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Two Years in the French West Indies By Lafcadio Hearn Characters: 3383

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02

In the marvellous light, which brings out all the rings of their bark, these palms sometimes produce a singular impression of subtle, fleshy, sentient life,-seem to move with a slowly stealthy motion as you ride or drive past them. The longer you watch them, the stronger this idea becomes,-the more they seem alive,-the more their long silver-gray articulated bodies seem to poise, undulate, stretch.... Certainly the palms of a Demerara country-road evoke no such real emotion as that produced by the stupendous palms of the Jardin des Plantes in Martinique. That beautiful, solemn, silent life up-reaching through tropical forest to the sun for warmth, for color, for power,-filled me, I remember, with a sensation of awe different from anything which I had ever experienced.... But even here in Guiana, standing alone under the sky, the palm still seems a creature rather than a tree,-gives you the idea of personality;-you could almost believe each lithe shape animated by a thinking force,-believe that all are watching you with such passionless calm as legend lends to beings super-natural.... And I wonder if some kindred fancy might not have inspired the name given by the French colonists to the male palmiste,-angelin....

Very wonderful is the botanical garden here. It is new; and there are no groves, no heavy timber, no shade; but the finely laid-out grounds,-alternations of lawn and flower-bed,-offer everywhere surprising sights. You observe curious orange-colored shrubs; plants speckled with four different colors; plants that look like wigs of green hair; plants with enormous broad leaves that seem made of colored crystal; plants that do not look like natural growths

, but like idealizations of plants,-those beautiful fantasticalities imagined by sculptors. All these we see in glimpses from a carriage-window,-yellow, indigo, black, and crimson plants.... We draw rein only to observe in the ponds the green navies of the Victoria Regia,-the monster among water-lilies. It covers all the ponds and many of the canals. Close to shore the leaves are not extraordinarily large; but they increase in breadth as they float farther out, as if gaining bulk proportionately to the depth of water. A few yards off, they are large as soup-plates; farther out, they are broad as dinner-trays; in the centre of the pond or canal they have surface large as tea-tables. And all have an up-turned edge, a perpendicular rim. Here and there you see the imperial flower,-towering above the leaves.... Perhaps, if your hired driver be a good guide, he will show you the snake-nut,-the fruit of an extraordinary tree native to the Guiana forests. This swart nut-shaped almost like a clam-shell, and halving in the same way along its sharp edges-encloses something almost incredible. There is a pale envelope about the kernel; remove it, and you find between your fingers a little viper, triangular-headed, coiled thrice upon itself, perfect in every detail of form from head to tail. Was this marvellous mockery evolved for a protective end? It is no eccentricity: in every nut the serpent-kernel lies coiled the same.

... Yet in spite of a hundred such novel impressions, what a delight it is to turn again cityward through the avenues of palms, and to feel once more the sensation of being watched, without love or hate, by all those lithe, tall, silent, gracious shapes!

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