THE APOCALYPSE OF CASTOR
It may be true that more of Earth is dry
and barren now than in the years gone by.
These ancient documents I’m sorting through
for history worth passing on to you
refer quite frequently to seas and lakes
or mountain forests cloaked with trees and brakes.
The fact that I myself have never seen
that sort of vegetation, doesn’t mean
such wooded highlands never did exist.
The Swamp, for instance, thick with fetid mist
and crocodiles and water snakes and all,
which many senior tribesmen still recall,
may be, a generation hence, dismissed
as dreamery by some mythologist.
“Our gaffers tell some good ones,” they will say
when present witnesses have passed away;
though many of us saw this, in our youth.
We shouldn’t hastily dismiss the truth
of anything the Tribal Archives say.
I try to meet mythology halfway.
The Beavers, in their artificial bogs,
who build their wigwams out of mud and logs,
had little use for apes; yet our first clue
that anyone outside our number knew
that God exists, was furnished by a sage
of Beaverkind, in that forgotten age.
Crude ogham symbols, gnawed on sticks, comprise
their tribal books–yet some of them were wise.
A brave of Eden, scouting to survey
a mountain valley, looking for a way
across a stream–some ford the Tribe could take–
surprised a beaver, near his homemade lake.
Our tribesman, moving stealthily between
the beaver and the water, wasn’t seen
until, confronting him with spear in hand
he challenged him, presenting his demand:
. “I’m not exactly hunting,” he declared,
“so maybe there’s a chance that you’ll be spared,
if you possess the common curtesy
to satisfy my curiosity.”
The beaver answered, in a level voice:
“I guess I haven’t got a lot of choice.”
Our tribesman asked him first which ford was best
and afterward described our tribal Quest:
“For centuries,” he said, “we’ve searched for God–
an enterprise which some consider odd.
Can you, or maybe someone else you know,
explain to me exactly where to go?”
He wasn’t pleased to hear the beaver say,
“Your tribe could waste a lot of time that way.”
“And would you call us fools for doing so?”
the ape demanded, javelin poised to throw.
“I’d better warn you, those who waste their breath
disputing our beliefs, get put to death!”
The beaver yawned, and nonchalantly said,
“I knew a wizard, once (now long since dead),
who had some ancient legends to relate.
There’s one I think you might appreciate.
Perhaps you’ll spare my life some moments more
to let me share this entertaining lore.
He told me he in turn had known a sage
who said he’d heard, at quite an early age,
from some historian his father met
–who’d gotten it from older sources yet–
this myth, to which our forebears once inclined:
“In long-forgotten ages out of mind
this Middle World was planned and built by God,
with sky and water, woods and brush and sod,
according to a well-intended plan
to make a home for Sentient Life. Then Man
was designated Guardian of Life
to moderate our ecologic strife
and intervene when some disruptive force
in Nature veered it from its normal course.
“But men devised a wholly different plan
than God envisioned, when the world began.
In human beings’ arrogant opinion
God had given them complete dominion
over all the land they could subdue
and everything that swam, or crept, or flew.
They also felt they had a valid deed
to ‘every tree with fruit which yieldeth seed.’
‘Replenish all the Earth; subdue the place;’
their Scripture told them. ‘Multiply thy race.
The fear of human beings, and the dread
shall be on every other creature’s head,
with everything which creepeth on the land
or swims the sea, delivered to thine hand.’
“In other words, they totally declined
responsibilities which God assigned,
and brashly took possession of the place
by dispossessing every other race.
Unkillable, few humans ever died.
Their greedy populations multiplied.
At first in scattered settlements, but then
in swelling multitudes, the tribes of men
appropriated forests, plains and hills,
remolding all the world to suit their wills.
Our forests toppled, not just bit by bit,
but acres every day, to make them fit
for ranches, towns and roads. They drained the bogs
and marshes, killing off the fish and frogs
and robbing waterfowl of needed space
to nest and raise their young. The human race
became unchallenged tyrants of the Earth
in every land throughout its length and girth;
and those adapting to their harsh behests,
who lived among them, were considered ‘pests.’
“Man saw creation as a gift to him,
to use according to his carefree whim,
so every patch of wilderness became
a challenge–something to subdue and tame.
The rivers could be used for dumping waste.
The ‘unproductive’ woodlands were replaced
with acres of prefabricated shacks,
or factories with richly-smoking stacks,
or sprawling highway mazes, nicely banked
for breakneck speed. Such roads were always flanked
with billboards, placed to shield the travelers’ eyes
from natural landscapes humans so despise.
The scenery that humans liked to see
was that reflecting ‘Human Industry.’
Until the vegetation was removed,
and concrete poured, they called it ‘unimproved.’
One thing a human being couldn’t stand
was unexploited, unproductive land.
He viewed each bush, or herb, or uncut tree
as ‘wilderness’–his hated enemy,
to be remolded to his own desire
with axe and plow, or steam and steel and fire.
Where water flowed, he rushed to fill it in
with cardboard, broken glass and rusty tin.
Unblemished bark of trees, and unmarred cliffs
were beautified with carved or painted glyphs.
Old beer cans and graffiti seemed to grace
the least-developed, most-unlikely, place.
Where dwindling tracts of old-growth timber stood,
the humans saw them as a source of wood.
The ground it occupied, until replaced
with streets and parking lots, had ‘gone to waste.’
To speed development of woods and plains,
they drenched such areas with acid rains.
The poison vapors from refineries
despatched unsightly flowers, grass and trees.
To staunch the flow of rivers, dams were built.
Dry channels filled with trash, dead fish, and silt.
The seas were beautified, with little toil,
by filming them with tankerloads of oil.
Pelagic life then decorated each
delightful, oily, carcass-littered beach.
The sky–that huge, oppressive pall of blue–
presented problems, but was conquered too:
the megatons of coal the humans burned
spewed forth its acrid overcasts, and turned
the azure hue to one which men preferred:
a yellow-gray unmarred by any bird.
The world was one enormous garbage can
for jetsam from the Industries of Man,
whose fondest aspiration was to make
a lifeless cesspool out of every lake,
a gravel pit or mine of every hill,
a sewer of every river, rank with swill.
They couldn’t stand the world the way things were
–or so their labors gave us to infer.
“To human beings, all the ‘lower’ breeds
existed to fulfill their ‘owners’ needs.
We beavers weren’t the only ones whose hide
became an ornament to human pride;
nor was our exploitation half as bad
as others’; beaver hats were just a fad.
For many, mankind’s interest didn’t pall
till species were extinct beyond recall.
Some birds were harvested for plumes. Some died
from eating hand-me-down insecticide.
Those species serving none of men’s behests
were locked in zoos, or massacred as pests.
The animals they’d captured and enslaved
were all the choosy humans wanted saved.
They penned the ungulates in captive herds
to breed for meat. They clipped the wings of birds
and caged them under artificial light
to dupe them into feeding day and night,
producing tender viands men preferred.
They genocided every beast or bird
that was by nature difficult to tame,
or poached on settled lands, in quest of game.
“Admittedly, all species have to eat.
Are wolves unethical, who slay for meat?
But humans killed from simple lust for blood,
and left their victims rotting in the mud.
Not many species managed to adapt,
and those who found themselves disliked, were trapped
in isolated plots of wilderness
whose acreage every year grew less and less,
and where fun-loving sportsmen roved at will
on well-paved roads, in search of things to kill.”
THE APOCALYPSE OF CASTOR (concluded)
“We beavers are a patient race. We’d learned
to wait till Balance naturally returned–
the classic Laissez-faire hypothesis,
which always worked in olden times. But this
held good no longer. Eighty centuries
of mankind’s unabashed atrocities
at last convinced us we would have to take
some urgent steps, correcting God’s mistake.
“Our wisest wizards came from far and near,
assembling on a hill, not far from here.
They spent a week or more in deep debate,
for their Responsibility was great.
They had an awesome Moral Choice to make:
to “wait and see”–or drastic measures take.
However they decided, they would be
maligned and hated for eternity
by God, by Nature, or by humankind–
no easy burden on a sentient mind.
They studied every issue hard and long.
In interfering, were they right or wrong?
“The fires of Industry were burning high.
Sulfuric acid vapors filled a sky
distinctly altered from its former hue
to yellow-gray, without a hint of blue.
The few remaining trees were stark and bare,
bereft of leaves by acid-laden air.
The barren hills were scored with deep ravines
where ores were rooted out by Man’s machines.
The seas were thick with oil and choked with waste.
The Earth was dying. There was need for haste,
the wizards all agreed. They could not wait.
In one more year, they’d be a year too late.
“For seven nights they watched the wheeling stars
till Saturn stood in quadrature with Mars.
Below the wizards’ hill a pit of slime
had processed garbage since the dawn of time–
a fit material for imagery
to represent depraved humanity.
A crumbling stonehenge lay in heaps nearby.
The Moon was on the cusp of Gemini,
and entering its most malefic phase.
The sky with evil omens was ablaze:
The Star of Sudden Changes, Uranus,
was in the Human Sign, Aquarius,
and would, a fortnight hence, afflict the Sun.
“Our wizards all agreed what must be done,
and saw they had to finish their design
before the Moon arrived in Saturn’s Sign.
They gathered gruesome objects to enrich
the Symbolism of the slimy pitch–
the teeth and entrails of poisoned rats,
the legs of roaches and the fangs of bats,
the eyes and tongues of vultures who had died
from eating carrion killed by pesticide.
The brain and heart and kidneys of a Sloth,
whose species men destroyed, enriched the Broth.
However they abhorred their ghoulish work,
this race with death was one they couldn’t shirk;
and as they worked the wizards chanted low
a Spell recalled from countless years ago
when raw, primeval Chaos used to range
the world, before the Age of Cyclic Change.
The words were harsh and horrible to hear,
inspiring even wolverines with fear.
“The beaver wizards labored thirteen days
to trap the mutagenic lunar rays.
They dredged up mounds of pitch, and then began
to mold them into effigies of Man.
One dozen images, there had to be,
depicting humankind in travesty.
On each of these, a potent Ogham rune
directed emanations from the Moon,
to harness and control its fickle rays
in slow, and relatively-harmless, ways–
for beavers do not act from mere revenge.
“They dragged the loathsome icons to the ‘henge
to place among the ruins, in a row.
The sickled Moon emerged from Scorpio.
The time remaining just sufficed for us.
As Luna traversed Sagittarius,
the wizards drew the Trifid Heptagon
–the ghastly Pentacle of Babylon–
and sang an ancient sorcery, so old
its age would never be believed, if told,
and so horrendous in its potency
that some who heard them lost their sanity.
The Moon turned black, conjoined the setting Sun
and entered Capricorn.
“The task was done.
A blast of lightning ripped the murky sky
from Ursa Major clear to Gemini.
An angry roar of thunder shook the world.
From sundered mountains, flaming rocks were hurled.
Our chanting wizards cringed in guilty fear,
and wished they’d never chosen their career.
The very bedrock, outraged by their spell,
gave violent shudders, felt as far as Hell;
and out across the Middle World a horde
of unseen, liberated Demons poured:
the minions of the Spell, who would enforce
far-reaching changes in the future’s course.
Then all subsided, in a pall of death.
For forty minutes, no one heard a breath.
“Ostensibly, the world remained unchanged–
except that certain Stars were rearranged.
The Star of Sudden Changes had regressed,
and was conjoined with Venus, in the west.
The once-familiar astrologic signs
were twisted into nameless new designs.
The baneful Pleiades had shifted east
so Pluto’s latent rays had been released
by quincunx aspect with them. Mercury
was combust, having shifted one degree.
“Astronomers among the human race
were baffled: How could stars be out of place
according to their telescopes and books?
“The beavers were exchanging knowing looks
in conscience-stricken silence. Very few
of Earth’s inhabitants knew what they knew,
or bore the monstrous burden in their hearts
that meddling with the Universe imparts.
They’d acted slowly and with great restraint,
but knew they bore a lifelong moral taint.
“Though still the chimneys smoked, and boilers burned,
and slag-heaps sprawled, and Wheels of Progress turned,
the Spell was woven. Humankind was cursed.
The wizards, burdened with regrets, dispersed.
“One year thereafter, every time the Moon
grew full enough to activate a rune,
it made some supernatural form replace
another twelfth of all the human race.
They suddenly awoke to find themselves
transformed to pixies, goblins, sprites or elves,
with all the special attributes of mind
and outward shapes peculiar to each kind.
As elves and dryads, they forsook their homes
and looked for wooded country. Trolls and gnomes
bored into hillsides. Towns of humankind
deprived of their inhabitants, declined
to hamlets in the midst of ghost towns, then
to ruins, then to wilderness again.
With passing years, the skies began to clear
as rainfall rinsed the filthy atmosphere.
Resurgent Nature slowly spread again
across the asphalt deserts built by men.
“And thus,” the beaver said, “our timely aid
repaired the tragic blunder God had made
in giving humans regency of Earth–
a role in which they showed their real worth.
The human race, divided into twelve
went separate ways to fly or swim or delve
in air, and earth, and water; and enjoy
the world they once had labored to destroy.
And, legend says, our wizards’ mighty curse
went on for years creating forms diverse
to which those twelve new shapes of humankind
were further subdivided and refined.
I’m sure there must be more than twelve today–
some half a hundred at the least, I’d say;
yet every type believes itself to be
the True Original Humanity.
“With Man dispersed, we other sentient forms
of life resumed our old instinctive norms,
on plain or mountain safely to reside,
no longer under threat of genocide.
That’s why the world’s the way it is today
with creatures living every natural way,
instead of making each minority
conform to mankind’s harsh priority–
and humankind itself transmuted to
the supernatural beings known to you,
confined to native forest, field and fen,
from which we’ll never let them rise again!
“But, as I said, I heard this long ago.
You say I’ve called you fools? That isn’t so;
for though this tale’s recorded in our lore,
Not even fools believe it any more.”
And while the ape debated what to do,
the beaver, with a splash, was out of view.