Each year, when the nights in New England lengthen, and the days cool, as we begin to shed our leaves in preparation for a long winter’s sleep, a natural phenomena occurs. Throngs of strange creatures appear. We see these creatures singly or in a pair once in a while throughout the year, but they don’t turn toward us. They soldier the paths looking down, or while looking at a shiny rectangle.
This time of year, however, they appear in droves and they DO turn to us. They are a bit like us, but differ in a few interesting ways. Their trunk is split and by rearranging the bifurcated parts they are able to transfer themselves to different places. What a wonderful adaptive behavior! Some glide, closer to the ground, by manipulating wheels with their upper limbs. Their two limbs are not stiff, but supple and sometimes they wrap around another such, and sway contentedly.
They appear from what I assume is a colder place, perhaps further north. They have already lost all of their leaves. And what is really strange is that they have no roots. I have wondered for years how they are able to survive and thrive, as it seems they do, with no roots. I have to admit that I spend more time than I should on the mycelium network, and I have heard the strangest theories about this. Some think they are an aberrant form of epiphyte, basically living on air, and rain, and perhaps overwinter in detritus-rich environments. Others have noticed that there is a hole, near the top of them, and swear they have seen them push foreign substances into it. They surmise that this is how they get their nutrients, but this seems far-fetched. No one has been able to document this credibly. If it were true, might they not avail themselves of our fallen leaves, or even the ones still attached?!
Even though their leaves have already fallen, and they are bare, they still rustle. I don’t know how this is possible. They are home to no bird, or visible bug, and yet they chirp, and tweet, and click, and moan. While making these noises they hold up the shiny rectangle. Perhaps they cannot perceive unaided.
It is one of the high points of my year when we see the small, strange trees that are almost not like trees at all. I envy their mobility. I am awed by their suppleness. However they manage to stay alive is nothing short of miraculous. My sap wells up whenever I see them wrap their limbs around each other. Call me sentimental.
Teresa Sitz lives and works in Wonder Valley, California.