I thought I’d try something a little different this week and bare my soul ever so slightly by sharing a story I wrote around 13 years ago when I was in the tenth grade. I was digging through some old papers on the bottom of my bookshelf recently and found a piece of paper that looked a little worse for wear. It contained a short story I’d written for a high school English assignment that required me to adapt in my own style the opening scenes from the poem “Tintern Abbey” by William Wordsworth.
In typical Michael fashion I recall having struggled to write this piece, as I’d only skimmed the first few lines of the original poem before becoming disinterested. I distinctly remember convincing myself if I somehow crafted a ridiculous enough story, my teacher – in some sort of stunned act of confusion – would actually assign me a decent grade. Apparently I also felt that making it explicitly clear mine would be a vague adaptation was key toward achieving this outcome, for the title of my piece included the following bracketed caveat, complete with bold font: “(A rough adaptation of the opening scenes of Tintern Abbey)”.
For those who didn’t know me in high school, I wasn’t the type of student one might describe as being ‘dedicated to their studies’. I blame this partially on the fact that I attended a selective high school, where it took only two or three days to realise I was surrounded by the nation’s future heart surgeons and nuclear physicists who were going to outshine me every step of the way. My rather melodramatic solution was to immediately give up and place my brain on auto-pilot. Often after attending roll-call of a morning, I would swiftly catch the next bus into town and buy a cheap, second-hand book from Rice’s Bookshop, then make my way to either Civic Park, King Edward Park or Empire Park across from Bar Beach. There, I would sit in the sun all day and read. Looking back, I am convinced that repeating this routine twice per week from ages 15 through 18 had a lasting effect on my personality in the following ways: (1) I much prefer butterflies and blue skies to timetables, structure and deadlines, which I consider to be abhorrent little creatures, (2) I am constantly swept up in the emotion of life, as if I were a character in a book, and (3) I begin to feel overwhelmed if I am continually surrounded by people and not afforded enough time to be at peace with my thoughts.
While over a decade may have passed since its creation, I am still the same odd little dreamer with his head stuck in the clouds who once considered it accceptable to submit for a rather large assessment the following story about an ant becoming lost in some tall grass.
At the Bottom of a Gently Sloping Hill
(A rough adatpation of the opening scenes of ‘Tintern Abbey’)
Wind blows cold along the narrow cliff lining. Trees sway softly in the breeze as the wind dances along the river’s edge. The harsh force of winter is quashed by a far off murmer of an approaching beauty; Spring is near.
From atop a hill, as if the ground itself awakes, comes a flurry of action as a procession of ants march across the russet dirt. A line forms and the army begins its search for this season’s dwelling.
Reaching the bottom of the hill’s gentle slope, the line lingers for a moment, inspecting a well-rounded section of dirt. Base camp located, the ants settle. Across the way from the newfound quarters lies a fallen tree. A pair of neighbourly eyes peer out at the newest addition to the region. As quickly as they appeared, the eyes retreat back into the darkness. The log lies still, blocking the weather beaten path that trails along the riverbank.
One of our newfound friends becomes separated from the tribe, wandering off along the river’s edge. Night approaches and the wind, though gentle now, strains the creature’s limbs. While small portions of light seem to radiate from behind a row of sycamores atop the hill, darkness all but blankets the scene.
The wind gathers speed and the ant grows troubled. Looking around, he finds himself swallowed up in row after row of unfamiliar shrubbery. Rapidly, he withdraws. Travelling back along the frame of the river, he searches for signs of the now desirable weather-beaten track. Up ahead, from among the long, thick blades of grass emerge a pair of antennae, caressing each blade of grass as though they were lines on a map. Another lost soul. A sleepwalking creature of the night whose noctambulous dance would soon be brought to a halt as our wind-beaten, tired, little ant travels bravely across the excruciatingly rocky plain that separates him from his saviour.
Joining forces, the pair make their way through fields of soaring grass, yearning for sanctuary. The sights, sounds and smells of the night are almost too much for the young insects to handle. Frightened, they huddle together, sink low to the ground and close their eyes.
The howling of wind momentarily relents and the ants look up. A soft row of light emanates from between the blades of grass up ahead, revealing a narrow strip of dirt for the ants to travel along. They urge each other on. Approaching the end of the tunnel, the weary night travelers feel the weight of uncertainty lift as they spot something familiar in the distance: A well-rounded section of dirt laying at the bottom of a gently sloping hill.
The good news is it turns out even a ridiculous tale of an ant going for a walk at night can score you an A. The bad news is while my bi-weekly days laying on a park bench reading literary wonders such as ‘Madame Bovary’ may have helped fool an English teacher or two into thinking I’d paid attention in class, my mathematics teachers were less than impressed when during end of year tests I would ‘solve’ particularly complex equations by crafting overly dramatic acrostic poems…
- Mathematics: Eternally driving
- Anguish and fear into
- The very heart of life.
- Harrowed, forever, we
- Submit to your power, crushed by the everlasting weight of darkness
Not even one measly bonus mark for creativity. Fucking mathematicians. No sense of humour whatsoever.