BOHIDEUS: CHAPTER VIII
IF BIRDS CAN FLY...
Warren Scott Foster
by Adrienne Potter
No. of visitors since Aug. 13, 2000:
"Oh, well. It's now or
never," Bo shrugged. He began to climb. The cliff was mostly smooth, solid
granite, although in places it was made of other kinds of rock. In some parts it
was solid black and glassy, like obsidian, and reflected like a mirror. It was
not an easy climb, but there were many cracks and ledges that could be used for
finger and footholds. Sometimes Bo would start up one route only to find it dead
end, and he would have to retrace his route and find another way. It was slow,
difficult, and dangerous. There would be no lucky escapes if he fell here.
Neither was it like climbing a tree, with branches and vines to hold onto. And
he couldn't dig his knife into solid rock as he could the bark of the trees. It
was difficult to find a place to rest without fear of falling. And it was
impossible to find a place to sleep.
Bo had difficulty keeping track of the days in the continuous daylight of
Schmeeky 2. By the time he had climbed about five of Schmoe's miles, Bo knew
that several days must have passed. He had no sleep, and only the meager food
and water he was able to carry. These had long since run out. Bo's eyes seemed
heavy and he had to strain to keep them open. Several times he began to doze,
barely catching himself before losing his grip on the rocks. There were no giant
trees below to catch him here. A fall would mean certain death.
Bo's head ached with sleepiness. His muscles were exhausted, and began
shaking with spasms, or at other times tighten with cramps. At last he found a
large crack in the wall with small shrubs growing out of it. Wedging himself
between the rock and the branches of the shrubs, he finally found a position
where he could let go and relax. Instantly he fell asleep.
Bo figured later that he had slept for at least two days. He was awakened
by water splashing in his face. A little rain had fallen, but by the time he
awoke, it had mostly stopped. His muscles felt much better from the rest, but he
was starving, and his mouth was as dry as cotton. A thunderstorm was
approaching, and soon it began to rain hard. The wind blew the pellets of water
against the cliff, which began to run in steady streams down the face of it. Bo
gratefully lapped water off the rocks with his tongue, quickly satisfying his
The storm grew worse. There was no
shelter from it here, and in moments he was drenched with rain. Fortunately it
wasn't cold, but the wind against his wet body made him shiver. Lightning
shattered the darkness of the clouds, and the thunder was deafening. The wind
howled fiercely, struggling in all its fury to sweep Bo off his perch. Thick,
dark clouds were above and below. He couldn't see up, and below it looked like a
great fluffy mattress inviting him to jump onto it. Bo knew it was a deadly
illusion, and clung fast to the branches.
Lightning struck around him in rapid blinding flashes. Thunder bellowed
while the wind screamed relentlessly, and a great torrent of rain threatened to
wash him from the cliff. Strangely, the wind was blowing upward. It seemed to
have blown against the cliff so long that it had no where else to go, and was
blowing straight up! Soon even the rain was falling up instead of down!
Bo howled into the wind. He was tired, hungry, and homesick. All the
world seemed to have combined against him. Right now all his world was one small
spot on a sheer, vertical wall surrounded by dark, swirling clouds. In this
crazy world did rain fall up instead of down? Or had he turned things upside
down in his sleep? Which way was up? No, gravity was very definitely trying to
pull him down. In fact, it was trying a little too hard, and he tightened his
grip on the rocks. And the water on the cliff was still running down. Still, it
was raining up! What on Schmeeky was going on? Bo was too confused to think. He
burrowed himself deeper into the cleft and slept.
Bo slept so long this time that everything which had happened before
seemed a dream. Home was a faint dream of long ago. The jungle was a more recent
one. Maybe he had always been here. This was all there is or ever would be. He
was doomed to perch on this sideways world, clinging to these branches in a
storm, tired and hungry forever. Or maybe this was a dream, too? If he could
only wake up he would be home in a dry bed, and his mother would be telling him
that breakfast was ready. Bo's stomach was no longer suffering from hunger
pains. Now it suffered with homesickness.
Finally, after many hours, the wind slowed, and the torrents diminished
into a nice, steady, downward falling rain. Bo dozed again. This time when he
awoke he was warm and dry. The storm was nowhere to be seen, and warm sunlight
filtered through the haze above. The view was beyond description. He was five
miles above the slope, and beyond it lay the great jungle. It seemed to stretch
forever. He remembered having seen the jungle briefly like this from his canoe a
few months earlier, but then he had more important things on his mind, like
falling off a hundred mile high waterfall. Now he could enjoy the view.
It wasn't long before a disturbing fact began to dawn upon Bo's mind. He
didn't want to think the thought, and buried it. To no avail. Back into his mind
it popped. He buried it again. Back it popped. Finally Bo allowed himself to
think it through. He realized instantly the fact he hadn't wanted to admit. The
portion of his fall from this height--he knew it was this height because he
remembered the view--had been very small compared to the portion before.
Bo stopped climbing. He had climbed all this time, used up all his food,
water, and strength, and found only one place to sleep, and his climb had barely
begun. Even if he never made any mistakes, if he never lost his footing, never
grabbed a loose rock for a hand hold, never dozed off and fell in his sleep, was
never struck by lightning, even if it always rained just in time to quench his
thirst...even if everything went PERFECTLY, he would starve to death long before
he reached the top. There was simply no way he was ever going to make it to the
top of this cliff.
Not only that. Bo knew he had to start back down now, for already he
might not make it down before he lost too much strength from hunger and fell.
But how would he ever get home? He thought of going around the cliff, but that
was ridiculous. Even from miles away he had seen that it seemed to stretch
forever in both directions. It was like a giant wall dividing one level of the
world from another. There was no getting around it.
Bo stopped thinking. He would consider his options later, he decided, for
right now he had to get down out of the cliff to where he could find some food.
He began to climb down, but it was even harder than going up. His arms didn't
have to work as hard lowering his body as they had pulling it up, but it was
much harder to find hand and footholds below him.
Several times birds flew past. "How I wish I could fly," he
sighed, as he watched them effortlessly glide on the air currents. His course
downward had taken him far to the side of the way he had come up, since it was
impossible to find the exact same route. As he approached a ledge below, several
small birds began screeching and darting at his face, dodging him at the last
possible instant to avoid crashing into him.
Bo almost lost his grip brushing them away, but forced himself to hang on
and keep climbing. At last he saw it! The ledge was wide enough to stand on, and
as he dropped down onto it he whooped and hollered with joy. Bird nests!
Bo felt sorry for the frantic little birds watching him raid their nests,
screeching and circling helplessly. He wasn't fond of raw eggs, and he didn't
want to steal theirs, but he was starving. One after another he cracked tiny
eggs, emptying their contents down his throat. Bo limited his thievery to one
egg per nest so that no nests were left empty, and begged the little birdies to
forgive him. The eggs were an wonderful source of nourishing protein for Bo's
overworked muscles. If this could be more frequent, maybe he could climb this
cliff after all! Bo stood on the ledge watching the little birds return to their
nests as his mind wove daydreams in the wind. "If birds can fly, why not
me? I'd jump off this ledge and coast down to the jungle!" Of course, Bo
didn't have wings. Not yet. But Old Man Schmoe had helped Bo build a small
glider once, and he had sailed it off Schmoe's roof. Schmoe had called it a hang
glider since it had a tiny harness suspended from it in which to carry tiny
objects. Bo suddenly realized he knew how to build a hang glider already. Could
he make a bigger one? He thought of the wind which blew upward. What would a
hang glider do in a wind that could make the rain fall UP? Wouldn't it lift him
upward just like the rain?
Strengthened and refreshed by the nourishing eggs, Bo made it to the
bottom of the cliff. He found food and water and rested for several days from
his ordeal. While he rested his body, his mind began to work actively. He tried
to remember everything that Old Man Schmoe had taught him about flying.
He knew this hang glider would have to be much bigger than the one he and
Schmoe had built. It also had to be much stronger, for it would have to carry
his and its own weight without breaking its wings. Bo remembered how the first
small hang glider he had made had broken apart. Schmoe showed him how the stress
of wind in the wings had collapsed them. Bo could now imagine the stresses the
wings would be subjected to as he tried to ride the turbulent air currents of a
thunderstorm! He would have to make it very strong...but the materials he used
would have to be light, or it would be too heavy to fly. And the glider would
have to be light enough for him to carry it to his take off point, where ever
that would be.
Bo realized quickly that the wings would be a serious problem. What would
he cover them with? The frame would not be too much trouble, for he realized
that nature had prepared the perfect materials for constructing it. The giant
trees! He knew for a fact that many were several miles tall! Bo considered this
point. The problem a tree would have in growing so tall is that it must support
its own weight. The obvious solution is for the tree to be bigger around. But
that adds to the problem of tree weight, since the bigger around it is, the
heavier it is. This means that it needs to be even bigger still, and it becomes
an unending spiral. The bigger the tree, the bigger it has to be!
Bo stared at the thick jungle forest stretching out before him. For
ordinary trees it would be impossible to solve that problem well enough to grow
more than a few hundred feet tall, but these were not ordinary trees. These
trees must have been growing for thousands upon thousands of years! They were
nourished with a continuous supply of water enriched by glacial silt and soil.
Distributed by the winds and storms, this fertile water was constantly feeding
the jungle. Not only that, but Bo knew that the trees had continuous sunshine
from a sun many times more powerful than most. This sun's light was diffused by
the air and clouds of an atmosphere thousands of miles thick. The light seemed
to come from every direction, and could penetrate far deeper into the jungle
than it would on other worlds. Only when Bo had descended miles below the
treetops did it become dark.
Bo had learned from Schmoe why some trees grew taller than others. Now he
considered this strange, unimaginable jungle forest before him. Over the
centuries, he realized, as the forest had grown taller, there must have been
fierce competition between trees to grow the tallest. The tallest trees got the
most sunlight, the richest air currents, the first water, and the best
fertilizer. The tallest trees were the ones most likely to survive. They were
the healthiest, and produced the most seeds to grow into more and more healthy,
Bo knew that to be competitive, the trees had to grow tall without
spending all of their nutrients on growing wide, and especially, without
becoming too heavy. true, they were still so wide that at the bottom they seemed
more like mountains than trees. How, then, did they keep from growing too heavy?
In a flash of insight, Bo caught his breath, for suddenly it was very clear.
Nature had caused the trees to grow wood that was both extremely light, and
very, very strong. This made for tree trunks that could grow incredibly tall yet
were still able to support their own weight. Strong ...lightweight...tree
trunks. Strong, lightweight wood... Bo's heart began to beat faster and faster
as he imagined constructing a frame for a glider out of wonderfully strong...
Bo's heartbeat fell as quickly as it rose. Covering the wings would be a
problem. The model he and Schmoe had built used cloth stretched over the frame
of the wing. He looked down at his small, tattered loincloth. Bo didn't have any
cloth. Besides, cloth might not be strong enough for a human-sized glider. He
knew he couldn't make the wings of solid wood. Even the lightweight wood of the
giant trees would be far too heavy. Neither would it be maneuverable or flexible
enough. Bo thought for a moment that animal hides might work, but quickly
realized it would take weeks, even months, to kill enough animals, cure the
hides, and sew them all together. Besides, those animals had become his friends!
If only he could get some of
the big fish from the river, he thought. Their skins might work! Bo had seen
fish skins that were much thinner than leather and just as strong, at least for
a few days. True, they would become brittle after they had completely dried, but
by then he would be safely home!
Trouble is, there were no fish here. The great ice mountain at the bottom
of the cliff probably had many big fish frozen within it, he thought. Every so
often some unlucky fish was bound to swim over the edge and land there. But it
would be next to impossible to dig them out of the ice, and Bo shuddered at the
thought of going to that dreadful place at all. One would never know when the
next iceberg would come tumbling down from the sky, smashing everything below.
A tiny idea began to loom in Bo's brain, but he forced it away. It was
silly, after all. Leaves! Leaves are too flimsy and weak. Besides, they tear too
easily! He pushed the idea away once more, but again it forced its way back into
Bo's thoughts. The giant leaves of the great trees, the idea told him. Bo
allowed himself to think it through. He had been sleeping on those same leaves
for months. He could walk on them without breaking them. He had seen that where
several of the huge leaves came together, they were strong enough to hold a
small lake of water. He had even swum in them! Yet the leaves were light and
thin and could easily bend without breaking. After all, it was the same giant
leaves which had broken his fall in the canoe that fateful day so many months
ago. Could he now use them as airfoils? Could he actually make wings out of
leaves for his hang glider? He smiled as the idea grew more and more possible.
Bo's thoughts began to plan quickly. He would use the strong vines he had
swung upon for the controls. They would act as cables to the wings with which he
could control the glider. Suddenly he laughed aloud. He heard his voice echo in
the distance, and so he laughed again. He could do it! He would build a
beautiful green hang glider with a light wooden frame covered with a green leaf
canopy, using strong vines for controls. The jungle provided everything he
needed for his glider! Bo stood, stretched, and smiled, then excitedly began his
journey back into the tall jungle forest.
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