unNatural Memories – A Collection of Nature Writings

“Who Threw That?” by James Marcoff

A small, grey squirrel sits silently, perched atop a branch, contemplating.  Down below, a lone nut lies nestled atop a pile of freshly fallen leaves, leftover from the previous night’s storm.  At first, I believe the squirrel is a statue, a replica like the ones hunters use to attract deer.  However, I never have heard of a squirrel replica.  I just remember my childhood friend Joe shooting them off of his birdfeeder with a BB gun.  The squirrel remains motionless, gazing at the nut below, with his black, alien-like eyes.

I take a seat under the shade of the large oak tree to escape the summer’s unrelenting scorching heat, and pause to watch the statuesque squirrel.  The squirrel finally moves, and quickly scampers down one level of branches to get a better look at the mouthwatering nut.  The squirrel spots me sitting under the safety of his branches and glares at me intently, trying to assess my threat towards his endeavor.  I pretend to ignore the squirrel, but he knows better.  I am the only obstacle blocking his path to the sweet, delicious nut that he so desires.

A gentle breeze flows through the summer air, causing the beautiful bright green leaves to frolic in the wind.  A solitary leaf blows upwards, grazing the squirrel’s tail.  Startled by the sudden intrusion into his personal space, the squirrel leaps from his spot, and bounds down the trunk of the tree.  When his furry feet are firmly planted on the earth below him, the squirrel sits up on his two hind legs.  He surveys his new immediate surroundings, and now fails to notice my presence sitting by the trunk of the next tree.

The squirrel, detecting no threats, darts for the nut with the speed more becoming of a cheetah.  He pauses in front of the treasure, making sure no one around will steal the large unknown type of nut.  Taking the nut into his two tiny, clawed hands, the squirrel begins to nibble on the hard outer shell with his elongated incisors.

The squirrel’s eyes grow wide, as he pauses in mid-chew to register my presence only a few feet away.  I dare not move, lest I scare away the magnificent animal.  The squirrel was frozen in place, and if not for his previous movement, I would have thought he was the byproduct of a talented taxidermist.  A thought goes through my mind.  When the squirrel was moving, he was frightened and kept moving.  However, when he was still, the squirrel was utterly terrified for his life.

The place where the squirrel and nut just sat became instantly empty, as the stationary objects suddenly become a blur in my vision.  I follow the movement trail up the next tree, and see the squirrel scampering back to the safety of the high branches to escape my predatory intrusion.  Looking far down at me, the squirrel determines he is safe from my menacing clutches and resumes his work on the nut.  He quickly chews what is remaining of his much sought-after meal and drops the seedless carcass down to the ground below.  The emptied nut hits me squarely in my upturned forehead, as I observe the creature.

Before disappearing into the vast, lush green canopy above me, I swear I heard the mischievous little grey squirrel laughing at me from the distance. 

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“Prisoner of Curiosity” by James Marcoff

A young, sandy blonde child,
dressed in nothing but shorts,
runs through the hot coarse sand
towards the grassy marshes below. 

He carries nothing but a red bucket in one hand
and a wooden-handled plastic net in the other. 

His eyes gleam with anticipation and curiosity
as he thinks about all of the strange life forms
awaiting him just a few paces away. 

Trapped and helpless by the tide,
the sea-creatures wait in their temporary prison,
not knowing an unseen threat is lurking
just a few feet above the surface. 

The boy peers down at nature’s magical aquarium
left trapped between the thick aquatic grasses
when the tide was pulled away by an invisible magnet. 

A brown eel slithers through the water
and escapes into an unseen crevice. 

Baby sea bass, only a few inches in length
deflect the sun’s rays from their scales.
To the boy, the fish appear to be glowing
in the already hot mid-day sun,
causing him to squint
as he steps closer to the pool. 

Like a predator with lightning-fast reflexes,
the boy slashes at the salty-water with his net.
The fish quickly dart away from their capture
and the net scoops up nothing but slimy seaweed.

The boy dumps the useless material onto the
snail shell-ridden ground under his feet
and turns his attention back to the tide pool. 

Spotting a lone, orange crab
scampering away from the very spot
the boy just demolished in his previous attempt,
he dips his net back into the pool
and easily scoops up the ugly-yet-beautiful foreign creature
who feebly attempts to claw his way through the white mesh netting. 

With a smile on his face, the boy deposits his bounty into his red bucket
and runs back through the grass towards the hot, dry sand.
Within a few minutes, a makeshift castle is built
with a deep moat surrounding the sandy mound.

The boy carefully grabs the crab out of the bucket by his back,
making sure to keep his small fingers away from the painful pincers,
and places his new friend gently into the lifeless circle of water.
The crab gives into its fate without even a snap of its claws
and quietly guards the castle made of sand like a British royal guard. 

The boy studies the spotted orange alien,
noting that one claw is slightly bigger than the other.
He admires the crab’s helmet-like shell, its black, beady eyes
and the ease of movement becoming of an eight-legged creature. 

The boy’s mother calls to him from behind.
The sun is going down and it is time to go home.
The boy says goodbye to his newly acquired friend,
grabs his red bucket and damaged net,
and runs up the beach towards his mother, disappearing
like the bright-orange ball of fire setting over the horizon. 

Nightfall sets in and brings the tide along with it.
The waves crash against the remains of the castle walls
filling the oxygen deprived moat with much needed water.

The crab allows itself to drift out to sea,
wondering who it will play with tomorrow,
when it once again becomes trapped by the tide,
a prisoner of the pools.

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“A Dead Deer at Watkins Glen” by James Marcoff

I looked into the blank, lifeless eyes of the decaying corpse.  With her dry tongue hanging out of her mouth, her body was twisted and contorted unnaturally along the rocky surface.  A swarm of black flies encompassed the rotting, split flesh, laying their eggs inside of the doe’s gapingly open wounds.  Laid out like a welcome mat, the deer’s body sat at the foot of the mountain, silently reaching out to each visitor with its wordless warnings of haste.  “Look what happened to me”, the deer’s departed spirit mocked.

Deer were typically graceful animals.  However this particular one had fallen from a rocky ledge hundreds of feet above the ground where she met her ultimate demise.  I wondered what made this once beautiful and stunning creature plummet to its death.  Was she being chased by a predator in the night and neglected to notice the precipice in front of her path, or did she just realize the futility of her own existence and decided to leap to her death?

I pondered these questions as I began my journey up the primitive stone stairs of the wet gorge.  I traversed up the waterfall-littered majestic mountainside, soaking in the utter sense of beauty emanating from my surroundings.  The farther I climbed, grey was replaced with green, as the lush vegetation overcame the cement and gravel surroundings behind me.  Flowers blooming every color of the rainbow encircled my field of vision, and a small bird chirped in the distance.  I could hear the sounds coming from the approaching waterfall, but I could still not get the deer’s morose gaze out of my mind’s eye.

I approached the cascading waterfall and stuck out my hand to feel the enormous force of the falling water, the resulting splash drenching me from head to toe.  I didn’t mind, it was a hot day and I would soon dry off.  I paused under the waterfall and reflected for a moment.  I stuck my head out over the ledge and looked halfway down the gorge towards the accumulating pool below.  The water falling from above was falling so fast and hard that it actually bounced on the surface down below before turning to mist.  I wondered to myself if the deer had bounced when it too had hit the ground from such a height.  I pressed onwards.

A few hours later, I reached the top of the mountain.  When I finally reached the end of my journey, I sat down on a rock and took in the miles of scenic landscape.  No civilization in site; nothing for miles and miles but trees.  The view from up above was indescribable, as the sun began to set on the horizon.  The hard part of my journey was over, but I still felt unfulfilled.  I ventured over to the edge of the mountain and peered down the precipice to where the deer had come to rest eternally.  Her small, lifeless body lay motionless at the bottom, almost looking like a furry, brown rock.  From this perspective, she looked peaceful.  I tripped on a rock and almost fell over the rocky embankment myself.  The deer’s imaginary warning echoed through my head.

It was dusk when I finally arrived back to the foot of the mountain, deciding to take the park’s tram service out of convenience.  Instead of walking directly to my car, I instead decided to pay one more visit to my dear-departed friend.  I half-expected the doe to be gone, her carcass taken away by the park service, but she was still there.  The black, lifeless eyes reflected a flaming orange glow as the sun struggled to stay above the horizon.  Her eyes oozed a thick yellow fluid down the length of her nose, coagulating in a puddle under her open mouth.  The shadowy darkness encroached on the last bit of day light and masked the most grievous of the poor doe’s wounds.  The flies dissipated along with the sun, leaving the precious carcass for another day.

As the darkness settled in, a faint white glow began to form around the deer’s misshapen form.  No one was with me then, and I still to this day do not believe it myself.  The mountainside was illuminated as the doe’s glowing form aligned itself and stood up gracefully.  She looked at me, this time with eyes as bright as the full moon on a clear day, and pranced off into the darkness of the woods.  I was breathless as I took in the unbelievable sight.  The doe’s body was nowhere to be seen.

I walked back to my car in awe and drove home in silence.  Normally I would turn on the radio as I drove, but I was still in shock from the unexplainable experience at nightfall.  I contemplated what other unseen natural wonders were in store for my many journeys ahead into the natural wilderness as I traveled back to the bland neutral colors, the foul rancid smells and the harsh artificial lights of the city.

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“Fountain of Youth” by James Marcoff

As She looked out over the bow of the large, two-story boat, I could have sworn She became a child again.  The effects lasted only momentarily, but in those brief seconds, She was seeing the world through the eyes of a child.  Her eyes grew wide and an enormous smile formed on Her lips like I had never seen.  I’ve never thought about the Fountain of Youth before, but if there was really one, I think I had found it.

When we set out on our adventure into the alien ecosystem, the foreboding clouds hung overhead like an unwanted tarp at a rainy outdoor barbeque.  The bright, warm sun was nowhere to be seen, hiding from our group of whale-watchers like a frightened child.  The wind lapped at our faces, feeling like it was coming directly off of an iceberg, and She huddled against me for some much needed warmth.  I held Her tightly and feverishly rubbed the arms of Her sweatshirt to help increase the heat.

Before the boat had even left the harbor, a pod of frolicking dolphins joined our entourage, riding the wake trailing behind the behemoth of a boat.  The slick grey aquatic mammals kept pace with the foreign machine with ease.  Usually seen as an invader to their territory by other aquatic species, the dolphins almost seemed to be welcoming our group into their habitat with joy and glee.  After a few minutes, the dolphins grew bored from the lack of food being tossed over the side and vanished under the surface.

On the last sliver of land, before the sea enveloped us in a flat, wet landscape of nothingness, a group of harbor seals were laying on the beach.  The fat beachcombers appeared to be sunbathing, just waiting for the sun to announce its presence with bright rays of light and infinite warmth.  The seals remained motionless, seemingly with an infinite reserve of patience that contrasted with the boat’s fidgety passengers.  One of the seals let out a loud grunt as it moved farther up the beach, and the boat continued onward.

After about an hour traversing the lifeless surface of the ocean, the boat’s engine suddenly cut off and strangers began pointing into the dark, bleak distance.  In the thick mist, a lone black dorsal fin penetrated the surface and forcefully spewed sea water into the haze before quickly disappearing back into the abyss.  She only saw the ripples by the time we got to the side of the boat.  Disappointed, we returned to our seats.

Realizing that the creature was not going to resurface again, the boat’s engines came back to life and we ventured further into the landscape-less unknown.  Like a miracle, the clouds suddenly parted and the sun’s warm rays filled the world with an angelic halo.  Previously obscured by the darkness and mist, the ocean teemed with life above the surface.

Directly to our starboard side, a jet black, barnacle-encrusted mother rotated on the surface.  Her black posterior was instantly replaced by its contrasting white anterior.  Her left fin waved to us from only a few feet away.  The calf, almost half the size of the mother, breached the surface with such grace that everyone on the boat gasped in awe.  Before departing, the two magnificent creatures arched their backs and waved one last good-bye with their black and white tails.  The tails stood straight out of the water for just a brief moment before disappearing to the watery world just underneath our feet.

I looked to find out where She was.  In all the excitement, I lost track of Her.  This was Her first experience with the ocean, and I hoped that She didn’t miss the spectacular display.  I saw Her at the bow of the boat, gazing at a humpback that had just emerged on the port side of the stationary flotilla.

Her eyes were as big as a small child’s on Christmas morning.  The smile on Her face was as long as the whales that She was intent on capturing every second of in Her memory.  From this angle, She looked like a kid again.  All of Her problems were left onshore, as She became fascinated with the beautiful giants of the sea. She ran from port to starboard as one whale disappeared and another surfaced.  She really was a child again: innocent, carefree and able to see the true beauty of nature, the true beauty that can’t be glimpsed or felt simply by looking at photographs or watching a documentary.

Not long after the parade of sea-life began, the captain informed us that it was time to head back to shore.  Adulthood rushed back into Her face, along with soon-forgotten memories of the problems awaiting Her on dry land.  If only we could live in the ocean together forever, along with the peaceful and magical creatures of the sea that know not of war, poverty, and discrimination.

We took our seats on the open top deck of the boat as it sped home towards our final destination.  The whales were unrelenting in their mockery as one after another, fluked, frolicked, jumped and breached as we passed them at high speed.  It was too late to stop and marvel at the beauty that was previously hidden behind the veil of fog.  Everyone on the boat was disappointed with the belated emergence of the beasts, and most ignored them as we shot past them like a bullet.  When I looked over at Her, however, there was still a faint trace of smile left on Her face.

Child-like innocence would be forever engrained in my mind, remembering how She looked when She saw the first whale.  I truly had found the Fountain of Youth and it was hidden all around us the whole time.

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“Waiting for AAA in the Desert” by James Marcoff

Stuck in the hot
sweltering Sun,
the pavement bakes
my skin
like a loaf of sourdough bread

A vulture perches itself
on the hood of my car.
We stare into each other’s eyes.
He mocks me with his squawk.
The grim reaper of the
Animal Kingdom

I try to lick my
dry, cracked lips,
but the only moisture
left in my body
pools around my
forehead and underarms
in a salty, smelly mess.

I can see the
wavy Horizon
laughing at me
and the elephant on my shoulder.

Why did my car choose this
barren Wasteland
as the place of its
Death?

I struggle for the handle
The searing hot metal
burns my flesh.

The outside air
seems even stickier
now that I am out of the
sweatbox on wheels.

Are those flashing yellow lights
a mere illusion?
Or is it my vehicular savior?

———————————————————————————————————————————–

“The Business of Ferrets” by James Marcoff

Rolling like two alligators, the ferrets grab each other by the scruff of the neck and flip each other over.  One is a sable ferret, sporting a slick dark brown, tan and white coat.  The other ferret is an albino, white all over, and stares at his playmate through his blood red eyes.  The sable ferret backs up into a corner, hissing at his playmate and puffing herself up to look more menacing than she really is.  She is frightened at the sudden noise heard across the distance, but soon resumes her normally playful stance.  In response to her sudden change in expressions, the albino ferret puffs out only his tail, mimicking a bottle brush to display his excitement and ignoring the display of fright.  Realizing there is no threat, the two ferrets resume chasing each other around in circles.

The ferrets begin to chirp, as if they had just swallowed a live canary, and begin dancing in fits of joy.  They jump around from side to side, flipping themselves on the ground and bouncing off any object that gets in their way.  If ferrets could smile, these two would have grins from ear to ear.  They exude intense energy and happiness with each bounce and wag of their tail.

After a few minutes of intense play, the ferrets expend all of their energy and head towards their food supply to replenish their reserves.  They dig at their food, sending pieces flying into their water.  While the albino ferret continues to dig and eat the food, the sable ferret spills the water all over the ground, creating a shallow puddle around the duo.  They lap up some of the spilled liquid and gobble up a few more pieces of the food before losing interest and moving on to the next thing.  Maybe ferrets have ADD.

The ferrets meander back to their secret lair to ensure that their most cherished stolen possessions are still hidden there.  The sable ferret realizes her favorite toy is missing and begins scouring the area for it like a mother looking for a lost child.  Before becoming frustrated with her frivolous pursuit, or merely just forgetting what she was doing, the sable ferret flattens herself on the ground trying to emulate a speed bump.

She lets out a quiet little sneeze and begins to scratch her left side intensely with her sharp, back claws.  When she is finally satiated, the albino ferret rejoins her with her much sought after object clenched between his carnivorous teeth.  He drops the object in front of his companion, showing her he is in possession of her valuable object.  The albino ferret scoots the toy under his belly, smearing it with his own scent.  The message is loud and clear to the sable ferret:  this object is his!  The sable ferret puts her head back down on the ground, looking defeated.

Tired from the day’s events, both ferrets head back to their hideout, where their elderly ferret friend, also an albino, lays curled up not wanting to play with the two young ones.  The albino ferret lies down next to the forgotten elderly ferret and closes his eyes.  The sable ferret joins her friend and lies on top of them both.  The trio of ferrets curl themselves into one giant ball of fur and together fall fast asleep.  They dream of tomorrow’s long day of work.  There is fun to be had, and the ferrets make it their business to get to work early every single day.

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“Just For Us” by James Marcoff 

I was sixteen and full of angst.  I don’t even know why I went to my prom; I disliked everyone save a handful of good-hearted people.  We danced the night away, had fun, and arrived by rented limo back at my house for a good night’s rest.  I didn’t sleep a wink.  I stayed up alone and watched the reddish-orange glow emerge from the tree-lined horizon perched atop my roof.  I greeted the new day, feeling refreshed and headed back inside to wake everyone up.  We had a long trip ahead of us down to the beach, and I was intent on getting a head start to our post-prom adventure down the shore.

I traveled with my companions down to the coast and picked up the keys to the shabby rental we obtained for the weekend.  We cracked open a few beers in the musty shack, chose rooms and started the festivities.  Before we even knew it, nightfall was upon us.  In our juvenile, alcohol-induced stupor, we neglected to notice the shift from day to night.

In keeping up with the theme of sudden contrast, our companion’s tempers flared and fights began to break out.  The over-indulgence of alcohol fueled the fire, and pretty soon everyone was at each other’s throats.  I grabbed my date’s hand and ran for the door before we, too, were sucked into the man-made, booze-fueled chaos.

The night air felt cool against my skin, and my flesh became populated with a million little bumps.  My date was smart enough to grab both of our jackets when we ran for the door.  She handed me my coat, and I helped her put on hers.  We walked down the boardwalk together, gazing into the star-filled sky, telling each other about our own philosophies on life, religion, the universe and anything else that popped into our heads.  We talked for hours.  When our legs became tired and unusable, we plopped ourselves down on a bench overlooking the beach.

We sat in silence as the faint day light began to slowly creep up against the black sky of night like a reverse prowler.  I thought that my eyes were playing tricks on me when I saw the bright yellow ball peek its head out from under the water.  It marked the dawn of a new day, and yet another night without any sleep.  The light bounced off the surface of the water, causing it to look like a big sheet of aluminum foil spread out across the land.  Out of the silvery surface, I noticed something jump.  I quickly rubbed my eyes to get a closer look and saw a pod of dolphins leaping out of the water making the landscape seem so surreally beautiful.

I wordlessly pointed to the spectacular display, but my date already spotted the scene right out of a famous painting.  We sat and watched the dolphins head towards the ever-growing sun on the horizon.  They became pinpricks in the distance before disappearing from our view entirely.  I looked around and noticed that we were the only two on the beach.  No one else was here to witness the beautiful display.  It was if nature created this glorious scene just for us.

We walked back to our temporary housing and awoke the rest of our party.  The party was over and it was time to take make the long trek back home.  We never told anyone what we saw that day.  In that brief glimpse, words could not properly describe the deep and beautiful moment with nature we both had shared, so we decided not to.  That piece of nature would only be ours to hold in our memory forever.

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“Nature/Replaced” by James Marcoff

wood gives way to steel,
life becomes artificial.
flower wilts away to pixel.
our leaders telling us it is beneficial;
our species uniquely special.

environmental implosion!
ecosystem corrosion!
entire species becoming extinct
living in lands too succinct
destruction at the very brink

temperatures rising
icebergs melting
penguins flocking
polar bears starving
when will we start learning,
what it is we are really yearning?

our bodies, our temples are often invaded
by the very poisons that we have created
is that tumor merely belated?
or your diagnosis wrongly dated?
why are we so dedicated,
to making the world so masticated?

civilization requires redefinition
who are we to force our imposition
replacing nature with our inventions
imposing our moral convictions
making the world suffer with our restrictions?

wood gives way to steel,
the world becomes artificial.
flower wilts away to pixel.
our leaders still telling us it is beneficial
as we become the last species to ever feel special… 

 

 (C) 2009 James Marcoff

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One Response to “unNatural Memories – A Collection of Nature Writings”

  1. Very nice James!

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