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Tatiana Schatten

Last of All

Not based on true events

In a still pond of central America, among the ooze and waving vegetation, is a small heap of soil, covered on top with a silky blanket of algae. Back and forth it gently waves, flowing with the barely perceptible movement of the motionless depths. Bulge-eyed fish pass within a few feet of the mound, yet no nearer do they venture. No, not for one of their kind even brush a lacy fin against it. There came a shrimp on it’s stalk-like legs, picking morsels from this plant and that, and snatching bits from the green-blue water around. But when it neared the algae-coated hill, it suddenly turned to one side and made a wide detour about this most mysterious mound. Finally, only one creature neared the dreaded place. It was a Mexican Tetra, a small shining silver fish which had wandered in from an adjacent stream and knew not the ways of that pond. At first it only nosed around the little hill, for it felt a strange suspicion in its ominous presence. But since there was no sign of life or movement and no predators seemed to be about, it finally dared to approach near the mound and nibble absently the hairy-like algae upon its edge.

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The Orangutan Choir

Not based on true events

Slender Martini, the Yellow-Throated Marten, was a swift-footed, noiseless, shadowy creature. For all of his life, he had stalked silently through the thick understory of Borneo’s lush tropical forest and all of his life he had been a successful hunter. Even now in the dim night, full of the shrieks, cackles and  hisses of wild things, he was tracking his prey. 

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A Voyage of Discovery

Not based on true events

When we first boarded the Merry Steamer, we had been hoping for an escape from the dull, common routine of everyday life, and an entering into of a life full of frolic and fun.

How far from the truth! As we naive boys discovered, a life at sea is far from a vacation. Not only were we forced to scrub the ship’s decks with mere toothbrushes ( there was not a single scouring brush on board ), we also had to endure the musings of the quirky, ill-tempered, stern Professor Bakers, the physician and biologist of the bark.

But today, for once in  the whole voyage, we did enjoy his boasting about his revelations. When we had first been called, our hearts had sunk directly into our stomachs, and though we pleaded and begged, we had no choice but to enter the dreaded cabin of the professor. Immediately we were confronted by those cold, glaring and encyclopedic eyes for Professor Bakers was sitting coolly at his desk, facing us as we entered with such an unfriendly stare that we felt quite frozen. But there were yet another pair of eyes: the glistening, soft eyes of  the professor’s Hyacinth Macaw. “ Come on in, gentlemen,” it squawked soberly while its master remained soundless. We immediately obeyed and the professor asked for us to be seated before he launched forth on his monologue.

“ I have discovered a most amazing discovery,” he began in his blunt, pompous way, “ It is not a thing of legend or fancy, glowing waters or sea serpents, but-”. Here he leaned forward eagerly and paused as if wanting to hold us in suspense, and if that was his intention, he utterly failed. Finally he continued: “ But spiders in the sea!”

The previously weary-lidded eyes of my friend suddenly flew open and grew wide, and I have  reason to believe, on account of my own surprise, that my own eyes did the same. “ S-spiders in the sea?” I inquired dazedly.

“ Crawling along the ocean floor. Deep sea arachnids,” replied Professor Bakers indifferently, 

“ Feeders on sponges, spiders as thin as corpses. Sea spiders.”

I fell heavily back in my chair, overcome completely with this fantastical revelation. What were these novel creatures like? Were their ways alike to the ways of terrestrial spiders? Did they construct webs beneath the water or did they hunt on foot? Thought after tremendous thought passed through my mind, each a chain-link to the next.The fact was that, for once in my life, I was thinking scientifically and actually enjoying the process.

Suddenly, disruptive voice gave an excited cry.“ Then there must be mermaids as well!”

My friend had obviously not been thinking scientifically, for it was he who had uttered the ill-timed exclamation. I arose sharpply from my sprawled position and looked reproachfully at him. His face beside me was beaming with the expectation of a positive answer from the professor. It never looked so ridiculously childish than at that moment.

Almost immediately the macaw cocked its head and lifted one fore claw in a  reproving manner.

“ No fairy tales here, sonny, no fairy tales here,” It squawked severely.

“That is right, boy. We want no frollygaggers here, thank you! So get out of my sight!” The professor snapped.

The visage of my friend which had been so sunny before now bore a cloud upon it. I do not know how disappointed he was at our ejection, but I do know that I had to drag him out of the cabin, with both Professor Bakers and the bird roaring maniacally, “Get out of my sight! Get out of my sight!!”

There must have been a hypnotizing spell over that dreaded cabin, for as soon as my companion passed its threshold, he became his old self once more. Grinning in the most idiotic fashion, he began to empty his hidden thoughts to me most energetically. “Sea spiders! Spiders of the sea!” He declared ecstatically, and we immediately plunged into a deep conversation about those deep creatures. In fact, that was all we could speak for the remainder of the day, and even for the remainder of our voyage.

Yes, on our tongues was only “ Sea spiders, the mysteries of the sea!”

Sea-Spiders
Pycnogonida species

Comprising of around 1,330 species, these strange arthropods are crustaceans like the crabs or lobsters. They have long limbs, short abdomens and small heads, and may be up to 30 inches long. They have no digestive system, but instead use a system of diffusion.

Hyacinth Macaw
Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus

The largest of the parrots, the Hyacinth Macaw is one meter long, tail, body and all. It lives in Central South America and has a varied diet of plant and insect matter. Its plumage is of a deep, brilliant blue with a crescent shaped patches on each side behind its lower bill, and a yellow about its eyes. It is an endangered species because of its popularity as cage bird.

A Time of Tools

Deep down in the unfathomless depths of the ocean, and among the sponges that coat the dismal floor moves a unseen being. Only when When we hear about the use of tools in the animal kingdom, we think almost immediately of the apes such as the chimpanzees, bonobos and the like. These make use of very primitive tools of stems to catch termites for consumption. 

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Journey Beneath a Wreath of Trees

Not based on true events

Tucked deep within the woods and surrounded by the immense trunks of the ancient and powerful pines which ruled that land, one could easily become helplessly lost in the maze of wonders beneath those boughs. A toadstool here, a fallen branch there, and yet again a toadstool here and a branch there;everything may swirl about you in a pixie dance, and only those take in every detail may break through.

That is why they were all strung together with a web-like cord of brown. They are the tiny twinflowers trailing in modest simplicity beneath the giants of trees. Yes, indeed, these siblings were all roped fast together and remained so through all their trek in the forest. No marching feet did they have as they weaved along whichever which way through the emerald light. Day after day they wound in and out, out and in, until finally only one object succeeded in halting their advance. 

It was a large, round pompous stone, so determined to arrest their movement that it would not even roll aside ( very few rocks can anyways) to allow them to pass. Only then did the leader of the chain, the youngest sprout of all, lift up one of its delicate bell-shaped heads to the barricade. Nay, it could not stop them! A suspenseful day and a night passed, and then another day and night, and yet another day and night, yet the flowers had not passed. The victory over the little green and pink ones were at hand, the march had ended. But wait! What is this? On the far side of the stone, a tiny verdant spike protruded over the moss, and as the day went on it grew. 

Finally, two blooms appeared  dangling over the moss top, and there, as spidery as ever, was a new twinflower. Thus, with the stone behind, the line continued their journey, and, as might be expected, reached the end of their rope.

Twinflower
Linnaea borealis

The visible  flowers of this beautiful trailing plant are connected by a tough root hidden underground. Growing to a length of two feet, these plants bear bell-shaped flowers of a pale pink hue on a thin, upright stem. They are very short, so to find them, you must do a little nosing just above the moss. They are fed upon by deer and grouse.

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Wednesday August 4, 2021