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By Carolyn Leach-paholski

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Yet she knew her city from books, from drawings, from conversations and stories. To this amalgam she added her own small experience of the foot traffic which passed under her lookout tree. She ran about, her feet as yet still unbound, her hair loose on her shoulders, fuelled on a desire to know the world. Every object was of interest to her. Every face peered into, creature or human. She captured crickets and played them against her brothers’ best; fed on fruit they lived well but not long. This project began her zoo.

It was a world about which for a season he hovered like a god smiling down on the toil of his creation. From the air, it seemed, flying creatures were pulled to this glittering strip of water. Burrowing grubs, legless soft-footed creepers inched over his work. He painted as he sat at the side of 44 The Grasshopper Shoe the thrumming water city, his ink drawings as lively and true as any he had made on a larger scale. To these drawings, to amuse her, he fit a story: the water striders were warriors, fixing their shiny gaze on mayflies and water nymphs, poling their flat canoes alongside their chosen quarry, raking the water with their fine legs, causing a storm which confused the victim beyond recovery.

Small boats bobbed beside them and then slid away. The sun was in Xi’s eyes. He shaded them first with his arm then turned his chair to face the stern and the shining water spread behind them like a skirt. They were through the mountains and the intense stillness that attends passage through rock. The river cut through fields, on one side blue with cabbages, the other spiked with waving spires sown almost to the water’s edge. Herons fished the shallows, mud-thatched houses dotted the bank, the boat rolling smoothly through villages.

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