“The Hidden Kingdom” Fiction. Based on a True Day in the Woods.

“When there is trauma, all you can do is gently try and facilitate healing.” — Moby

“The Hidden Kingdom”

Fiction. Based on a True Day in the Woods. 

By Christopher Penn

It’s strange how much you can’t see because it’s right below your level of perception.

Human beings, as the apex predator/domesticator/
manipulator, have a lot of natural enemies that need to hide from us. Most recently this has been brought to my mind by the Towhee that’s nesting in the evergreen bush outside my garage. Whenever I check on the nest, I have a little trouble finding it. It’s so expertly hidden I can’t tell if I see it even when I’m looking right at it. it’s astounding to think a bird that can’t count higher than three can intuitively harness the mathematics of its environment so well.

Maybe it has to do with human beings getting more and more cooped up inside all the time, and ordering our environment so more and more things are convenient and within reach. We’re building houses, cars, and cities so that everything is accessible, transparent, and nothing 
can be hidden, even if it ought to be, because with anonymity and secrets create vulnerability to loss and frustration.

What animals we do see are showcases: pets to be admired and shown off, not secreted away. That or livestock animals, obliquely obvious along the road, visible more as an inconvenience than anything, and still as visibly accessible as popping a hamburger out of it’s paper box.

Whenever I’ve gone timber marking in the woods, I’m sometimes focused on the slightly tedious work, sometimes astounded by the hidden kingdom I’m treading upon. The first time I found a forest roach, he seemed like the king of the bugs, striding without fear across my boot. His round, orange-striped body shoved debris out of his way with an ease I easily envied, forced to climb and wrench my way through the under-story with stilt-legs and flopping arms.

I only just heard bees for the first time this year; not “bee” flying buzzzZZZzzz past your ear and away, but the omni-directional thrum of a flower patch alive with small hover-craft. Their sound surprised me, and then I was surprised at my surprise because it first dawned on me 
as a memory of my childhood; then I was being told I would hear that sound constantly for the rest of my life.

And the flowers they swarmed in were blackberries. Fields of tall, knotted blackberry that would be insanity to walk through. Their flowers were small and gnarled, while their thorns clawed angrily at my pants hems. My dad told me about the almost mythical thornless blackberries of Point Mountain, with perfectly smooth stalk and thick, rich berries nestled in a thicket of it’s tattered, spiny siblings.

These beings only know humans as forces of nature, not as predators or animals. They rarely encounter a human person directly, but only in-virtuo through our engineering; in forest breaks cut for public highways, in dirt piles turned over for our homes, or in impassible waterways polluted by runoff. All these places are spaces where animals are killed and in danger, where either implicitly or explicitly, they are unwelcome.

The main way non-produce animals meet with humans directly now is to be exterminated, or relocated, yet even that is likely about to change. It’s only a matter of time before AI and drone technology advance to the point that nests in pruned shrubbery will be “humanely” destroyed with 
small water jets, or before a forestry business like my family’s will be conducted entirely via satellite.

It won’t be much longer before no one needs to walk in the woods anymore, to measure the trees, or chart the boundary, or just to see how they’re doing. It won’t be very long before those humongous, hidden kingdoms are overlooked by space lenses that can’t bother, or the occasional drone headed for a calculated node. Then these kingdoms will become nothing more than a variable in a formula, and that will determine their worth. Not their worth to us, not their worth as an asset, their worth to what will determine their fate; their worth. And it’s likely to be 
very small.

Now their greatest asset is enacting their own downfall; we are forgetting they’re there. No being should be so powerful that if they forget another being is even there, they doom these kingdoms as if they never existed. It’s an insult to God, to the universe, and to balance.

And if one were to rise so high, to empower themselves to the status of Gods or evolution, or nature over others, would not we also need to take on the responsibility that comes with each of those? We have put ourselves in the position of deciding for ourselves which ways our 
environment goes. We have forfeited natural mysteries for taking the wheel of all that lives and breathes on Earth. It is a vehicle not only commanded by us, but built by us. Who did we plan to take along when we set off?

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