THE EDEN REUNION
… a vague and constant desire for something that does not and probably cannot exist,
for something other than the present,
a turning towards the past or towards the future;
not an active discontent or poignant sadness but
an indolent dreaming wistfulness.
- In Portugal, A. F. G. Bell
A young man and a young woman are hiking along a mountain trail when they both see ahead of them a large fallen branch. The woman is almost upon it when she screams and jumps back, shrieking, “It’s a snake!”
The man pulls the woman behind himself, saying in awe, “That is the biggest rattle snake I have ever seen! It looks like a python,” and he quickly looks around for a weapon.
The woman asks, “What can we do? She isn’t moving. She is asleep.”
The man says, “I’m going to kill it before it wakes up. Here’s a big rock.”
The woman asks, “Why are you going to kill her? Just wake her up and she will move.”
The man replies, “What if it doesn’t. What if you had stepped on it? What if it wakes up and then comes at us? Besides, that snake could kill somebody else easily. We’ll be saving someone’s life,” and then he asks, “And why do you call it a ‘she’?”
They woman is bolder now recovering from her natural shock and she stares, cooing, “She is beautiful, look at her. Her skin shines like silk,” then adding, “Don’t kill her. What has she done to us? A bear could kill us too but we’re not going to kill a bear if we see one, even if we could.”
The man hesitates, holding the big rock under his chin with both hands and with only the gossamer of the woman’s words staying the execution.
The woman cries out, “Look!” as the enormous rattle snake awakens suddenly and coils defensively with its gigantic rattle clattering and the woman says to the snake, “Don’t be afraid. We are not going to hurt you. We just want to pass by. Please?”
The snake seems to judge the situation and quickly departs unraveling into the foliage beside the trail.
The man mutters half in jest, “Great. Now she’s going to ambush us down the trail for disturbing her ‘beauty nap’.”
Fado and his wife Saudade were a young couple on their honeymoon, camping in the mountains of California when the Mount Eden Wildfire erupted in the summer of 2012.
Fado and Saudade had come to California after Fado’s graduation, under a USA Visa Sponsorship via Saudade’s uncle Rui who lived here. Uncle Rui had urged them to flee the economic chaos of Portugal. Fado had an engineering job awaiting him with the construction company owned by Uncle Rui. Saudade managed a flower shop and loved animals.
Uncle Rui prodded Saudade like a good uncle, saying, “Be a veterinarian. Good money. Or work with the State Wildlife Department. Good benefits. Your parents will be proud,” and he would laugh, “Make me look good to your mother, my sister.”
In the cool morning twilight of that terrible day Fado and Saudade had been alongside the Mount Eden Trail, snuggling in a double sleeping bag. Fado had awakened slowly, enchanted by the faint aroma of a wood fire, mumbling, “Mmmm. Who is cooking?” But then Fado had sat upright in the double sleeping bag, startling Saudade awake, saying to her, “No one is supposed to have a fire here!” The Park Ranger had warned them; it was a very dry year.
Fado and Saudade scrambled out of the sleeping bag. The morning light was veiled by thin brown gauze. The aroma of the wood fire became bitter. Their eyes began to sting. They hastily shoved their camping gear into their packs and helped each other sling the packs onto their shoulders. Then they stood facing each other.
Saudade asked, “Should we go up or down? Where is the fire?”
Fado retrieved his cell phone.
Saudade looked around, saying, “The smoke seems to be coming from up the trail,” but just then the direction of the smoke changed to the opposite direction.
Fado said, “The winds can be turbulent up the sides of Mount Eden. We need a vantage point.”
Saudade said, “Let’s go back down the trail.”
Fado considered, “Toward Shadoe Valley? Well, OK. We’ll have a view from over Shadoe Gap.”
The view from Shadoe Gap down into the deep river valley only caused them despair. Hot gusts of wind were exhorting smoke and fire to charge up from the valley towards them. Tall pine trees became swords of flame. There was no choice for Fado and Saudade but to go up the trail and outdistance the oncoming fire.
Saudade whimpered, “Why is this happening to us?”
Fado shouldered his courage, saying, “Come on. We’ll be OK. Just keep moving,” but Fado thought about accounts he had heard where firefighters were outrun by racing wild fires and died.
Suddenly a flock of birds fleeing from the valley was upon them. Fado dropped to his knees and Saudade screamed and cowered. In flashes they saw crows, a hawk, ducks, a multitude of finches, a woodpecker, and a blurr of other winged creatures.
Fado cried out, “Jesus, look at that!”
Saudade screamed again as bats began to dart by.
Fado grabbed Saudade’s hand, pulled her erect, and strode up the trail into the forest pulling her behind him. Saudade was stumbling, gasping, crying, “Slow down, I’m falling,”
As she looked down she saw mice scrambling up the trail. Saudade noticed that one of the mice had several baby mice clinging to its back.
She saw toads leaping desperately in the race.
Fado turned around and quickly raised his hand and blinked as a torrent of small insects streamed past his face. The forest all around him now seemed to be trembling. Above the trees from the direction of Shadoe Valley Fado saw a stupendous black cloud rising. As the cloud encountered the boundaries of the upper mass of air it was spreading and coiling like a snake.
Fado and Saudade resumed fleeing up the trail that spiraled around the sides of Mount Eden, the only trail in the world as far as they were concerned. No more animals were passing them.
Fado cried to Saudade, “We’ve got to get above the tree line. There is a small lake near the top of Mount Eden.”
Fado, still yanking Saudade along, noticed a log ahead, yellowed and smooth, lying completely across the trail, both ends hidden in the foliage, and he hollered, “Watch out, we have to step over this!”
But then the log moved. It began to slide across the road and Fado instantly rationalized that the log was loosened and sliding down the side of Mount Eden. But it wasn’t just sliding. It was slithering!
Suddenly a woman rose from the foliage nearby and Fado yelled in surprise and Saudade shrieked. The woman was visible from the waist up, her skin naked and yellowish. She had sad ethereal green eyes that clutched Fado and Saudade’s frightened gazes.
Fado shouted, stumbling backwards with Saudade, “Who are you?”
The woman gently swayed her head and spoke in a breathy voice, “I am Saraf,” and then she said, “Do not be scared,” as she appeared to levitate. Fado’s eyes saw the truth finally. It had not been a yellow log after all! It had been Saraf’s own long serpentine lower body.
Fado and Saudade fell down to the rocks and dirt in horror, scrabbling backwards, their mouths wide open and trembling. Saraf arched over them with her serpent’s body.
Saraf bore a benign, angelic smile as Fado and Saudade continued to stare into her eyes. Fado and Saudade became calm. They both stood up.
Their gaze was unflagging and Fado said to Saudade, “We’re still asleep in the sleeping bag. This is a dream.”
Saraf spoke softly, swaying, saying, “Your dream is nearing the end of its journey. I waited for you. You have been gone a long time.”
Fado and Saudade began to feel a vague desire; an indolent dreaming wistfulness.
Saraf spoke again, saying, “It has been two hundred and twenty-two generations.”
A tear crept from Saudade’s eye. Fado struggled to stop his lip from quivering.
Fado asked softly, “What is happening to us?”
Saraf breathed, “You are remembering.”
Saudade asked, “Remembering what?”
Just then a hot gust of acrid air swept past them. Saraf broke her gaze upon them and they all three turned to see down the trail embers between the trees. Fear returned.
Saraf hissed, “You will die again. Climb upon my back. Hurry!”
And so Fado and Saudade mounted Saraf with a hypnotized reluctance. Saraf’s torso swung above them and she began to slither up the trail with astonishing speed, her belly making sibilance like steam over the loose gravel of the trail. Fado and Saudade clung to Saraf’s muscular body. They could all feel the fire’s breath on their backs.
Saraf and her two refugees emerged from the forest onto the sparse and rocky dome above the tree line. Ahead was the little Indigo Lake whereupon appeared to balance the expanse of heaven.
And the smoke of the great fire was encroaching upon that heaven.
And all around the shores of Indigo Lake were tired, huddled, and milling creatures. They all clustered in an unnatural truce before a greater enemy.
Saraf stopped and Fado and Saudade dismounted and stood staring at the miraculous sight.
Fado in awe named the animals, “Deer, coyotes, squirrels, marmots, mice, crows, hawks, ducks, finches, woodpeckers, lizards, frogs, and look there, Saudade!” he said pointing to the discreet clouds of flying insects hovering over their portions of the sanctuary.
Above the peak of Mount Eden Fado noticed in the heavens the massing of seasonal thunder clouds. He could see them roiling and rising yellowish white on a path to challenge the pillar of black smoke from the wildfire below.
And then the tree line below the lake began to burn and the wind was increasing. Showers of embers began to fall among the refugee animals and they fretted.
Saudade was covering her head, saying, “It’s getting hard to breathe!”
Fado began to chant, “Wake up! Wake up!”
That is when the enormous black bear lumbered over the hill on the opposite shoreline from Fado, Saudade, and Saraf. It was carrying a limp cub by the scruff in its mouth. Saudade could see that the cub was dead, its fur burned away in bloody swatches. The great bear set the dead child upon a bolder and roared at the sight of all of the refugees.
Saraf coiled and rose erect, calling to the angry bear, “Baribal, do not be foolish. We all must have the refuge of this lake.”
The massive body of Baribal shook with grief and rage and then she charged down to banish all of them from the lake.
Saudade shrieked. The other animals across the lake tried to move back and they stepped on each other, panicking, some falling into the lake thrashing.
But before Fado and Saudade realized what was happening, Saraf was on the other lakeshore and gliding like a spear at the great bear Baribal. Saraf swirled around Baribal as she rose on her hind legs. Before Baribal could strike she was in Saraf’s coils and she tried to move her great head enough to bite at Saraf.
There was a crash from the heavens above and the thunderclouds exploded. A sudden deluge began as Saraf and Baribal rolled down the hill towards the lake. The lake began to boil from the downpour. A blinding claw of lightening struck the other side of the peak. The animals scattered toward the tree line.
A great wall of steam began to rise from the decimated forest as the wildfire fought in vain against the rain.
Fado shouted to Saudade, “Come on! Run!” and he grabbed her arm and dashed down to the tree line, leaping and stumbling over the weathered rocks of Mount Eden’s peak.
Fado glanced back and the last thing he saw before entering the steaming forest was Saraf and Baribal locked together rolling into the lake.
How long did Fado and Saudade run stumbling and slipping down the mountain through the smokey haze and the towers of scorched trees black with their pine needles orange? Fado and Saudade only stopped long enough to tie handkerchiefs around their lower faces so that they could breathe without choking. The trail was now alive with mud and soot. The rain charged harder into the earth and the earth roared.
The team of fire fighters and Park Rangers found Fado and Saudade huddled unconscious in an ash covered meadow, beneath a plastic rain tarp. They had awakened delirious and babbling.
The medics were incredulous, asking over and over again of a befuddled Fado and Saudade, “How did you survive?”
Fado and Saudade in oxygen masks were coughing black sputum. Fado choked, recalling, “We made it to the top of Mount Eden,” and Saudade wheezed, “We came down in the rain.”
What else could they say?
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