Down the Sun-Pressed Vale

A flat wide path leads to the horizon between sloping cliffs
“Down the Sun-Pressed Vale”, 12in x 9in, acrylic on canvas

“This is where the sun came down and flattened the valley.” The guide pointed ahead.

You squinted at the wide, unprotected path. Yellow-orange patterns mottled the ground. Sunmarks, you thought, no doubt. 

Further evidence had been carelessly left in the form of oppressive heat, which rose straight up in a shimmering trail that led to the offender, looking down on the scene and safe far overhead, out of anyone’s jurisdiction.

I wasn’t with you that day, and was glad. You handle the heat better than me, and even seek it sometimes when the mood strikes.

Do you remember? You once set out to see the damp swamps along some coast — I can’t recall where — then headed instead to the dry desert sands west of Armant on the Nile. You like to follow the better plan no matter when it occurs to you.

But you hadn’t planned now for how hot it would be, how could you? The sun had just recently blazed through, the fiend, and left a blistering valley behind.

Yet past the horizon a blue sky beckoned. 

You imagined a land of green fronds, shady palms, maybe some little café tucked under the trees and run by expats who’d tell you the news while serving your drink — a family concoction that involves Pernod and a splash of verve from an unlabeled flask — poured over ice, then sipped while you sat under a lazy fan.

And if not that…

A brief dip in a pond or stream or oasis would serve your material needs. If you could just get through the vale.

What might lurk among the cliffs that guarded the way ahead? 

Bandits? There were rumors. Tigers? Not here, not anymore. Bird-People? Bah! What nonsense. No need to dwell on children’s tales.

You hoisted the leather pack, the one your uncle gave you, worn smooth from his days in the service. It enveloped you with confidence. 

Time to move forward.

Honey-Bee Vision

A five-petaled flower with unusual patterns
“Honey-Bee Vision”, 8in x 8in, acrylic on canvas

I knew you wouldn’t mind if I paused to consider these petals.

To our eyes they seem rather bland. No bright markings or pleasing motif, nothing distinctive at all.

Why should it be otherwise? Nature designed them to attract a special kind of customer, who comes bearing pollen in trade for nectar, with eyes tuned to colors beyond our perception.

We like to think our powers of sight rank high among all creation.

We can look across a meadow at noon and see leafy details in trees. Gaze with delight at the sunset horizon as orange turns to red in the clouds. Peer into the night with tall telescopes and scrutinize alien worlds.

Yet the true artistry expressed by this flower — just an arms-length away — remains unseen to us.

Inquisitive, we collect a few specimens to inspect in a different light. This reveals an image the bee might see with its ultraviolet vision — patterns devised to entice gatherers buzzing by and guide them to the prize.

Our primate brains gain pleasure from discovering this clever invention of nature.

Perhaps in fair exchange we should grant the bee a glimpse through our telescope. It might enjoy a deeper look at the distant sky above.

The View From Here

Purple mountains behind a line of trees and a gently-sloping meadow
“The View From Here”, 8in x 8in, acrylic on canvas

The lion had followed us since breakfast. 

I thought it would have taken this trail anyway, and we happened to get ahead of it. You thought it was merely curious, or maybe wanted breakfast too.

Eventually it wandered off, losing interest in us. We were piqued at being given up so quickly. 

“Aren’t we good enough for a little stalking?”

“We’ve been snubbed by a mangy lion.”

What further insults did nature have in store for us? 

Not the birds, they couldn’t help themselves. All that chattering and fluttering about was simply how they spent their days, with or without us to bother. We endured their tiresome swooping as we hurried through their territory.

The insects were dreadful by design — adroit at avoiding our swatting, skilled at sneaking under clothing, and adept at endless biting in spite of our repeated slapping. They besieged us in swarms, naturally.

The wind snuck up, playing the trickster, and snatched off our hats, tossed dust in our eyes, and blew us off balance. You weren’t pleased. I was quite vexed.

The bubbling spring we were hoping to find was just a patch of weed-tangled mud that sucked off our shoes and threatened to pull us under if we didn’t leave it alone. Our water bottles went unfilled. 

The steep hill we climbed was covered in long flattened grass, slick with dampness, not a foothold to be found. After slipping to our knees again and again we finally crawled to the top — exhausted, wet, and fed up with the whole venture. 

Nature, in its way, had provided us with every reason to stay home. We gave that a long consideration.

Still, the view from here is lovely. Let’s come back soon.