Notes on Giraffa venustus (part 1)
The members of our party have been mystified concerning the possible advantages of the fantastical and varied patterning of the large ruminant Giraffa venustus. Dressed in botanical curlicues and arabesques, the “lovely giraffe” is a startling animal when encountered.
What is just as remarkable is this animalʼs easy disregard for the predators which are its neighbors… we have witnessed small groups of these giraffes amble right past a pride of lions to reach a spring for water. Calves poke their insouciant snouts where they ought not be… the tail end of a leopard sleeping in a tree is just as interesting and unthreatening as a harmless ground tortoise.
A typical giraffeʼs hide is remarkable enough… why in the world would a beast of such presence take on a raiment of checks and polygons? What purpose could so obvious a banner serve this giant? It has been suggested that it is, in part, a mimicry of a dappled tree trunk
when the giraffe is feeding on a high acacia tree. But of course, as it moves from place to place, a giraffe in the landscape is as subtle as a hailstorm. We can only assume that the Creator was feeling a bit frivolous as He thought this creature into existence.
So what of Giraffa venustus? Our Field Artist may have discovered the answer.
The Field Artist has noticed that when a specimen has met its demise, which is nearly always through old age, the corpse may lay for days undisturbed by hyena or vulture. It seems that nothing will touch the apparently toxic flesh itself, although the locals will strip the glorious hide, provided it has not been too weather beaten, to decorate shields and fetishes. The Field Artist has somehow been able to ingratiate himself with this small indigenous population (which does not seem to care much for the rest of us) and has learned that when a bit of hide scrapings are carefully combined with certain herbs and ingested, remarkable hallucinations are produced in the user. These visions, apparently, fit neatly into the spiritual beliefs of the locals.
The Field Artist has reported one of his experiences to me shortly after its peak. I was awakened one night as he crashed through the brush back to our camp… how he managed to pass from the village back to us without eventually winding up as some nocturnal creatureʼs meal remains a mystery. While he was clearly excited about what he had just been through, he said that he preferred not to write it down himself, although it seemed fairly obvious at the time that he was fully incapable of focusing his vision, let alone holding a pen in his trembling hand. I attempt here to relate the details as faithfully as I can.
The concoction is taken as a single drop on the wing of a still living butterfly. Certain species of butterfly purportedly offer up certain types of these visual dreams. This act only takes place in a special hut, decorated in venustus hides, only at certain positions and phases of the moon, and only under the supervision of the native elders most experienced in these matters. Assuming the user is able to actually swallow a living butterfly and then deftly skirt death, he (or she; apparently there is no gender barrier) begins to “travel”. In the case of our Field Artist, he floated up to the middle of the small chamber and, in a series of convolutions that defy our notions of space, he watched as the patterns of vines and flourishes of the hides
swallowed him up and turned the entire room inside out, allowing him to see the room as some subgeometrical solid, all surfaces of which he was able to see simultaneously with one sweep of his gaze.
After a few more indescribable out-of body contortions, the Field Artist found himself astride a large bull venustus, its pelt of flowers and fleur-de-lys throbbing, in the middle of a too-bright grassland afternoon (mind you, his experience had played itself out during the African night).
The air was pulsing with butterflies of all description and glittered with the opaline scales of their wings. Through the thick glaring light he could discern several black crescent moons in the sky. There were a few other giraffes surrounding him. They stared in his direction, their individual patterns writhing like serpents. Their large wet eyes said nothing, but he had the sensation that they were waiting for him to do something, to act. What they were expecting, he could not determine. As he tried to speak, he suddenly realized that there was a great roaring in his ears like a cutting wind, though the air around him was unmoving. The Field Artistʼs unlikely steed breathed a great impatient sigh, its rib cage expanding like a bellows. As it exhaled again, the Field Artist began to slip downward, slowly as a struggling scarab in honey, trying in vain to lift his heavy limbs.
The next thing he remembers is crawling through the darkness, far away from the small complex of native huts, bleeding from gorse and briar. He made his way back to us, related his story as I have written it down here, drank a gallon or so of water and collapsed into an unnerving sleep.
Whether driven by a fierce dedication to his craft and Science or by an unhappy and imbalanced mind, the Field Artist claims he wants to revisit this experience. Up until these few days later, he has not mustered the courage to walk back to the tiny village and its inhabitants. He has so far, instead, elected repeatedly to go down to the river to listen for the comforting quacking of night frogs.