Gazing at this view in lazy enjoyment, Kirk found himself thinking how good it was to be young and free, and to be set down in such a splendidly romantic country. Above all, it was good to be heart-whole and unfettered by any woman’s spell—men in love were unhappy persons, harassed by a thousand worries and indecisions, utterly lacking in poise. It was a lamentable condition of hysteria with which he decided to have nothing to do. He did not care for women, anyhow. One could scarcely have any dealings with them without becoming involved in some affair that unduly harrowed one’s feelings. How much better it was to know the clean spirit of adventure and the joy of living, undisturbed by feverish emotions!
As he reclined there, busied with these thoughts, two vivid little paroquets alighted near him, to quarrel noisily, then make up and kiss each other like any pair of lovers. It was disgusting. A toucan peered at him with an appearance of exaggerated curiosity, due to its huge, grotesquely proportioned beak. Now and then came the harsh notes of parrots as they fluttered high above the tree-tops. Meanwhile the young man’s ears became attuned to the jungle noises, his eyes observant of the many kinds of life about him.
The wood was crowded with plant-life utterly strange to him. On the hill above towered a giant ceiba-tree, its trunk as smooth as if polished by hand and bare of branches except at the very top, where, instead of tapering, it ended abruptly in a tuft of foliage. Here and there stood tremendous cotton-trees, their limbs so burdened with air-plants as to form a series of aerial gardens, their twigs bearing pods filled with down. Beside them palm-trees raised their heads, heavy with clusters of nuts resembling dates in size and form, but fit only for wild pigs. Clumps of bamboo were scattered about, their shoots springing from a common centre like the streams from a fountain, and sweeping through graceful curves to a spray of shimmering green. He had never seen such varieties of growth. There were thick trees with bulbous swellings; tall trees with buttressed roots that ran high up the trunks; slender trees propped up head-high above the earth on tripod-like roots or clusters of legs; trees with bark that shone like a mirror; trees guarded with an impregnable armor of six-inch bony spikes—Kirk did not know the names of half of them, nor did he care to learn.
Vines and creepers abounded, from the tiny honeysuckle that reared itself with feeble filaments, to the giant liana creeping through the forest like a python, throttling full-grown trees in its embrace. On every side was the never-ceasing battle for light and the struggle of the weak against the strong. The air was heavy with the breath of triumphant blooms and the odor of defeated, decaying life. A thousand voiceless tragedies were being enacted; the wood was peopled by distorted shapes that spoke of forgotten encounters; rich, riotous, parasitic growths flourished upon starved limbs or rotting trunks. It was weird and beautiful and pitiless. Unlike the peaceful order of our Northern forests, here was a savage riot, an unending treacherous warfare without light or room or mercy. There was something terrible in it all.