Lisa stood up, pointing to a spot on the printed Google Earth map and then to a distant place in the verdant green beyond. “I think they are just beyond that grove, IF they exist at all," she said, closing the notebook with a snap and shoving into the side pocket of the ratty, bird chewed leather knapsack. She strode off decisively into the bush, Susie a step behind, leaving the native bearer staring thoughtfully at their retreating forms. He shook himself, picked up the heavy camera bag and tripod and followed the two into the shadows.
"I think something is wrong with that guy," Susie said, cutting her eyes around to make sure the guide was out of earshot. "Guides are supposed to lead, not follow, and he's about the most accident-prone person I ever saw. Why, he nearly lost my camera when he stepped into a hole crossing the river ford some miles back!"
"I think he was distracted," Lisa said. "Definitely NOT looking where he was going. Any dangers better be about boob-high, or this guy is going to miss them."
"You're exaggerating," Susie said, "When we went to the village to hire him, the place was full of topless teenage girls in grass skirts. I'm sure he hardly noticed we were even female."
"Yeah, rriiiggght!" Said Jasper sardonically. He often added his eerily appropriate comments to their conversation.
An hour’s worth of trudging brought the unlikely mix of adventurers to an area where a strange, overly fruity aroma penetrated the air. The trees ahead had dull, grayish silver leaves and slick, but thorny bark. Between the leaves could be seen clusters of riotously colored misshaped balls. The ground beneath was peppered with what appeared to be shaped confetti. Birds with ragged plumage picked at the fallen fruit. Some sat in the limbs, their feet twitching to a phantom rhythm.
Their guide came up to join them, muttering a strange phrase in his native language and gesturing at the grove beyond. “Trash trees”, Susie whispered. "Arborensis Pelletosis. They're in the journal." She plucked a battered antique volume from the recesses of the camera bag, thumbing through it hastily. One corner clearly had been well tasted by random beaks. ‘The Discovery of the Solomon Islands, by Alvaro de Mindaña, 1568, translated by Lord Amherst, 1901’
"Amazing!" Lisa said. Together their eyes followed the elaborate curliques of the old fashioned script. "I have heard of this, but never thought I'd see a copy, much less the original!" Susie's shelves held many marvels, carefully gleaned over a lifetime of loving and raising birds and animals. Lisa never knew what she might pluck forth next from the recesses of a dusty shelf.
“The Stenche be as well rotted fruit, and the Birdes and Animals do Crave them, and Eat until They Bee Sickened," the copperplate script read. “But Beyonde Liest a Marvell but few have Seen, a Tree most Resplendent which Beareth Fruit but Twice a Yeare."
Pushing the slim volume back inside the bag, Susie took a few pictures of the grove with its impossibly bright fruit. "This would make a GREAT article, don't you think?" she said brightly, capturing a close-up of the twitching bird feet.
Lisa squatted next to a fallen tree, the worn initials ‘L.D.’ still legible in the lichened bark. Sheba’s bright head emerged and peered curiously about before she climbed up to her accustomed place on Lisa’s shoulder. The copied maps were spread along the trunk, pins holding them in place. “Now, IF there were such a tree, it would have to be along the route de Mindaña described. And IF Dale thinks he saw it, in non-fruited form, it would have to be right over THERE.” she mused aloud. “But WHEN would it actually bloom? Now that’s the kicker! How would you know FOR SURE it was that particular tree unless you stumbled on it at just the right moment?”
“We WISSSHHH you a Merry Christmas!” Jasper unexpectedly warbled, as Sheba swayed and chirped.
“Oh, Jasper, I am so sorry you didn’t get your Turkey bones,” Susie said sadly. “I will make a big pan just as soon as we get home.” The heat and humidity made it easy to forget the season.
Lisa suddenly stood up and fished the old book from the pack the guide patiently held. The scenery was fine. He was content to wait. She thumbed through the pages hastily, running her finger along them, slipping back and forth until she found what she was searching for, and then did the same to the scribbled notes in the notebook.
“Aha!” she shouted, causing the crunching birds to rise startled from their feeding. “Both of these were written in December. Do you think it could be…?”
“Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle all the WAAAAYYY!” Sheba and Jasper sang together. The two stared at the birds suspiciously. “Jasper, you smarty pants,” Susie chided. “I almost think you know where it is.”
The flock of birds, which had just begun to settle, rose in a huge swirling mass as the jungle around them exploded with sound and color. Jasper and Sheba took off to join the noisy throng and Susie and Lisa ran desperately behind, trying to keep their eyes on the tiny dots of red and green that were their beloved birds, the guide bringing up the rear as usual.
Into the forest they ran, deeper and deeper, following the clamoring throng, until they reached a clearing in which stood the most massive tree they had ever seen. Its thick trunk was supported by a network of narrow trunklets, giving it the appearance of a large latticework cage or gazebo, while it was leaved with deep green glossy leaves that resembled those of a magnolia. Birds of every color and description alighted on its ample branches, or sheltered beneath on the grassy verge. It was impossible to pick out a single Eclectus from the thousands gathered there.