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FLIGHT 0646 AN ILLUSTRATED SHORT STORY BY GABRIEL HEMERY

Copyright © 2021, Gabriel Hemery. All rights reserved.

The right of Gabriel Hemery to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with Section 77 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. No part of this publication may be copied, reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means without the prior permission of the publisher, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

This is a work of fiction. All names, characters, businesses, events and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination, and any resemblance to reality is purely coincidental.

I woke early. I had a flight to catch.

Leaving home for good is never something you undertake lightly, but then, sometimes you have little choice. It was just too crowded in the place I had called my home for the last year. And besides, I had a feeling, deep inside, that I must move on. Or a sense that — as the saying goes — I should spread my wings.

Today was the longest day of the year and even at this early hour, my way was lit by a soft zodiacal glow. I headed towards the warming eastern sky that would soon announce the arrival of the summer solstice. Hardly a breath of wind disturbed the stillness, yet the dawn chorus was cacophonous.

Arriving at the airy terminal, I blown away by its soaring beams and vast arching canopy, providing generous natural light and ample of space for travellers. I checked in to Flight 0646 without difficulty, but that was a privilege earned by arriving early. I’d not flown before with Cambium Airways, but it seemed a logical choice, being as they were a long-haul specialist. I was not alone in the lounge for long. It would be a busy flight, with thousands of others choosing the very same day to fly, like me, away from our homeland.

occasionally a winding river reflected the brilliant sparkle of the rising sun, while the conifer forests cresting the hills glimmered iridescently

With take-off safely behind us, I soon settled into the flight enjoying the luxury of stretching out my legs. I had a good view, being just in front of the wings, and soon the patchwork of green and brown fields below began to shrink as we gained height. It was a pleasant change to allow nature to take its course, and I simply allowed myself to be led across the brightening sky.

When I next looked down at the landscape, now far below, it was a mosaic of beautiful patterns and colours. The flat fertile fields were soon replaced with the contours of steeply-rising hills with heathy sides and craggy tops. Individual features, such as roads or trees, were no longer visible, but I caught a glimpse of another flier far below, heading the same direction as me. Occasionally a winding river reflected the brilliant sparkle of the rising sun, while the conifer forests cresting the hills glimmered iridescently.

I realised that I'd dozed off only when I woke with a sickening lurch. We were being tossed around like tiny insects in a summer storm. Rapidly coming to my senses, I saw we were traversing a mighty mountain range. The turbulent air tumbled over its high crenelated ridges which scarred the landscape with blades sharpened by shadow and light.

the turbulent air tumbled over its high crenelated ridges which scarred the landscape with blades sharpened by shadow and light

Snow-clad peaks stretched towards us, while glaciers cut across the high plateaux, their crevasses aligned as if the earth herself was hatching from beneath a shell of ice. In the low light of the rising sun, the deep valleys and ravines beckoned like doors ajar to the world beneath. In one valley, a forest attempted to colonise the inhospitable landscape, tentatively probing a bright green finger into the rocky heights. I imagined it providing welcome shelter for a weary traveller, offering a silvan oasis in the barren wilderness.

providing welcome shelter for a weary traveller, offering a silvan oasis in the barren wilderness

Despite the stunning view, I still felt giddy from the turbulence and kept my eyes on the horizon, hoping to quell my motion sickness. At long last, I felt the air settle as the dramatic mountains faded into mile upon mile of blinding tundra. Countless frozen lakes, fringed by the brown of deciduous boreal forests, ran in lines scratched in the earth by the talons of ancient beasts.

frozen lakes, fringed by the brown of deciduous boreal forests, ran in lines scratched in the earth by the talons of ancient beasts

I checked the inflight entertainment, intrigued to observe how we followed the curvature of the earth. It wasn’t long before I’d exhausted Buzz, the airline’s magazine. As usual, it was full of adverts for bling and sting, modelled by unreal bodies living unreal lives.

Food had yet to come round, but I wasn’t hungry. All I wanted was for the flight to pass as quickly as possible. I allowed my mind to venture towards what awaited me on arrival, especially my likely success in finding love. I’d lived a solitary existence for too long. Let's be honest. I’d been alone for too long, but soon I would have a once in a lifetime chance to find a mate.

a large oval lake came into view, reflecting the sky and clouds

I enjoyed wonderful daydreams, catching glimpses of scenarios which might be my future. If I’d smiled, fellow travellers might have wondered what was buzzing round in my thoughts. Feeling tired, I glanced below again, and was surprised to find that we were passing over a vast sandy desert. The plain extended far and wide, its red sandstone completely devoid of trees, marked only by wadis and rocky outcrops. A large oval lake came into view, reflecting the sky and clouds so perfectly that I expected to see myself in the looking glass.

I knew now that the flight was nearly over, and true enough, I could just make out the craggy mountains of my new home rising up from the plateau. The band of billowing cumulous clouds which clung to their peaks gave them away, even from a distance. We passed the famous landmark of red sandstone rocks deformed into trains of folded kinks and crinkles.

we passed the famous landmark of red sandstone rocks deformed into trains of folded kinks and crinkles

I stretched my legs in anticipation and told myself to remain calm as we had yet to arrive at our destination, let alone land safely, which I never took for granted.

Our wings fluttered and trembled as the mountains neared and we began our final approach. Glints from the wings of multitudes of other descending fliers provided a welcome distraction.

we followed a deep valley which sliced clean through the rugged hills

We followed a deep valley which sliced clean through the rugged hills. I felt our landing gear extend and with it our rapid mid-air deceleration. Before I expected, we were bouncing to a halt. At last, we were on terra firma, or more accurately, quercus folium.

As I took in my surroundings, I couldn't believe my luck. Not only had I landed on the most beautiful and verdant of places I could ever had hoped for, but I was surrounded by dozens of the most beautiful sorts of my kind. At the tips of my legs, I felt the heartbeat of the oak tree, and the ebb and flow of sugars flowing in its glorious epidermis. I had finally arrived in a true paradise.

THE END

The Protagonist: Neuroterus quercusbaccarum

The tiny cynipid wasp Neuroterus quercusbaccarum lays its eggs on the underside of the leaves of various oak species. The resulting larvae grow inside protective shelters connected to the leaf by a short stalk, familiar to many people as the spangle gall. When the leaf falls to the ground in the autumn, the larvae remain protected and overwinter inside the gall. They hatch as adult wasps in summer and fly off to seek a mate, the females finding an oak leaf on which to lay a clutch of eggs. In ecological terms, the cynipid wasp has an amensal relationship with the oak tree, just as we do, as humans. Amensal describes an association between two species where one is dependent on the other for its survival, but this is not the case the other way round. Trees not only provide us with clean air and water, give us shade and protect our soils, but their products can help us live more sustainably, and they are important for our mental health and wellbeing. In return, trees receive nothing.

BARK PHOTOS

All photos © Gabriel Hemery.

  • London plane (Platunus x hispanica)
  • pedunculate oak (Quercus robur)
  • Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii)
  • silver birch (Betula pendula)
  • Korean birch (Betula costata)
  • tall stewartia (Stewartia monadelpha)
  • incense cedar (Calocedrus decurrens)

About the Author

Dr Gabriel Hemery is an author of several books, a professional tree photographer, and a silvologist (forest scientist). He writes a top-ranking tree blog at www.gabrielhemery.com which features news about his books and photography, and appears regularly in the media talking or writing about trees.

In 2020, Gabriel’s images of tree bark were for the marketing and packaging campaign of a luxury skincare brand.

www.gabrielhemery.com and @GabrielHemery

Created By
Gabriel Hemery
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All photos (c) Gabriel Hemery