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March 7, 2018

12. The Autochthon

…for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.
Genesis 3:19


When the Explorers arrived their intent was not clear. They brought hard metals shaped like tree branches that could explode and instantly kill a man. They brought the jewels and gems of nature as their currency. It is preposterous to enslave Nature in that way. (Even metals of the earth, with a coldness imbued, still are a member of the Natural order.) 

The Explorers had a kindness that was easily toppled on the foundation of suspicion, they were easily angered and communicated poorly. Camaraderie requires more than commerce. Their leader quickly lost his temper and the indigenous chief wished the Explorers to continue their travels north and to the east. It would be safe and the natives had packed food and necessities to ease the dismissal. Henry Drake, as captain of the expedition, had grown tired of these simpletons, pulled out a revolver, aimed the muzzle at the tribal chief, and pulled the trigger. Blood was spilled and a seed was planted.

With his final words, the chief blessed his people and the land. Henceforth his people would become one with the natural soundings, entwine with the flora and fauna of the landscape. Restraint is a virtue and was exercised nobly by the tribe.

Without more violence the Explorers took the food, goods, and advice from the natives and headed east.

The tribal shaman followed the men, several paces behind, unnoticed. “Your mistake has been made,” whispered the shaman through the leaves. He called down spirits to assist in the tribal chief’s final will. “The seed of the fruit from the hand of evil will entangle the root of the goodness of the land evermore. Make these men into the clay of your hands and shape them, fashion their broken souls into the beauty of this land. Your mistake will be repaired.”

In the thicket of the brush, limbs and trees and leaves and vines all moved in unison to seize and immobilize the men. Their guns misfired and chaos further ensnared them within the power of the woodland. Soon all was quiet and each body was consumed and interred within the soil and within the bark of the trees.

The shaman returned to the village, reporting the episode. (Elders established the chief’s son as sachem, the paramount chief, to replace his murdered father.) Peace and security was reestablished.


One hundred years later, a new group of Travelers, passed into the tribal landscape. Isolation had guarded the natives for an epoch and that protection was waning. The tribe greeted the newcomers warmly. The hesitation of the previous generations had melted away. One of the Travelers is young, an orphan. Language was a barrier but the boy took to liking the natives. They were kind to him, unlike some of his peers.

After a few short days of encampment, the young boy-Traveler took a free walk through the jungle. Just into the thicket he noticed the limbs of trees closely resembled the arms of a man. Some of the roots bore likeness to the ankles, feet, and toes of men. Aghast, he trembled back and began to run back to the tribe and his peers. But there in front of him was a powerful and statuesque figure—one of the tribe members he had not seen before. In a familiar tongue, “Do not fear. What you see is real. Years and years ago we were threatened and we responded. Nature will not always allow transgression. You are safe here. Do not fear,” he reiterated.

“But who are you?” the boy’s voice trembled. “And what is all this?” his eyes wandered over the shoulder of the giant man.

“You are frightened of trees that resemble men. All of the trees in this forest were once men and you have only now trembled. A great deal of things in this world are beyond our comprehension. And those that are within our understanding do not always need to be feared.”

Despite the words, the boy shrank in fear, silence, and reverence.

“I am the shaman that protects this land and the people that live with it. Together the two are one. The land gives and man takes; when man dies he returns to the Earth; and when the land is prepared it gives back the man as a new creature. Perhaps he will be a new man, perhaps only a frog, and yet maybe he is a tree, or beautiful eagle.

Times are changing and we request your assistance. We wish to continue the protection and perpetual peace of our land. You can help.”

“Me? But what can I do?”


The Travelers passed through the land peacefully and their children bore their children. Another century passed. The legend of the Autochthon was strong, the land that consumed men into the trees and soil.

But from the west more dark souls intruded the holy landscape. The Others, as the natives called them. They brought Bibles in the name of God but their hearts were vacant.

After enough time of greeting and translation, the leader of the Others asked “Where is your leader? We have heard rumors of the land being alive.” He paused naïvely for a response but none was given. “This may seem frightening. We want to tell you it’s source from God, the Creator.”

The shaman held his hand out to stop. The Others stopped speaking in confusion. “But don’t you want to know about the curse of the land?” they insisted.

The shaman shook his head and muttered under his breath. He and the native listeners turned their backs and began to walk away.

The orphan boy uttered the words he knew so well, “The seed of the fruit from the hand of evil will entangle the root of the goodness of the land evermore. Make these men into the clay of your hands and shape them, fashion their broken souls into the beauty of this land. Your mistake will be repaired.” 

His arms all reached up from the ground and out from the trunk. His fingers grasped the waists, ankles, and wrists of the Others. They cried in horror but his grasp only multiplied. The struggle was muffled and quick. Soon peace was once again restored.

“You have served us well, boy. Go and be new again,” said the shaman.

There is a loose adaptation of a living land taken from Jeff VanderMeer’s The Southern Reach Trilogy—specifically from the first book, Annihilation

Autochthon means something like indigenous inhabitant. I prefer the Greek, literally, “sprung from the earth,” which of course, influenced the land. I still don’t know if the native people are the Autochthon or if the land itself assumes that name.