Love Letters to Earth

by Henry Quicke







Fishing for Lost Souls


The Kamaks live on a permafrosted island, barren and colorless, where it’s easy to believe you are alone on the planet but not in the universe.  Even the Kamaks wonder how they ended up there.  Someone, they think, lost his way.

Then, nights when they gaze into the clear, cold, star-crowded sky, they’re reminded of just how lost they are, and their sadness ripens into the profound ache of those who have lost even themselves.

Long ago, when the earth was newly formed, the Kamaks lived far to the south, where the air was warmer and heavier and the land softer and greener.  Then, they say, something happened that made the Kamaks and the land suddenly incompatible; either the land grew hostile toward the Kamaks’ carefree and irresponsible living or the Kamaks ceased to appreciate the land for its beauty and abundance.  Whatever the reason, the warmth began to burn, the air stuck in their throats, and the bright colors seared their eyes.  The Kamaks knew they had to leave.

The Kamaks’ souls had other ideas.  “Not so fast,” they said.  “We like it here.”

“But our stomachs reject the food and our skin angers in the heat,” said the Kamaks.

“We don’t care,” said their souls.  “The heat pleases us, and the food means nothing to us—we’re souls, after all, not bodies.”

The Kamaks don’t know why their souls became so belligerent.  It may be that the souls had begun meeting at night, while the Kamaks were asleep.  And they talked.  They developed their own ways.  They decided that what they liked and disliked did not always agree with the likes and dislikes of Kamaks’ bodies, which felt more and more like prisons to them.  They developed their own music and dance and held their own spirited celebrations and never invited their Kamak bodies, who slept stupidly through the orgies of their own souls.

The Kamaks were scandalized by their souls’ rebellion.  They had always believed there were times—when they made love, said the romantics—that their souls spoke to each other.  But they could never have imagined their souls would sneak from their bodies and throw parties at night.

The Kamaks had to decide whether to stay with their errant souls or leave for cooler lands and thereafter go it alone.  They pleaded with their souls.

“You can’t stay here!  You belong to us!”

“What nonsense!  It’s you who belong to us!  We know we can live without you, but the question you must ask is whether you can live without us.”

In the end, the Kamaks took the risk.  They’d grown sick of the heat, the heavy air, the overly rich food.  The land was so green it hurt!

So they left, some of them weeping, and sought a new home.  They came to an ocean and sailed in boats.  The Kamaks are only fair sailors, though, and they don’t have a keen sense of direction, so they drifted endlessly, surviving on fish and rainwater, until finally they awoke one morning to find their boats locked in by ice.  They stepped out and hiked to the nearest rise.

“This is our new home,” declared their leader, his open hand trembling, his voice quaking in the cold.  The Kamaks looked at each other in frightened silence.  Someone coughed.

They adapted, learning to fish through the ice in winter months, when only the moon provided solace from the darkness, and to hunt reindeer and stay away from bears in the summer months that were warmer and lighter and reminded them of their former home, which some now wished they’d never left.  They found they could survive without their souls after all, but they also felt a growing ache that made them anxious and moody.

The Kamaks say they should have known what would happen next.

One day, in the dead of winter, they awoke in darkness and stepped outside their ice-huts to find the sky littered with tiny lights.

“Our souls!” they cried.  “Our souls have come looking for us!”

At first, the Kamaks now believe, their souls were probably thrilled to finally be free of their fleshy wardens.  Then, too late, they discovered the loneliness of disembodied souls, the airy sadness of ghosts who moan and shuffle through the eternal night.  The souls longed for their bodies, just as their bodies longed for their souls.  And so, in their sadness, the souls went looking for their bodies.  But Kamaks’ souls, like the Kamaks’, have a poor sense of direction.  Souls can only move upward and drift, and from so great a height, the souls could not hope to see or hear their living bodies calling to them.

“We’re here!  We miss you too!  Please return to us and we’ll let you out at night!”

The souls did not answer back, and the dark winter skies were cold and silent as always.

The more unhappy Kamaks had long thought of setting out in boats for their lost home to the south, but now they knew that would be useless.  Their souls had gone wandering, and the Kamaks would never feel at peace until they brought their lost souls home.

It used to be that the source and final destination of all Kamak souls was the Great One, but now when a Kamak dies, his soul doesn’t know it.  And while a soul is released from the Great One when a Kamak is born, it never makes it into a Kamak body.  Instead, it gravitates naturally toward the other souls.  And so each Kamak child is born without its soul, destined to experience the same ache and emptiness as its parents.

Imagine the longing a Kamak feels when he looks into dark skies and knows that somewhere in the galaxy of lights his disembodied soul drifts on an impossible search.  Imagine the long winter months when the souls drift above the Kamaks day and night, leaving the Kamaks in a sad trance.  They know they’d be better off with their eyes to the ground, but even there the ice glimmers with the souls’ dim reflection.  Imagine the long summer months when the sun does not set, their souls don’t appear, and the Kamaks’ relief turns slowly to longing and then to concern that their souls have given up the search.

But the Kamaks are not without hope.  In winter months, and in those months between seasons when the stars come only at night, the Kamaks perform a simple, moving ritual that translates as “fishing for souls.”  When the sea is navigable, they set out in boats, and when the sea is iced, they walk far out onto the smooth, desolate ice shelf.  They carry torches, the flames casting orange pools on the surface of the sea or the ice.  When their leader determines they have reached the right place, one far enough from land that there is nothing to obstruct the firelight, he holds up his trembling hand and announces with a quaking voice, “Our souls may see us here.”

Then the Kamaks light the long arrows they’ve brought with them and slide them onto their bows.  The leader says a prayer:

Dear lost souls, we send you this light and heat

to help you find your way.

Lost souls!  We miss you!

Please return to us and we’ll give you

the light and heat you desire,

even in the darkest months of winter.

Lost souls, we’ll let you out at night

to practice your own customs

and enjoy your celebrations.

We’ll make love in the day

so you may speak to each other

through our eyes and fingertips.

Dear lost souls, follow these flames back to earth

for our longing hearts to greet you.

And then the Kamaks shoot their flaming arrows into the clear night like flickering beacons, while the ice glows a pale orange with streaks of reflected firelight.

Only the arrows return to earth, but Kamaks are certain that a day will come when the lost souls will follow, falling from the sky like luminous rain and finally making the Kamaks feel home again.