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The Biologie of Paradise

by Adam Browne

 

Being an Account of the System of the Divine Natural Orders and other Heavenly Particulars as Observed by CAROLUS LINNÆUS, known after his Ennoblement as Carl von Linné, & Celebrated as the FATHER OF MODERN TAXONOMIE, dec’d January 10, 1778.

 

Even now, after all this time, my search has been fruitless. The creature I have so long pursued eludes me.

But the chase continues: we sail through paradisaical clouds, entering a country of diseases. My fellow natural philosophers gasp and exclaim around me. “O! see them!” “Marvellous!” “How lovely they are!” We observe the miasmatick animalculæ that in Europe afflict men with Breakbone Fever, with Bladder-in-throat, with Eel-thing and Grumous Quinsy and Oriental-boil.

Looking to the limitless horizon, I witness great flocks of Staphylococcus auræus — the febrile distemper that took my daughter Sara Magdalena. Grown large as wrens (Uropsila leucogastra), and become wrenshaped withal, Staphylococci flash and wheel in golden flights, forming first this shape, then that, from globe to lens to wimpling pyramid, now rising knifelike, now plunging in a gush that disperses a moment before it meets the buttercupped ground.

“So many!” is the cry of those about me, and indeed, the creatures are so numerous as to drown the Earth entire in a birdly ocean (but there is room enough for these and infinitely more). From where I write — at my belov’d desk, lofting thro’ Heaven’s heavens in our olm-ship — their flocks have the appearance of an animate liquid, its turbulent play so refreshing to the organs of my sight that I wonder if it might have the same effect on the palate. And no sooner is the idea formed than I put it to the test. I take up my goblet and reach with it to the horizon (a gesture that extends out over thousands of leagues, or scarcely any distance whatever, depending on one’s fancy), where it is swiftly filled with the golden liquor.

I quaff the contents in a draught. And ah! ’tis refreshing indeed; an avian Champagne effervescent with birdsong.

Those about me applaud to see what I have done. I nod and smile, and resume my search.

Departing the country of diseases, we pass into a land seemingly adorned by Flora herself. Fields of majesty: gigantic, insolently beautiful roses, colossal daisies pollinated by helicopters…

Between their great flowerheads I spy creaturely things hopping and rolling — not one of them, after due inspection, the goal of my search…

I make notes in my journal nevertheless.

The journal has been with me from the start. Dark red leather with Florentine filigrees in gold and blue, it contains an infinite number of pages (the pages are infinitely thin) — so many of them filled with accounts, with sketches and observations and annotations that I fear I am in danger of reaching the journal’s end.

In truth, the work of observation has been the purest joy for me, for whom there be nothing more agreeable than remarking the living wonders of the world.

And yet — and yet, the creature of my desire evades me still…

My reverie is broken by someone — ’tis Banks, I think, or Stearn — asking after the name of a flowering plant passing below. I glance down.

“Ah,” I say. “It is Ceratotherium simum, vulgarly called the White or Squarelipped Rhinoceros.” For the Rhinoceros manifests here as a humble groundcovering subshrub, gentle of aspect, characterised by tiny, pale-violet blossoms.

The reader must understand that every ensample of Earth’s flora and fauna may be found in Paradise, albeit in alter’d form.

In Paradise, they are children emancipated from a stern master. And marry! how they play, how they flourish — how they express themselves, delivered from the hideous idiocy of eat-or-be-eaten! How they delight in their liberation from the merely possible, in their release from the grim strictures of Mr. Darwin’s implacable Laws!

The diseases we but recently witnessed, for an instance: no longer oblig’d to destroy the health of innocents in order to merely survive, they blossom to reveal the beauty that was hidden away for so long.

So too for the Rhinoceri — who have cast off their armour and disclosed the fragility within… And the Olm; that squiggly little hideousness, that burrower-into-slimes, that mucous, troglodytic, sick-yolk slitherer…

But here, ah! Here, in Paradise, the olm is fearfully and wonderfully made, draped with red and blue fabrics, garlanded with stars, clad in magnificence!

Here, it has risen, monumental. Held aloft by a high moral character, it has made of itself a glory-ship for those of us who would wander this vast Garden and study its marvels.

As I have done for I know not how long. Countless years, countless species — none the creature I seek.

• • •

Except that all life is miraculous, it is nothing special, this beast.

A humble ruminant the Lapps call Borgguhišgoah, I first heard tell of it in the village of Jokkmokk.

By the villagers’ account, it was cousin to the reindeer, tho’ a cousin of which the reindeer was perhaps not proud. It was said to be notoriously shy, and to judge by its description (less handsome than the reindeer, stupider; bladdernosed; malodorous, with a honking cry), it had much to be shy about.

But — and this was the point — it was unknown to science.

I discovered nothing about it in the proceedings of the Royal Society or the Academia Naturæ Curiosorum, or anywhere else for that matter.

It fell to me, then, to bring it into the fold, so to say.

I sought it on two subsequent excursions, though only as an adjunct to unrelated pursuits. I failed — but was nothing at all dismayed, for the unrelated pursuits, concerning observations of certain circumboræal flora, met with success.

Greatly inspired, I returned to Uppsala. I wrote and published my Systema Naturæ. It was received with every acclaim, including the most honest plaudit of the my peers’ jealousy (ah, me, how strange it is to think back on my life. It is as if I were recalling a time of illness that rendered me, and the entire world, violently mad).

I founded the Swedish Academy of Sciences; I married Sara Elisabeth; I devised a language of flowers so straightforward that ‘even a woman could understand it’.

Carl fils was born, and Johannes, and my daughters; I ascended to the chair of botany at Uppsala; my system of binomial nomenclature came to be universally used; it was said that ‘God created, Linnæus organised’.

I belonged to History.

But there was a hole in my contentment through which my pleasure drained.

The Borgguhišgoah. It, or its absence, had remained with me all along.

How could I have ever thought otherwise? There it stood, bladdernosed, honking stupidly, between me and a sense of completion.

At last, I mounted an expedition entirely to the purpose of discovering it.

Thank Providence, it remained elusive.

Three months, four. I extended the search once, again. We were forced to slaughter and eat the pack ponies. I identified a new variety of Bog Whortleberry (Vaccinium uliginosum). A travelling companion was crippled on Mount Åreskutan; another died of bleakness on the Vadvetjåkka mudflats.

We found nothing.

Finally, I returned home, Borgguhišgoahless.

My following years were as troubled by my failure as by my health; in 1777, my stroke; in 1778, my death —

… the final instant of my final instant a lotus within a lotus within a lotus…

Golden unfoldings revealing the æternal timeless instant that is the Heavenly Realm…

Where, now, I stand and stretch and scratch my behind, and converse a while with my colleagues about the land now passing below, alive with animals and plants of a musical type — tubers and trumpet-lilies and reed instruments growing on riverbanks; then I take my leave (warm cries, embraces, laughter), and pass belowdecks, thro’ the olm-ship’s divers inward resplendencies to the paradise in Paradise that is our quarters.

My family is at table. Beloved Sara Elisabeth presides over the children. Lisa Stina, much exercised, runs up to tell me of a flower she has seen with petals of snow: she speculates that the Polar Bear (Ursus maritimus) must serve as its pollinator (gently, I suggest another animal may be fulfilling that rôle, for would not a Polar Bear be better enticed by petals of penguin or seal-meat?)

Carl fils enters with Henrika (Henrika, our youngest, was born to us here, our suncoloured child, native of Paradise). Together, we sip potable gold and discuss the day’s findings. Inevitably, the conversation turns to the Borgguhišgoah, and the others, hearing, make mock of me: “O, Father, are you sure you are trying?” “Are you sure it is real, Father? Could not those cheeky Lapps have told you an untruth?” “Yes, remember what happened to Fru Mead!”

Henrika giggles. “O, poor Father! How disconsolate you must be! How you must suffer!” She laughs again: to her, suffer and untruth and disconsolate are nonsense terms, exoticisms from another world.

I sigh and nod and hang my head — and then I laugh, and all laugh with me.

Is not the search the thing, after all? Think, reader, how this little tale would have sagged without the impetus afforded it by the Borgguhišgoah.

What pleasure is there in fulfilment absolute and entire? That I am not completely happy makes my happiness complete.

How wonderful, what bliss, that the Borgguhišgoah eludes me yet! In life the animal was the source of my despair, here, it serves as the happy opposite, for what joy is there unless there may be still more joy to come?

 

 

Adam Browne says this story first occurred to him as a response or antidote to a melancholy quote from William Burroughs: “This is a war universe. War all the time. That is its nature. There may be other universes based on all sorts of other principles, but ours seems to be based on war and games.” This is his thirty-first published story. His illustrations can be found at http://lesacreduroi.etsy.com, including sketches of the lords and ladies to be seen in a paradise other than the one described in this story.


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ISSUE #19

May 2010

FICTION