Inexorable heat. Stifling humidity. Omnipresent sunshine. My life drained away in gallons of sweat.
In the middle of the glade my suffering felt endless, my thirst unquenchable. I would die. I knew that without question. The clearing no larger than a football field, the unrelenting misery enlarged it until it became impassable, a forever journey that would take my life.
Then he pointed and said, “Shade.”
Trees stood atop the hill like sentinels, guards ever watching the comings and goings of life in the forest. Atmosphere thick with temperature inversions made them dance and shimmer and hover above the surface on wisps of smoke. An ocean of imaginary water lifted them to the sky.
“Come,” he added. And we walked.
Eternity passed before the first limb stretched out above my head. After a few more steps another limb, then another, then a few more, and finally the trees embraced each other with arching arms that created a canopy of verdant cover.
Barren earth greeted my knees as I dropped to the ground. My canteen could not be opened fast enough.
Even as I gulped desperately at the warm water inside the plastic container, we saw him. He must have seen us coming, must have noticed us as we entered the glade on the far side of the clearing. Yet he never moved.
His antlers seemed to hold up the sky. With his head turned, he watched. Still he didn’t move.
His harem and offspring nestled beneath the trees a bit further down the hill. Some nibbled on grass where it could be reached without moving. Others dozed as much as was possible given the cloak of infernal warmth that blanketed them. They also didn’t move.
“Too hot,” he said. I nodded and mumbled agreement, unable to turn away from him, the stag, the buck just a stone’s throw from where we rested against a tree. Then my mind completed the thought: Too hot for him to move.
Yes, I understood that feeling all too well.
And so we sat in the shade, offered respect to each other by sharing a commodity that none of us could be without. Though he never stopped watching us, likewise he never denied us the moment to survive together, to wash in the only cool breath to be found in the mouth of hell.
Shade. So simple a thing. Amazing how it bridged the expanse between us.
[photo of a male chital (a.k.a. cheetal, chital deer, spotted deer or axis deer; Axis axis)]