There was a scraping sound, and Pharos ground to a stop. The water lapped against his sides without budging him. It was hard to see under the muddy, frothing water, and she was afraid to reach into the current to feel it. LaRose reached below with an oar, and felt something beneath him. Carefully she made out the shape of a log. Pharos was wedged into a forked branch.
They drifted along for a little longer, and then bumped into another submerged log. This time LaRose was prepared, and maneuvered him off immediately. It took only moments for him to be stuck again.
Instead of pushing him back into open water, LaRose took a moment to look around. The water had gotten twisty and choppy, the way it did when there were rocks and reefs under the surface. As she looked closely, she could see a few sticks poking up to the surface. The longer she looked, the more she noticed.
The longer she looked, the more they were.
At first she thought they were multiplying. Then she thought they were growing. Rising out of the water. Then she realized the water was sinking around them. The rapid current was becoming a still lake again, revealing a knotted mass of branches just below the surface.
LaRose anchored Pharos to the branch, just in case the current started up again and pulled him away. Carefully, she got out of the boat. She half swam, half climbed the branch down. Every few feet she would bump into another branch, even after she tried keeping one hand out to feel in front of her. She could tell she was encountering distinct branches. Even under the layers of muck that accumulated in the water, she could feel different textures of bark; smooth and faintly lined like birch, deeply grooved like oak, ringed with raised bumps like wild cherry. The branch she was holding onto felt like sycamore, mostly smooth with irregular depressions. After a while her fingers found a slim twig, and what felt like a sodden leaf still attached. She broke it off, and returned to the surface.
Clinging to the side of Pharos, she examined it. The first thought that came to mind was “bay leaf,” because of Uncle Taylor, but in reality it was the classic teardrop shape that could come from species as diverse as apple, cherry or olive. And it wasn’t any of these, because as she cleared away the film of dirt, she saw it was made of stiffened fabric, with a satiny sheen on one side. Once it had probably been pearly white.
LaRose dropped it into Pharos and dove down for some more samples. After seven more dives, she had added a fir-like sprig of copper wire, a fig leaf of blue velvet, a purple catkin, a tiny pine cone that was black as jet, a chip of bark whose jasper surface glimmered with iridescence, a holly leaf of pure gold, and an acorn that, as far as she could tell, was just an acorn. She pulled herself back into the boat and looked around at the islands of gray trees.
“Now, I don’t want to make assumptions,” she said, “but I’m guessing these belonged to you.”