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"When I went to drop my canoe in the creek, I saw a griffin drinking from the other side. I'd never heard of a griffin and didn't know it was any more outlandish than a deer or a fox, which I'd seen very rarely. So I dropped my raft in the creek and raced it downstream. I beat it by a lot. When I looked back, the griffin was gone.
"A couple years later, my parents told me we were going to the city on vacation. We left the house by the woods and went to an apartment above a comic-book shop. After a few days, I started asking when we were going to go home. I wanted to play in the woods. I kept asking for nearly a year.
"I grew up, you know, and stopped thinking about the woods. I read comic books. I lived in my own comic book, moving from one tiny box into another, all stacked on top of each other, all separated by flat surfaces and right angles. Stairwells, elevators, classrooms, apartment buildings. Telephone booths, but no Superman. Page after page after page. Who wants to read a comic book without any superheroes? You read it only because you have no choice.
"Years went by. I did what I was supposed to do. There was work to be done. Important work. Difficult work. Dangerous work. It wasn't until after the war ended that I started thinking about the griffin again. I'd just been discharged and had some money and didn't know where I was going to go or what I was going to do. So I decided to buy a car and go back to the woods by the old house and look for the griffin.
"The drive was about 45 minutes, which gave me far too much time to think and fret. Now, 15 years had passed since I'd been in the old neighborhood, and a lot of things looked different along the road back there. I began to wonder what I'd do with myself if the woods weren't there any more. I decided, after careful deliberation, that I'd rip the bumper from my new car and beat to rubble any building that stood where the woods used to stand. What goes around comes around. Sometimes you wait for an act of God to set things right. Sometimes the act of God is you.
"And I planned, as I drove, what I'd tell the court on the day of my sentencing. In my head, a packed courthouse was captivated by my words. 'Who is this madman, raving before us, and what peephole into insanity does he stretch open, before we do away with him forever?' And this is what I'd say.
"'The Garden of Eden is not a mythic past. It is any place where everything we see was crafted by hands greater than ours, where everything that moves was conceived in a mind greater than ours. It is any place that we have no power to create, only the power to destroy. And it is here, in these wilds, that we remember the freedoms we once embraced. The freedom to follow your own heart and none other. The freedom to hunt like a wolf and to flee like a deer. The freedom to transform unhurried and alone, like a caterpillar. The freedom to live without duty and to die without remorse.
"'And if one of these wild places touches a child and says, "Do you love me? Will you live for me? Will you fight for me? Will you die for me?" and the child says, "Yes," then even the collisions of planets cannot sever the bond.
"'I had such a bond with a forest, and that forest stands no longer. And if my eyes can't watch those trees caress the face of heaven, then I have no use for eyes. And if my ears can't hear the whispers of the breezes and the lapping of the creek, then I have no use for ears. And if I am not free to walk among those living pillars, my heart seized with wonder, then I have no use for freedom.'
"That's what I'd say. Then all would go dark beneath the thrustings of pitchforks and torches.
"I'd resigned myself to a gory public execution. I was almost looking forward to it. So it came as something of a shock when I arrived and found the woods intact! There were marked trails that had never been there, and some jackass had put up a sign about not littering, as though the sign was any less ugly than litter.
"Darwin at work."
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