The ecosystem is defined by action – the effect of the habitat on organisms, the reaction of organisms, and coaction – the influence of organisms on each other. Interactions between species can be protective, neutral, or antagonistic.
“I don’t give a shit! You guys can do what you want, I don’t care. I don’t give a shit about you, Mitch.”
She kept control over her voice, but her neck was covered in bright red blotches.
“Relax, darl,” he started in a cajoling tone, but Sheree seemed not to hear. She was heading toward the trail signposted ‘Les Champs – 8km’.
She took long, even strides, pumping her clenched fists vigorously. She didn’t turn back. Mitch started toward her, but stopped mid-step and looked over his shoulder. He was like a dog that had to choose between playing with its backyard companions or going home with its owner. I wasn’t surprised when he loyally toddled off after Sheree. It wouldn’t even have surprised me if he’d bounced along behind her, and she’d taken a treat from her pocket and scratched him behind the ears.
But before he could catch up with her, he turned once more and gazed at me. It was like watching the line of the horizon disappearing as I drifted further and further out to sea. The vastness of the ocean terrified and mesmerized me all at once. Mitch had chosen a familiar, safe harbor on dry land.
The tempest blessed my sea-borne arousals.
Lighter than a cork I danced those waves
They call the eternal churners of victims,
Ten nights, without regret for the lighted bays!
I’d met them the day before. It was a warm afternoon in August. I was sitting on a fallen tree trunk, massaging my tired thigh muscles. The sun was still lingering over the sharp peaks of the surrounding mountains, where the snow never melted, even in summer. But here in the valley it was pleasantly warm. The blue of the cloudless sky contrasted with the lush green grass. I was at the southern end of the campsite, which was bordered by a dense growth of monumental spruce trees. Inhaling the smell of their resin, I remembered feeling my fingers sticky with honeyed beads as a young boy, carefully stretching the golden, viscous thread between my fingertips. In one of the labs at university, we were testing the organic inclusions contained in amber. Living organisms can get stuck in tree resin; if a whole organism is surrounded, cutting off its oxygen supply, that’s when fossils are formed. I’d wondered whether the insects were aware of their impending death. Did they try with all their might to break free from the sticky trap? Were they desperately jiggling those limbs that still enjoyed freedom of movement? Was there terror in their six pairs of eyes? When I was examining those fragments of the world from millions of years ago, locked in nuggets of amber, I’d wondered if people weren’t also caught in a fossilizing death trap by the sticky mesh of our social norms, expectations, and imperatives.
I was jolted from my reverie by the sounds of a discussion between two foreigners nearby. They were debating where to pitch their tent. They spoke with strong accents – Australian, I supposed. He could have been my age, maybe younger, closer to twenty than thirty, though perhaps I was fooled by his unruly curls and the wooden beads around his broad neck. The woman seemed older. There was something resolute and intense about her energy. The rolled-up legs of her khaki sports pants revealed sculpted calves and smooth, cinnamon-colored skin. She was in great shape, her movements were agile and nimble. She had already started to prepare the tent ready to put up, in the place she’d just proposed. The boy stood there scratching his forehead, apparently unconvinced, then smiled and crouched down to help her. Without meaning to, I inspected their gear – that was probably a Terra Nova tent, one of the newer models, not cheap, offering a good compromise between weight, comfort, and durability. While their kit suggested they had some experience in the mountains, their actions said otherwise.
“How do you intend to squeeze in there with a two-person tent, between the tree roots, and on a slope?”
I don’t know what provoked me to intervene. The woman turned abruptly at the sound of my voice, like an ocelot leaping to the ground from the branch she was lounging on, and twitching her ears, alerted, ready to defend her territory. The sun was shining directly in her almond-shaped eyes, which she squinted slightly for protection.
“What choice do we have? We arrived late, there weren’t many spots left.” She hid her slight despondency well under the mask of a courteous half-smile.
“I could give you my spot, it’s wider and flatter.” I pointed to the patch of ground where I’d dropped my backpack and shoes, having taken them off to rest my sore feet. “My tent’s quite compact, and on the other side of the stream there’s a small part of the campsite that not many people know about, I can squeeze in there. You’ll be more comfortable here.”
I didn’t know where the words were coming from. Was I just eager to help out the foreigners, since they were so rarely seen in these parts of the Alps?
The boy’s face lit up even more, his wide smile revealing an even line of white teeth. He was clearly unconvinced about their current spot, but he seemed to have given in to the woman. Something about his casual submission told me it wasn’t the first time, nor would it be the last. Now, however, the concept of a more comfortable lodging had renewed his enthusiasm.
“Are you sure?” she asked, probably only due to her polite upbringing, since the new spot seemed to be to her liking too. Her facial features relaxed.
“No worries, I haven’t even pitched my tent yet. Sleep well and enjoy your stay in Mont-Cenis.”
I started putting on my shoes and collecting my things. I tightened the straps on my backpack and threw it over one shoulder. As I was heading toward the tree trunk crossing the stream to the other side of the campsite, they called in unison: “Thanks!”. I was raising my hand in a ‘you’re welcome’ gesture when I heard her voice.
“Hey mate, what’s your name?”
“Jean-Paul,” I yelled back, then focused again so as not to lose balance. The trunk was mossy and slick with droplets of water deposited by the fast-flowing stream. The bank was overgrown with ferns and brambles, stretching out toward the sun between the undulating loops of the hefty spruce roots. The bed of the stream, clearly visible through the crystal-clear turquoise water, was covered with small oval-shaped stones. I even thought that here and there, among the glimmers of sunlight reflecting off the surface of the water, I could make out the silver-green fry of grayling. Since conditions at these altitudes are quite harsh, graylings have developed interesting ways of feeding – they can jump above the water’s surface to catch passing insects. It’s probably more glamorous for insects to die in a drop of resin.
A few hours later, I was lying in my tent in my boxers; I’d thrown on a fleece as well, because at these altitudes, even in summer, the temperature drops significantly at night. I was reading a book, slowly winding down in preparation for sleep. The next day I was planning to climb La Petite Turra and go down to the Combe de Cléry valley, which meant an early rise. The fleece label was chafing the back of my neck. I’d got it last minute, just before I left, so I hadn’t had time to perform the regular ritual of snipping off any unnecessary scrap of material that could cause undesirable friction against my body while hiking. Not wanting to lengthen my to-do list for the next morning, I reached into the side pocket of the pants I’d been wearing that day for my pocketknife. I didn’t find it. It was a handy foldable hunting knife, a gift from my father for high school graduation. The hilt was engraved with the coat of arms of our canton, the now obscure inscription ‘Liberté et Patrie’, Freedom and Homeland. Homeland, yes, my father had always been guided by that value, with religion, nation, family, and hierarchy at the forefront. But freedom? In his beliefs advocating the defense of the old order, the only justifiable freedom was a freedom in line with the views and life choices of him and his ilk. Sometimes, when I glanced at that knife, the letters blurred together and looked more like ‘Liberté est partie’, Freedom is gone.
I started going through the pockets of the fleece, my jacket, then each section of the backpack. There was no trace of the knife. I thought back to the last time I saw it. I’d cut a baguette and Comté cheese when I arrived at the campsite, then washed the knife in the stream and put it on the tree stump to dry. I couldn’t remember if I’d taken it with me when I was packing in a hurry to give up my camping spot to the tourist couple. My hands started to sweat as I imagined my father’s words on hearing I’d lost the knife: “I’m not surprised, that’s typical of you”. I sighed. Pulling on my pants, I grabbed a headlamp and crawled from the tent into the inky darkness. The moon was new, and the stars, with no competition from the lights of human civilization, dazzled like diamond lasers. I pulled the flashlight down over my forehead to help me balance as I crossed the stream.
From the other side, I could just make out the glow of a campfire. Two people were sitting near it, stretching their hands and feet toward the fire. August nights in the Alps often caught unprepared hikers off guard, assailing their skin, warmed by the searing sun during the day, with waves of shivers. I was close to the tree trunk where I expected to find my knife, so I turned off the flashlight to avoid waking people in the tents nearby. When I got there, I checked over the entire length of the trunk with my hands, but I couldn’t feel the knife. Trying not to make too much noise, I began to tread my way carefully all around the trunk and, crouching, felt around on the ground. I felt spruce needles and tiny pebbles. Dust and soil got under my fingernails. I heard the crunch of twigs, followed by a low, silky voice.
I got up off my knees and strained my eyes. The boy who had gratefully accepted my offer a few hours earlier was standing in front of me. I realized I hadn’t asked for their names.
“You looking for this?”
In his palm was a small object, glistening with metal. He turned his hand toward the light from the fire and I recognized my knife.
“We saw it after you’d gone and picked it up, figured we’d find you in the morning and give it back.”
He spoke in a pleasant, warm baritone, like buckwheat honey slowly stirred in steaming milk. Now the fire’s glow illuminated his profile. A charming face with regular features, a rectangular, strongly defined jaw, and a broad nose. His skin was slightly dry, the skin of someone who is often exposed to the sun and wind. Golden wisps of curly hair fell down over his forehead and reached halfway down his neck. I reached out to take my knife, but misgauged the distance and merely brushed his hand. His fingertips grazed my wrist, sending an electric pulse through my body and a tingling sensation down the back of my neck. I froze to the spot, but his voice snapped me out of my stupor.
“Wanna join us by the fire? It’s just the two of us and I guess we’ll be off soon, but there’s still some wood left, be a shame to waste it.”
He was direct and jovial.
“I heard your French accent, are you from round here? Maybe you could give us some tips on the best routes to take?”
I’d been planning to get up early. I should have been tucked up in my sleeping bag long ago, gathering strength for the tough hike the following day. But the pleasant vibrations I’d felt at the base of my spine intensified, and my next words surprised me.
“I’d be happy to help.”
He must have meant to slap me on the back, but instead, he put his hand on my shoulder. Normally I’d have found it overfamiliar, but he made it seem natural and carefree. I must have stiffened, an initial, uncertain reflex, because he took my hand and walked in front of me, leading me toward the fire.
As we got closer, the woman narrowed her eyes in appraisal, but her face lit up almost immediately. She straightened her spine, emphasizing her figure.
“Oh, Jean-Paul, it’s you! Lovely to see you again! Sit down, we’ve only got one mat, but if we squeeze up, we’ll all fit.”
She moved to the left edge of the mat and tapped the space next to her. I sat down gingerly, careful not to let any part of my body come into contact with hers. The boy settled down to my right, obviously not sharing my quandaries over personal space, his arm resting firmly on mine. I felt how well-built he was, his muscles springy and carved in that natural way that can’t be achieved by weight training in a gym, only by a large amount of athletic activity in the open air.
“I guess we didn’t introduce ourselves before. My name’s Sheree, and my boyfriend is Mitch.”
Her hands were slender, her fingers narrow with short, unvarnished nails. She wasn’t wearing makeup – and probably not just because she was camping in the mountains, but it seemed she was aware of her beauty and saw no need to tweak anything. She had dark skin, high cheekbones, and rather narrow lips. Her dark brown irises fused with the black of her pupils, and her eyebrows were prominent and thick, as were her eyelashes. Straight, shiny, dark-chocolate-brown hair fell across her shoulders. There was something exotic about her appearance. Maybe Polynesian?
“Where are you two from?” I asked, half out of curiosity, half to be polite.
“We live in Brisbane,” she said. “I moved to Australia for uni, and I’ve been there ever since. I was born and raised in New Zealand, I’ve got Māori roots. It’s my fortieth birthday coming up, so I organized a trip to Europe for us. This week’s mountain climbing, then we’re going rafting in Croatia, and windsurfing in Portugal. We took a month off from work – well, I did, Mitch’s timetable is irregular anyway. He’s a surfing instructor. I manage a small team of analysts in a hedge fund. And you? Where are you from, what do you do? You’re French, right?”
She was obviously used to playing first fiddle in conversation. Mitch didn’t seem to mind. He smiled softly, nibbling on a blade of grass, the gleams of sparks from the fire dancing in his eyes.
“No, I’m from Switzerland, but from a French canton, so people often get it wrong. I grew up in Montreux.”
“Oh, is that where Freddie Mercury lived?”
I was accustomed to the fact that the jazz festival and the frontman of Queen were most people’s first and only associations with the region of my childhood. Due to the mild climate, these areas have become known as the Swiss Riviera. Plant species grow here that are usually associated with the Mediterranean – cypresses, pine trees. My mother used to bake amazing cookies with thyme honey and pine nuts. Their sweetness soothed my father. When they appeared on the table, he didn’t even tell me off for helping my mother in the kitchen and prancing around in a frilly apron.
“Yes. It’s where ‘Made in Heaven’ was recorded. After high school, I studied at the University of Lyon and that’s how I ended up in France. I’m doing a PhD at the moment.”
I stole a glance at Mitch. He was tilting his head to the side, pleasant little creases appearing at the corners of his eyes. I thought of Biscuit, the dog belonging to our neighbors the Leuenbergers. He was an Irish Setter with a shiny golden-copper coat, trusting, outgoing, and friendly. I was really upset when they had to put him down. I was an only child and didn’t have many friends, but I felt really comfortable among animals.
I looked over at Sheree. She was observing me closely, her striking eyes narrowed.
The first documented references to the crossing of a domestic cat with a wild Bengal cat come from 1934. Bengal cats have a slender, elongated torso, a strong chin, sensitive ears and thick, silk-like, shiny fur. They are distinguished by high intelligence. They like to play, as long as they’re not forced to do anything. However, they display traits of their wild ancestors, such as distrust and cunning. They have strong hunting instincts. They like action, they are self-confident and curious.
“What’s your thesis about?”
“Interdependencies between species in anthropogenic environments. I’m analyzing the ecologically and evolutionary factors of different relationships.”
“That’s interesting! You don’t seem like the stereotypical scientist.”
What does it mean to fit a stereotype, I wondered. The simplified diagrams, clichés, and images that people use to judge and categorize. In my case, the scientist stereotype was the lesser evil, a compromise, an attempt to smooth out my father’s resentment and grief at his only son’s failure to continue the family tradition of neurosurgery.
Sheree’s gaze slid from my face and drifted down to examine my clothing. Her leg moved closer to mine.
Predation is one of the forms of antagonistic interspecies relationships that developed in the course of coevolution. There are different ways of hunting: in groups, and alone. Some predators catch their prey after chasing them. Others construct various types of traps or lure them with bait. Some predators show opportunism by hunting whichever species of prey is easiest to catch at a given moment.
“It’s getting chilly. Baby, can you pass me the bottle?”
She held out her hand toward Mitch and her elbow brushed against my knee. I straightened my leg to avoid her touch. A hint of surprise flickered in her eyes. She was one of those women who must have had men chasing her since she entered adolescence.
Mitch leaned over and reached behind him, then handed her a small silver hip flask. I noticed a labyrinth of tangled ribbons on his wrist, each a different shade and thickness. Some were covered in black dots, others in thin lines or simple geometric patterns. He clocked me looking at them, and for the first time since we’d sat down by the fire, he spoke.
“Been collecting them for ages, they bring me luck when I’m surfing. Every time I have a near escape on the waves, I weave in another ribbon. They remind me how lucky I am. And how much I love the sea.”
I wanted to ask him more, but I didn’t get a chance.
“He never takes them off, not in the shower, not in bed.” Sheree gave a sarcastic laugh, raising her eyes to the sky in mock despair. “You want some Cognac? I’m still not used to the taste of it, but in the last hostel that’s all they had, besides schnapps.”
I’d been avoiding alcohol lately. It provoked a deep melancholy in me, and a sense of longing. It gave the illusion that things could be different, fuller, more real, more intense, only to jeer in your face the next day: ‘You didn’t think that was serious, did you? You mistook real life for an indie music video. Be content with what you have, others were dealt a much worse hand in the game of life.’ I politely declined. Sheree shrugged, took a long gulp, and handed the flask to Mitch, who brought it to his lips. I studied them. They were shapely, the full lower lip was the color of wild strawberries, with parchment-thin skin, small flakes peeling off here and there. They hugged the mouth of the flask tenderly, drawing the liquid inside. I watched, mesmerized, as a single drop rolled down from the corner of his mouth. He wiped his cheek with his wrist and tilted his head back.
“Strewth, mate, you’ve got a great view of the stars out here!”
“That’s Ursa Major on the right there,” I said, pointing. “It’s not visible from the southern hemisphere. But where you’re from, you can see Centaurus. In the tales of the Greeks, the immortal Chiron, the wisest of the centaurs, was immortalized among the stars by Zeus after Heracles accidentally slayed him with a poisoned arrow.”
“I think I know the stars you mean,” said Sheree. “My grandmother used to tell me legends about them. In the language of her tribe, Whakatōhea, those stars are called Na Mata-o-te-tokolua.”
I looked at Mitch, who was still staring at the sky. An unruly strand of hair had slid down his temple and was resting on his left eyelid. I wanted to take hold of it gently, examine its texture, wrap it around my finger, maybe even bring it to my nose and inhale its scent, before tucking it behind his ear, only for it to fall right back over his face.
I felt eyes on me. Sheree was scrutinizing me closely. She looked at Mitch, whose smiling face was still turned toward the sky. She leaned over to take the flask from him, brushing against my thigh.
“Jean-Paul, are you sure you don’t want any, even a little sip? It’s a really good Cognac. See for yourself!”
I had no time to react as her lips pressed against mine. I felt the heat of the golden liquid, and my taste buds flooded with intense notes of chocolate, prunes, and tobacco. I detached my lips from hers and, without swallowing the liquid, turned to face Mitch. He was looking at me. I felt my pulse quicken. I stopped thinking rationally.
Without breaking the invisible thread of connection stretching between our pupils, I brought my face close to his. I could feel the roughness of his chapped lips. He parted them slightly, swallowed, but didn’t take his lips away from mine. Instead, he slowly opened his mouth, not resisting as my tongue gently brushed against his teeth before slipping inside. Red spots started pulsating under my closed eyelids. With unexpected passion, Mitch grasped the back of my neck and deepened the kiss. An intense shiver ran down my spine.
“Let’s go to the tent.” Sheree’s voice brought me back down to earth. She was already getting up from the sleeping mat and reaching a hand out to me. I propped myself up and struggled to my feet without her help. But she took my hand and led me away. I turned around. Mitch was following us. Even in the dark, I could make out the grin that never left his face.
Symbiosis is a type of species interaction that benefits all participants equally. Mutualism relies on reciprocal benefits to the extent that the two populations are practically dependent on each other to survive. Protocooperation, on the other hand, is characterized by the collaboration of populations that benefit each other but can also live independently. Protocooperation is a kind of casual symbiosis that often occurs temporarily.
A small camping lamp hung from the roof of their tent, illuminating the interior with a milky light. Mitch slipped out of his sweatshirt and vest in one swift movement, tossing them into the corner in a jumbled heap. He was just grappling with his belt buckle when I felt Sheree’s hands slide under my fleece, which she slid up over my head. I sat there stiffly, my eyes glued to Mitch’s fingers. Sheree nestled her breasts up against my back and began to nibble the back of my neck. I moved away from her and caught her bewildered expression out of the corner of my eye. Taking a risk, I leaned in toward Mitch. I helped him free himself from his jeans and was soon running my fingers over the coarse hair on his lower abdomen. His noticeable readiness did nothing to dispel my nerves. Was I making a fool of myself? Maybe he hadn’t returned my kiss by the fire after all?
My cheek was touching the inside of his thigh, my breath tickling his groin. I inhaled the scent of the sea and surrendered to the pulsing inside me. My uncertainty melted away like fog on the sand dunes at dawn. We began to float on steady waves. At first they were calm and measured, but soon they had carried us out into deep waters. We rose on their frothing crests, only to plunge into the velvety darkness below. I melted into the deep, thunderclaps echoing in my ears. My rhythm grew stronger, drawing him along with it. Finally, the tsunami swept Mitch into its vastness. The ground seemed to shake beneath the scale of it. All that remained of the immense ocean was foam on the shore. I tasted its saltiness without opening my eyes. I stroked the inside of his thigh with my fingertips.
“That was a nice little starter, now we can move on to the main course.” Sheree’s coquettish, slightly hoarse voice shook me abruptly from my boundless state of bliss. I wasn’t sure where she’d been for the last few minutes, but now she was kneeling on all fours, her spine arched like a cat, and making her way toward us. Every muscle in my body tensed, I could feel the heat in my ears. I racked my brain for an excuse, an explanation, a distraction method, but it was too late. Her fingers were already storming between my clenched thighs. She froze, frowning, as she realized that the wave had carried both of us to the highest of heights.
“Oh…” That short sound was a fusion of anger, surprise, and disappointment. She shuffled backward and looked at me with irritation. I found my fleece and pulled it over my head. I didn’t have the strength for a confrontation. I glanced at Mitch; he seemed to have fallen asleep, his head lolling on an inflatable pillow, his eyes closed. His face had an expression of bliss. I started looking for my shoes, determined to bring the evening to an end.
“Hey, kiddo, I didn’t mean to make you uneasy! Don’t go yet, maybe a little nap will help you regain your strength.” She smiled flirtatiously and reached out a hand, perhaps intending to run her fingers through my hair, or maybe stroke my cheek – but I ducked. I looked at Mitch’s naked torso. It rose and fell in time with his breathing. His lips were slightly parted, and I imagined I could feel the down on his cheeks beneath my fingers, delicate as the skin of the plump, fleshy peaches I’d picked on summer vacation as a child in my grandfather’s orchard. I lay down carefully between Mitch and Sheree.
My sleep was broken, light and restless. It was cramped, the tent wasn’t suitable for three people. I was lying on the join of the sleeping mats, which dug into my back. Every now and then, Sheree would run her slender fingers over different parts of my body, but I pretended to be asleep. At some point, I fell into a kind of semi-sleep. I dreamed that I felt Mitch’s hand sliding into my right pocket. He seemed to be looking for me. I surrendered to his touch and was lifted again by the waves.
Into the furious breakers of the sea,
Deafer than the ears of a child, last winter,
I ran! And the Peninsulas sliding by me
Never heard a more triumphant clamour.
In the morning I woke up alone in the tent. I could hear Sheree’s voice outside, piercingly cold. “Let’s pack up, I don’t want to be here a moment longer. Wake him up, get him out and take down the tent. I’m going to freshen up in the stream.”
Competition is the coexistence of species in which two populations vie for the same environmental factor. The more similar their living requirements, the stronger the competition between them. If ecological niches overlap, the stronger competitor might eliminate the weaker.
I glanced at my phone: 7:20AM. I got to my knees and crawled out of the tent. I shielded my face from the daylight with my forearm. Sheree was gone. Staring at an indeterminate point behind Mitch’s back, I was about to say a perfunctory goodbye when, to my surprise, he interrupted me.
“It’s too late for you to reach Combe de Cléry today. That was the plan, right? You mentioned something about it yesterday. Come down to Mont-Cenis lake with us! The guidebook says it’s a shorter and easier route. You can chill out by the lake, and you’ll have plenty of time for your trip tomorrow.”
Cheerful, trusting, like a puppy from a Disney movie. It was hard to turn him down. In my mind’s eye, I ran through a list of the possibilities that spending a few more hours in his presence would bring. Stealing glances at him when he wasn’t looking. Mentally toying with his unruly golden curls. Walking behind him on the narrow trail, his smooth, sculpted, taut back muscles right before my eyes. Finally, the faint scent of ozone, seaweed, a memory of sea salt on my tongue. After all, we hadn’t showered yet.
Then you’ll feel your cheek tickled quite hard…
A little kiss, like a maddened spider,
Will run over your neck…
And you’ll say: “Catch it!” bowing your head,
– And we’ll take our time finding that creature
– Who travels so far…
Sheree was walking alone, ten paces ahead, not responding to Mitch’s friendly jibes. If she had to answer a direct question, she replied in an ice-cold voice. Visibility was poor, fog had descended into the valley. Only the blurry outlines of the mountain peaks loomed above the thick haze, gray like bonfire smoke. The air was humid and heavy, my breathing shallow. I had the sensation we were walking in a vacuum. Even shapes near to us were blurred, and the all-embracing silence made everything even more unreal. The Alpine choughs, those of the subspecies graculus that build their nests on inaccessible rock faces, and usually greet passers-by with chirrups and chirps, were hiding away in the crevices. Nature seemed to have frozen over. The only sounds were our footsteps. I was feeling increasingly uncomfortable. The growing tension between them had settled oppressively on my chest.
Before long, we reached a crossroads in the tracks. To the left was the route to the lake. The road ahead, according to the signpost, descended into the valley to the village of Les Champs. The path diagonally to the right led through a mountain pass to Termignon. Without waiting for us, Sheree continued straight ahead.
“Hang on, darl, that’s not the right trail! The arrow for Mont-Cenis lake points left,” he called after her, but she didn’t slow down, didn’t even look back. “Weren’t we going to spend some time at the lake with Jean-Paul?”
“I don’t give a shit! You guys can do what you want, I don’t care. I don’t give a shit about you, Mitch.”
Amensalism is the negative impact of the presence and activities of one species on another, without bringing direct benefits or losses to the former. It is difficult to accurately determine the balance of such interactions, as the weakening of members of one species by reducing competition may provide some benefit to members of another species.
I didn’t even wait for their silhouettes to disappear over the horizon. I took the trail to the right. I was walking slowly now, at my own pace. The trail meandered uphill, and before long, I’d left the fog down below me. Now I could see more clearly the sharp edges of the rocks, laced with patches of silver lichen. Gangly tufts of grass jostled their way upward between boulders. Patches of snow glistened in the crevices. The silence was no longer weighing me down.
I remembered my dream from that morning, and without thinking, I reached into my pants pocket. I felt the chill of the metal. I pulled out my pocketknife and examined it fleetingly. I had to squint, my eyes burned from lack of sleep and fatigue. The letters inscribed on the hilt blurred. La liberté n’est pas partie. Freedom is not gone.
Then I bathed in the Poem of the Sea,
Infused with stars, the milk-white spume blends,
Grazing green azures: where ravished, bleached
Flotsam, a drowned man in dream descends.
Where, staining the blue, sudden deliriums
And slow tremors under the gleams of fire,
Stronger than alcohol, vaster than our rhythms,
Ferment the bitter reds of our desire!
The text includes fragments of poems by Arthur Rimbaud in translation by A. S. Kline: “The Drunken Boat” and “A Winter Dream”.
Sara Wilczyńska was born and raised in Poland, and currently lives in San Diego, CA. She teaches yoga and meditation and is a sound healing practitioner. She won the 3rd prize in the San Diego Public Library Short Story Contest in 2022. Her work was published in “Helikopter” literary magazine. She participated in ‘Bobkowski Project’ organized by the Polish Theatre Institute In The USA.
Kate Webster is a translator of Polish to English based in London. Her translation of Barbara Sadurska’s The Map was published in 2022. In September 2018, she was selected for the prestigious NCW Emerging Translator Mentorship Programme and awarded a 6-month mentoring placement with renowned literary translator Antonia Lloyd-Jones. During the mentorship, Antonia and Kate co-translated a graphic novel, I Nina (by Daniel Chmielewski), due to be published in 2023. Kate’s translation of Marta Kisiel’s story For Life was published in July 2020 as part of an anthology, The Big Book of Modern Fantasy. Other examples of her work, including translations of essays and short stories, can be found on the websites of Przekrój, Eurozine and Switch on Paper. Kate is a member of the Society of Authors and the Translators Association, and now mentors colleagues as part of the ITI Polish Network mentoring scheme.