"Packing," by T. Kingfisher
Today is not the day I wanted to do this, but we aren’t always given choices. It’s time to pack for the new seasons.
No, you can’t stay. This place won’t be here soon. It’s already going, slipping away, each new summer tearing off strips. You can see the new flesh underneath. We’re still guessing at the shape of it. Probably the cicadas know, but we can’t understand their buzzing, and there are more of them every year.
All these choices were made long ago. Now is not the time to relitigate them.
Now our job is to decide what to bring with us.
No, you can’t take the polar bear. I’m sorry. I know you loved him. He takes up too much room, and he requires refrigeration. So does his food. We have to make hard choices now.
(Look, he’s already making his own way, trading his coat to the grizzly bears, the seals for salmon. Let him go. Remember that you loved him.)
Stop. There is no time left for crying, either.
Don’t talk to me about Noah. He got an ark and everything came to him. In breeding pairs, no less! We get a suitcase and our own two hands, and only so much as we can carry.
The beekeepers began long before the rest of us, stuffing the hives into their knapsacks, bubble-wrapping up the queens. You can tell them by their honey-streaked T-shirts, by the way they greet each other, with buzzing luggage, performing the secret handshake of beekeepers.
The people who love wasps are rarer, but they will open up their coats and show you the rows of black and gold, all lined up in tubes with stingers pointed down, like an array of hypodermic needles.
The beetle lovers are fretful. There are so many beetles, you understand, and so many of them look alike, and sometimes they swap their tiny nametags and set taxonomy back a decade. When the beetle woman goes by, bent under the weight of a thousand carapaces, you can hear her muttering Latin names to herself.
Plants are easier, provided you don’t get too attached to water lilies or massive, stinking arums. The seeds pack into very small spaces, a whole potential forest cupped in the palm of your hand.
What will it be, then? Rare orchids? The cucumbers that went in your grandmother’s pickle recipe? The parrots with red feathers on their heads? The apples will be hard. It has to do with chilling hours, you understand. I wouldn’t weep. The Red Delicious has been a soggy travesty for years.
Of course I understand. My first love was Przewalski’s horse, from a poster I had on the back of my door when I was not much older than you. They won’t fit in my suitcase, though. Now we must choose practical things. Sturdy species that can’t be broken by the weather.
Sunflowers? Yes, certainly. We can sit on the steps and spit out the seeds together. And peppers, yes, those will do well. Tomatoes, too—not the big ones, maybe, but the little ones, in red and gold. The earthworms have already gone ahead. They’ll be all right.
Cats and dogs? No, don’t worry. They got there ahead of us, and the coyotes trotted in their wake. Rabbits, goats, and bristle-backed hogs—they’ll all be fine. The new seasons don’t worry them. We’ll still be neighbors.
What’s in my suitcase?
Here, I’ll show you.
These jars here are full of beans. Don’t ask me to unpack them. There were so many and my hands cramped writing labels, trying to save them all. And here in this corner, in damp tissue paper, a tree frog with flashing orange patches on her legs. There were so few frogs that we could save. The ones that handle fire and acid and strange seasons, only. I packed spotted salamanders in around the box turtle’s shell, and yes, I cried over the ones I couldn’t save. But there is no more time, and grief takes up too much space in any suitcase.
Warblers, yes, I packed a few already. Nothing fancy. Let’s not get too ostentatious. If they can only breed in young jack pine, it’s probably best to leave them here. The mockingbirds have gone ahead of us. They know a thousand songs you know, and the warblers only one.
I fit the nuthatches into my other pair of shoes, their feathered bodies packed tightly in the toes. The vireos are rolled inside the tube socks, waiting to be released, so that they can sing at burning noon “Here-I-am, where-are-you?”
There were so many things I wanted to bring. I sacrificed my toothbrush for the pallid coneflower, my hairdryer to make space for hellbenders. But we can only bring what we can lift. The people who pooled all together to bring an elephant have strong backs, and I try not to resent how many frogs could have fit inside those boxes.
Yes, I know you’ll miss the others. We all will.
But it is exciting to move to new places. Try to remember that. Think of the people you’ll meet. And the creatures that will sit beside you as you travel: the crows snickering together, the mosquitoes reading newspapers on the train. The dragonflies clinging to the zipper pulls, with their great eyes reflecting the new shape of the world.
The friends you make now may be with you for the rest of your life.
Come on then. It’s time to pack.