passed and the birds flew off. The lab left a few scientists behind to drink whiskey and smoke and crawl up into their tent with their heavy equipment most days around four o-clock. And here we were all in one place, a generation lost in space, waiting for a murmur or a hum. And sometimes I’d see the flames of their camp, climbing high into the sky, crackling fireworks in the silent PM.
Or I’d meet one on the trail.
“Did you find one?” I’d ask.
But he’d just turn away.
And I wondered if the insects knew. When the forest died, I wondered who. What Father, Son, or Holy Ghost, would let the sound of the forest choke? I joined the scientists and had a smoke.
*Inspired by Don McLean’s “American Pie” and the vanishing insects