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Coming Home to Newfoundland, an Animal Deep-Ecology Novel

 

Chapter One ~ Leaving New Zealand

When word of the changes in the Maritimes went international, there were many unexpected results. Maritime legislation had affected the treatment of animals worldwide and many wildlife and conversation movements were looking to the Maritimes as their model.

Most of the information about the Maritimes that the rest of the world was privy to came from Saul's web pages. Some even went so far as to argue that the discussions of his various combative experts brought forward ideas of an entirely different way that humans might interact with their environment. Outmoded models of dominion over animals as well as the notion of stewardship spouted by the animal welfarists were going by the wayside. Instead, in the place of this patronizing and fundamentally unequal relationship, was a way of thinking about human, animal, land, and sea interaction that promised for many to change the way we live on the planet.

Although these were heady days for the international community, in the small backwater of Fiordland, south island, New Zealand, only a faint whispering of the sweeping changes had come. This distant rumour had made it to a moose in the New Zealand woods, however, and she decided, there in the deep gloom of the rain forest that had hid her for nearly a hundred years, that it might be time to go home.

When expatriates think of going home, they carry in their wallet-photo minds an image of a place they, or their forbears, left many years before. Likewise, when the moose tried to remember Newfoundland, she found only the dry rags of images. With the overwhelming green of the New Zealand bush around her, she had to admit that she remembered little. She felt like cool breezes off the fjords could be counted as a real memory, like the icy lakes in the interior of a vast country. But handling the images like postcards, she couldn't tell if she'd taken the photo or had it described to her so many times that the smears of reality were from her own mind. That inability to distinguish what was known from what had been replaced as much as anything else made the moose decide to return.

Deciding to leave, as any expatriate knows, is only part of the journey. Typically, there are passports to order, government forms and waivers to sign, and immunizations to get. The moose knew little of these legal restrictions, however, and reasoned that if she had lived all of these years in the New Zealand bush with only a few hairs to prove her existence, she might as well slip between the interstices of reality once again to travel back home. The moose packed nothing, although she looked into her favourite haunts with a strange transplanted nostalgia. It was like saying goodbye to a home that wasn't yours. I've been house sitting, thought the moose, now it's time to go home.

The trip to the coast would have probably been fraught with danger, but the tourists with their flashing cameras and open mouths were staying in the north island for the winter. Other than a few Maori, the moose saw almost no one. The Maori merely watched her go by. Some of the children raised their arm in a kind of salute, but the moose was far away and knew little of their calls. The mountains were daunting at first, and Key Summit beckoned in the distance, but the moose pressed on, the snow at the higher elevations reminding her of something that she couldn't quite remember.

When the moose saw the long coastline, and felt the fogs hanging over the mountains at her back, she nearly returned into the woods. Just as the adopted home becomes more beautiful as we are leaving it, she hesitated before the cold waters. She had swum the lakes in the inland, and once had been in the water for twenty hours, but she had no idea how long the fourteen hundred miles would take for her to swim. As well, she frightened herself with tales of sharks and killer whales.

She paced on the beach for nearly a week, feeding to build up her strength and practicing short swims. If she could swim this stretch, she told herself, then she could get home. She even considered following the populated coast north so that she might set out for Lord Howe Island, but that mere pit stop would save her few direct hours, and the total trip would be much longer. Finally, just as local attention was starting to focus on this strange, shaggy animal stalking the beach, she confirmed her direction by asking a frigate bird who hung in the air above her, and then she plunged into the water.

The kiwi and flightless Takahe watched in envy from the shore. The Takahe wondered that she had never swum away when the people had come, wondered that what could seem so difficult could be so easy. Above her, the frigate and the albatross set a vigil. They sensed a resolve in the moose that they knew was not local, and the storm-petrels put out a watch for major storms, although they had no idea what advice they might offer a swimming animal of the moose's bulk. Whales breeched near the moose and working in conjunction with the birds-although all felt the moose's task impossible-they deflected any ships that would cross her path. A giant container ship might mow her down as they had so many sleeping whales and smaller boats would do her serious harm if they cut her with their propellers or thrust her under with their bow. If all else failed, the whales prepared, with the dolphins, a strategy that might make the moose's stupendous undertaking more possible, if not likely.

 

Chapter Two ~ The Long Voyage

The first day in the water was comforting, although the southern winds and waves blew spray into the moose's eyes and she frequently had to rely on the frigate overhead for directions. She had no idea so many forces were rallied to her side, but she felt the soothing presence of a huge body beside her, who she presumed was a whale. The water was slightly warmer on her southern side, and the current was cut by the smooth strokes of the swimming whale. But the moose could see little except a huge spray over her when the whale blew. Unfortunately, she could smell the reek which resulted from what she guessed were very poor eating habits.

Looking over her tiny charge as though she would an ill-formed baby, the whale set herself to match the moose's slow pace. She determined, as if she were a commuter who had passed the same way a hundred times, to use the moment to look around and "eat the plankton," as the expression went.

"You're a long way from home." The whale always found it awkward opening conversations with other species.

"Longer than you think." At the risk of sounding cryptic, the moose answered. She told of her distant kidnapping and how she had acclimatized to her new home. At first she had longingly thought about returning, but that was less frequent with each passing year. "It's like a toothache," she said after looking to see if the whale had teeth, "that you can't do anything about and that won't go away. It comes at odd times. When wading in a swamp in the early morning, suddenly it would all come back, and I've worn a path down to the beach before with wishing. I never thought I could do it, that's all."

"You're a good swimmer," the whale lied. "You can make it."

Saving her breath for her swim, the moose settled into a slow rhythm that seemed to be suggested by the rise and fall of the waves themselves, and although she heard the sounds of motors far in the distance, none came near her. In all, she decided, it was a peaceful trip, with the very occasional breath of the whale spouting beside her, and the cries of the birds overhead. They dove and came up with fish flapping in their beaks and the day wound on to evening. When night came, the moose felt the sleep that should have been hers. But with the urgency that is death if she should stop swimming, she pressed on, despite her tired limbs. After one day, she thought. Only after one day.

She was kept awake in the night by the dance of light in the ocean. At first she thought it was her imagination. But when the sparks of light began, and then, as the night darkened into a deep indigo, she saw even her thrashing legs startled tiny insects into giving light, her awe sustained her. "What a beautiful thing the world is. I would never have thought such animals existed."

The whale felt tempted, since she had a scholarly turn of mind, to tell the moose about photo plankton, but instead she thrashed her tail and sped ahead so that the moose might see the fireworks in full display. The wonder of the moose infected her, and looking around like she never had, the whale lifted her entire body out of the water for the first time in years, splashing down with a wave that almost swamped the moose.

When the morning came, the moose was again disoriented. The sun, bright and strange now that she was not clouded in the forest, came from the wrong direction, and she asked the frigate twice if he was sure about his navigation. Her limbs were hardening to the work, but thirsty beyond measure, the moose drank sparingly of the seawater, since she had heard it had ill effects on land animals like herself. Luckily for her, if not for anyone else, the Antarctic shelf was melting, so the seawater was less saline for the first time in centuries, and so she was sustained for another day.

All around her was water and even when the huge waves lifted her to their tops, she saw nothing but sea. She moose cautioned herself that this was to be expected, but in the leaden sensation of her legs and back, she felt her own mortality. "Whale," she called. "I'm not sure I can do this. I wasn't made for sea voyages and this is a passage of many days."

"We are here as well," the whale reminded her, "and when you falter, we will guide your steps." The whale felt silly saying steps, but it drifted up from her ancient memory as a word that used to have meaning.

Buoyed by their support, the moose swam though that long day and then another night. The albatross made the passage back to land behind-which the moose thought was an ominous sign-and brought her seaweed to eat. She would have preferred a land plant, but she was the least choosy beggar on the wide seas. In disgust, the storm petrel flew off and came back with grasses in her beak, and that cleared the moose's mouth of the sea long enough for her to remember why she was here. "I am going home," she reminded them, "to where trees tasted tart in the winter and sweet in the spring."

On the third day, the moose faltered. She felt her legs hardly at all and tiny fish were settling in her fur trying to buoy her for the many miles still ahead. She felt herself roll in the waves and then suddenly awoke with a salty apologetic smile for the whale. "Let's try that again." Only a few hours later, she fainted from exhaustion, and began to sink. She felt the long reach of the ocean bottom below her, pulling at her like the land had held her upright. She let go finally and let herself be taken.

 

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