Foreword: The Nile River
In my World History classes, every teacher would always start the course by discussing the importance of the Nile River in the developing Egyptian civilization. The website TimeMaps is one of many sources to express the development of Ancient Egypt in detail (“The History of Ancient Egypt, Part 1/5: 3500BC.”). The Nile River flooded annually, creating a region of fertile silt. There, plants could be grown. There, people could settle. There, an empire could be grown.
One must imagine the epiphany that the ancient hunter-gatherers had when stumbling across this fertile valley for the first time. After living in the abrasive, oppressive heat of the middle east, dry and marked with deserts, they discovered an expansive coolness of water. Floods graced the shores with vegetation, and the shade and water offered a release from the sting of the sun. An oasis was found.
According to the Bible, the Ancient Egyptians were bested when Moses freed their slaves, the Israelites. Ideas carried on from Egypt, such as the reverence for water and cool, fertile weather. Thus, the Bible was penned with an image of Hell. Hell is an awful place the condemned are sent to, yet is only physically described as “the furnace of fire” (Matthew 13.50), “the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone” (Revelation 21.8), “eternal fire” (Jude 1.7), and “the fire that never shall be quenched” (Mark 9.43).
But is fire also not beneficial? Did not the Egyptians also worship the sun? Without fire, one can not cook and light can not be produced. Without heat, nothing can grow. Are deserts really so awful and oppressive?
I believe I have found a modern Nile.
Chapter One: Two Assignments
I would have never made this discovery if not for two expansive school projects delivered at the same time. First came a short film that was, in some way or another, intended to depict a poem of my choice. The second, which I have completed if someone is reading this, was a nature essay.
I first began my work on the essay by scuttling throughout the campus of Hofstra University. My professor mentioned an example of a student watching a plant grow through the cracks in the sidewalks. The essays we read in preparation involved forests and birds, the night sky and science. The possibilities were endless, especially on a campus that serves as an arboretum, but believe me when I say trees and shrubs were the driving force behind my original concept of this essay.
Leading to Colonial Square is a small strip of grass where trees line, squirrels play, and the scent of Christmas Boxes dominates. I saw a bluejay follow me to my dorm on a snowy day. I saw a cat hiding in a golden tuft of grain (grey, yellow eyes, one of the ones I’d never seen before). I smelled the cut grass as groundskeepers maintained the fields. Originally, this is where I planned to study, but decided against it when I realized there was no good place to sit comfortably and study nearby.
The deadline for my poem project was approaching. I still did not have a poem. In my original “About” page for my writing blog (one of my first assignments for WSC 110), I was going to write extensively on my interest in Lewis Carroll. His mathematical inspiration for his nonsensical pieces has always piqued my interest. Lewis Carroll was therefore someone I was often thinking about during my early Spring 2017 semester projects. He was a good author whose repertoire I could pick from easily for my poem project, yet what I had envisioned for my adaption of “The Walrus and the Carpenter” was much too complicated for the resources remaining. The subject quickly turned to a shorter poem of his called “The Crocodile.”
Green. Green became the idea surrounding both projects, and thus they were united. Green scales like a crocodile might have. Green leaves and pines immersed in a strong scent of dirt. Where the camera pointed was green. What my pencil wrote was green. For a day everything was green, until I heard a rumor that fish were in the sensory garden.
Chapter Two: The Sensory Garden
The sensory garden was originally developed by Hofstra University with an emphasis on somatic sense and in honor of disabled persons. Lamb’s-ear, for example, was once a highlight for visitors to experience; it felt like the ear of a lamb, hence the name. The garden is circular, with two green arches providing an entrance and a pond residing in the center. It was a spectacle.
It was a spectacle. Now, in late winter, the sensory garden stands in a much more pitiful state. The Lamb’s-ear is rotting, crispy vines wind up the metal gates. Even the weeds which have overtaken the garden seem to struggle to survive. Rusting metal, reddened bricks, and a nearby road make this an unlikely place to study nature.
Of course, nature is more than just plants. Just because air and water may be inorganic does not mean they are not unnatural. I began my work there in the company of three friends who I happened to stumble across walking.
Chapter Three: Romance
I sit at the edge of the fountain, peering into the pond. The carp gliding inside, black fans for fins and speckled with sunlight, instantly had my attention. Here, in the barren desert, devoid of vegetation, was the Nile River. They were life and they were water. They provided a reason to return to this forgotten place.
I listened to my friends beside me, rummaging through my too-small bag for my camera. For all the hassle in producing my medium, I only shot forty-five seconds worth of footage. I chatted with my friends about ancient Greece, packed up my camera with relative ease, and produced my notebook to study the fish. I can’t remember the exact words my friends said, but I do remember the dare: touch one.
As the cold, crisp water washed over my fingers, I immersed myself into their realm. My fingers brushed against a dorsal fin, then another, then another. Then, they were suspended in coldness.
Suddenly, sensation! The tiny, matte black babies swam to my fingertips. There, they left small, tiny kisses and swam away. I was ecstatic! They swam up again, repeating this process as if it were some sort of game. In this moment, two creatures, completely different, were united in a way words can not imitate.
My friends were growing impatient. They had a toga party to be attending in a few hours. Sadly, I had to leave the company of the magnificent carp.
Epilogue: A Return
On a warm, sunny day, I returned to the garden. My official notes for my essay had long been gathered, and the film footage corrected to show the fountain as a shining gold deposit. I aimed my camera at the water, and instead saw a reflection.
There stood green buds on a tall, magnificent tree. It was warped in the waves of the water, but clear against a blue sky. I turned to the rest of the garden to give a closer look, something I had neglected to do prior.
Among the natural rot of the Lamb’s-ear were tiny green buds, just beginning to peer out of the field of soil. The decaying, darkening plants renewed the soil, letting new life spring in. I pondered this little plant, then stepped outside the boundaries of the gate for an image.
The picture I took looked like Arnold Böcklin’s Isle of the Dead. The white structures were the bricks, the cypresses the green gate, and the the boat the fountain. Though, this is an unfair comparison to make. The River Styx was, of course, the pond itself. From the outside perspective both are gloomy, though the appearance belies the truth. In later Greek mythology, the Asphodel Meadows (Scarfuto) and Elysium (Buxton) existed in the underworld for the souls of the peaceful. The sensory garden may be decaying, but inside are the lives of tiny sprouts and ancient carp.
To quote Roger Tory Peterson, “We don’t have to go to wild places to find wildlife” (Landry). I was in a structure of bricks and beside a road, yet here was the nature of life, the nature of death, the nature of the organic, and the nature of the inorganic. Even in the oppressive desert, there may grow a cactus.
The Bible. King James Version, Cambridge Edition, 1769.
Buxton, Richard. The complete World of Greek Mythology. Thames & Hudson, 2004, pp. 213.
“The History of Ancient Egypt, Part 1/5: 3500BC.” TimeMaps, 22 Feb. 2014. Web. 28 March 2017.
Landry, Sarah B. Peterson First Guide to Urban Wildlife. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1994.
Scarfuto, Christine M. “The Greek Underworld.” UIOWA Wiki, 31 Jan. 2010. Web. 30. March 2017.