The Desiccated Adventures of Coco King
A pine tree standeth lonely
In the North on an upland bare;
It standeth whitely shrouded
With snow, and sleepeth there.
It dreameth of a Palm tree
Which far in the East alone,
In the mournful silence standeth
On its ridge of burning stone. — Heinrich Heine
When the photo was developed, I was stunned to find the tree missing. Was it an
omen? There stood Sarkar in a pose to authenticate the tree, smiling in that rakish free
and-easy way he had a snazzy talent for. However, the very subject of our trip had
eluded us–not even a blur, the kind that might appear should the camera equipment have
shaken. But why would that occur? We had been careful. We were no runaway mad dogs
of glory. We were no garden-variety dreamers of dragons and myths. Maybe we were
introspective poets. Our camera had stood squarely upon a good-sized fallen stump we
had resourcefully located to capture the one-of-a-kind shot, just as Sarkar would have
wished. What a killing, closer to the truth! But where was the tree?
I bled in a woodsy quandary, the kind that may be described as arboraceous,
uncertainty of risk washing over me in waves of loamy softness that would intensify my
core. The photo rose sluggishly. I squinted hard again at our crisp and sharp high quality
computer-to-print photograph. The megapixels that returned my stare were indisputable.
No mistake. Not a sign. None. Not even a smoky wisp of one, such as when a
splendiferous upside-down manifestation merges with a walking tree in arboreal
gratification. Many a time have I been bonked on the bean by a fruity ghost tree. So, I
know the kind. Plainly, our ‘penetrating preacher’ of singular narrative stood mystically
evaporated. Managing complexity was never my forte. It sent contradictory messages
unfavorable to my scholarly pursuits. The peril in this case was in multiples of combat
But, let me start at the beginning.
We are a team of amateur ‘spirit of the woods’ photographers. We film and document odd and unexpected green growths found in the forests. Our work takes us to many strange and exotic locations. We unlock the macrofossils of plant structures, not the swamp kind which reeks of stubborn purpura, but real plants that hold the unexplained essence of the universe — the plants that talk to us. They even do a Paul Revere on us. And thereby we are fore-warned in timely fashion.
We record these finds. Silly you may say, but we penetrate their auric glow. We may have started out as dedicated tree-huggers once, long ago. But we have accelerated since. The comparison today would do us a grave injustice, which the cult in us will
vociferously equivocate. Our high bar comes from our woodsy personality.
Our particular area of expertise is the xylem and phloem that flows beneath the
bark giving lignin and life to unusual secondary trees and shrubbery that mysteriously
appear. These reams of invaluable data we sell to interested environmental agencies and
research facilities seeking our work for a fee. We started our business five years ago and
have been doing reasonably well since. Our piskies and toadstones series won us many
awards. So did our clickety-click-waft-talk, basically the greens trumpet sounds in the
sky. Most unusual and scant footage was recorded then, but incredibly copacetic. Sarkar
gave it the three thumbs up.
We are proud to reveal that we are now in the midst of heavy-handed contract
negotiations with two of Hollywood’s major motion picture studios. More complex than
we anticipated–the dogma of the studio boardrooms. No poets there. None! We are using
the Hans Solo and Rin Tin Tin small scale artisan version to hammer it out–the
negotiations, that is. Dizzying! And bloody ruthless! But it suits our homogenized
freshness. Like everyone we dream big, live big! We have been casting our eyeballs in all
spaces, since. But the smart money is leaving the business, to China, green-gobbled by
giant panda. I don’t know if it is true. But if it is, with a little bit of reboot, we could even
intersect with Hogwart’s whomping willow. And then we are back with the tree–our tree.
Coco. See what I mean? We take our work seriously.
Three days ago, we arrived on Shelter Island to photograph a queer tree anomaly.
Coco King. Shelter Island if you must know lies in the far east end of Long Island. Native
trees found here are pine, oaks and maples, which withstand the cold winters of snow and
ice. They do not remotely resemble what we found in the woods. Except for the fact that
it is an island, and islands are locations where palm trees are typically found, Shelter
Island bears not the closest similitude to the kind of strange flora of this particular genus.
Not even if the right soil existed, which it doesn’t. But find it we did.
We were fired up. Wind of it first arrived when a mutual friend hiking a camping
trail casually suggested we check it out. First, we were dubious. Why only one tree? We
argued non-stop. It was Sarkar who used to live like a ship-wreck before we teamed up,
who convinced me that encounters in the Uno/One were visible the world over, if only
one looked, referring to Crusoe’s famous solo-footprint in the sand. So why not our single
palm tree? I thought the argument ambiguous, even contrary. It had always bothered me,
Crusoe’s ‘solitary footprint.’ But, ‘a’ singular tree?
Then we took to mulling our friend’s multifocal contact lenses in purple, which
allowed her to see vistas at bio-speeds. How many purple-glimmer lens-wearers do you
know who have actually climbed a coconut tree, except to drink its ambrosia heavenly
dew and admire it in exotic atolls and sandy beaches through a purple haze, from afar?
Our friend since eighth grade had been transitioning past Halloween. Besides, we were
wondering, could it have been a fir tree struck by lightning, so that its top shocked by the
blast had fanned into a frond of sharp needle pines she mistook for a palm tree? Did I
forget to mention, oh yeah, our friend after all was a she, living so far up north she had
practically forgotten what a coconut tree looked like! She could have been dreaming. You
know, girls! Sarkar argued, with his normal bombast, in that stubborn way he was
renowned for, keeping me guessing. Frankly, we were stumped.
Our travel plans askew, commonsense dictated we make a detour. We had been
on our way to Goa to participate in an on-going dispute, elevated to an international
debate, on the subject of whether the coconut was a tree or a grass. Like we are disputing
between spruce or yucca. That such a question could have even arisen after centuries of
being doubt-free, was beyond comprehension to us. That tree-groupies of every ilk and
shade from Big Tree Programs to What My Tree Saw iconic rock-stars were gaining
upper hand was worse. That numbers were growing on all sides felt hopeless. To reduce
it to a weed was bitter. We were ambushed. What bothered us was that the coconut after
all was truly an historically proud specimen of a tree, highly valued even by marooned
castaways, as Sarkar could vouch, such a smart partner that he was, from the permanence
of his ‘Crusoe’ goat pen resiliency. What human could realistically ignore the coconut’s
flattering water, sweet kernel, coco coir or dramatic three-eyed sophistry? The
comparison brooked no further argument. The evidence was indisputable. Besides, did it
look like a grass?
The rationale to us quickly reduced to a no-brainer as they say. If it had sap and
cellulose it simply was a tree. No question. But stuff happens. We were headed
eastwards to Goa to lend our voices to the Big Debate, when word had arrived of a tall
king coconut palm found on eastern Long Island. Shelter Island to be exact. We could not
miss up this golden opportunity. So, decision made, we hastened with all possible speed
North. Our intention was straightforward and narrow–to photograph the weird tree, if it
actually existed, develop the role of film immediately, and catch the next morning flight
to Goa. Simple, or so we imagined.
To cut a circuitous narration short, two circumstances occurred, so bizarre that I
cannot explain. First, the film roll turned out to be a blank, except for that one picture.
Second, the image of the tree was nonexistent. Blanked out. No Coco King. As if it had
never happened. This was brazen. The story of the old Wakanaka tree. Repeated. Never
happened before – unexplained vanishings of pretty famous trees. So where was the tree?
Sarkar unhinged, suggested returning to the site at once. In his demented save-
tree-save-life-state he was uncontrollable, raving of supernatural spinoffs. Came out of
his isolation. The fact is the film roll was unexpired, of finest quality, solicitously stored
in the fridge for longevity, un-tampered spool carefully installed in our specially outfitted
versatile camera, by him personally. I grew scared and a little hesitant. The hour was late-
-a good two hours by road, although ferries operated late into the night. We would miss
our flight. But reasoning with Sarkar was like talking a fur trapper into forsaking his pelts
trade. He would hear none of it. So off we set for one last look at Coco King.
We made it in good time to the pine forest wilderness of Mashomack, navigating
the narrow harbor entrance of Coecles, without incident. Soon we had left the main
highway and were cutting through the marshlands. Pockets of wetlands interlaced
streamlets and tidal creeks, as we sped to our location on the south shoreline. The stretch
was deserted, acres of nothing but untouched woods creaking eerily in the dark. Most of
The moonlight lit our way. Flashlights helped. As camera crew it is our natural
instinct to photograph whatever we see. The lens is our instrument of trust. The rarer the
picture the more satisfactory the effort. But on this occasion, we were having to give the
surrounding beauty a miss, hidden in shards of darkness and light, as the moon looking
like an appetizing piece of cheddar cheese played with the thick clouds. It was well past
midnight. We had a mission to complete.
A heavy silence fell upon us. We met no one along the way. We did not expect to.
Occasionally we stumbled or caught our foot in a root. We cried out in anguish when this
occurred. Shortly, we were at the clearing by the beach. A curious flash at intervals was
lighting up the night sky. Not of the moon. For a fleeting moment I thought of fireworks
on display. It lent a certain counterfeit strength, of eerie familiarity.
Emboldened I looked. There on the pale white sands, glinting in the silvery moonlight, was our tall palm tree, swaying tipsily to the gentle breezes blowing over the ocean waters of the bay. The tree looked lifeless, lacking vitality or spirit – a decaying shriveled vestige of its former self. Only moments of life were left. It would not be long when it would crumble dry as dust and sand. Under its canopy of feathered palms peered one last brown fruit clinging tenaciously as if its very life depended on how firmly it was
attached, which was precarious, a coconut so large as to be almost preposterous. The rest
had fallen in an explosive cascade.
Our camera stood conspicuously where Sarkar had placed it on the fallen tree
stump. It flashed intermittently with a bright white luminescence as if someone had
clicked and kept on clicking. That was not possible. Then I remembered the auto-click.
The artificial compelling light it produced, from magnesium filaments, swallowed the
darkness, like an ammunitions dump exploding, at intervals. Only no sound accompanied
the intensity of the synchronized flash, giving the impression that either I was deaf, or
lying on a bed of snowflakes. The flash was furiously blinding, the interim between each
casting a notion of such permanent darkness I felt I had entered the gates of Inferno, the
one they call Dante’s, that deep place of leaping shadows, decedents tremble to enter. In
the pits! In the pits! A crude hammering was sounding. Coco King deserted by your
master! How often had Sarkar listened to my tale of plants!But here without apparent
cause was an unheard-of fatality. Scissor-locked in a dream.
Under the coconut tree, buried beneath a heap of drupe, lay the still form of
Sarkar. Where his head should have been rested a large king coconut, silently gleaming,
thick and creamy. There was no miscalculation. No amount of re-engineering would
awaken him. He was motionless. So was the fruit. Besides him in the sands lay our inert
mutual friend, the purple-eyed one, her outstretched form branching like a lavender root
of the tree. It had taken less than a fraction of a second of shutter-speed. He had fallen at
the very spot he had stood to have the original photograph taken.
I must be on my way to Goa! And my name is Coco King.