Friday, September 16, 2011
What the White Oak Knows
A white oak draws water from the ground. I do that because ATP is soluble in water, and I need it for photophosphorylation. You need water too and also make ATP, which is how you draw energy from what you consume, although I’d bet my oldest root you don’t even know it. Plants have been doing it much longer. We invented it.
We draw other things up too. Bits of things long dead cling to water, riding up to my leaves and twigs. I have some of fourteen humans in me, and I can tell the difference in each one. The dark cold season has come and gone more than 400 times since I first drew up tiny pieces of what had been people. Humans change me in ways that the persimmon tree can’t imagine. He’s a shit-eater, that one, wrapping around that human stink hole and sucking it up through his long taproot.
I have human blood in me. For five seasons the ground was thick with it. Two men fell just here, trying to hide behind me. Metal balls spilled them open. Two of those same hot projectiles tore into me, metals leaching out into my cambium, coloring my heartwood. That was a bad time for living things.
I have her blood too. The little skinny one with the brown tufts on top of her head bled into me. On a hot day a hundred seasons after the five bad ones, she tore open her limb on mine, and her sap ran in a trickle down into the folds of my bark. She dripped more red onto the underside of a leaf, marking me until a storm. I grew new roots hoping to catch the rainy drops of blood and suck them up too. Often her tears fell just in the notch by the place where she sat on so many days and more nights than you might think. Once, she waited too late to climb down and wet me with her urine, the pungent salty rush soaking down into my tender layers. I knew her.
I contrived a splinter to work into the back of her knee. Long, cold seasons passed after she left, making it harder to convince myself that the splinter stayed burrowed down in her limb’s heartwood. But she is a part of me. When the other one with light tufts on her head finally came up the same way and sat where the first one sat, we both felt the loss. She too eventually stopped coming up, although I sometimes would feel her twigs brush me as she stepped from root to root around my trunk, making the sound of the two of them with her one mouth.
I had to cut off the flow of water to that limb. With a fork down low, it had been perfect for child root limbs to wrap themselves around while child top limbs grabbed for my own and pulled into me, her soft tender flesh without a bark, so easy to tear. I couldn’t bear another one in her spot. Rot took that entry limb, and it was burned on a fire close by, bits of smoke entering the respiration stomata on the white underside of my dark green many-lobed leaves and the leaves of my sister oak and the leaves of all the plants around, even the persimmon, who missed her more than I gave that shit-eater credit for.
What does he overhear, I wonder? How does a tree get to know that the gooey stuff in a girl is called blood? It still feels like sap to him. Yes. Trees have feelings. This one does. It puts the story on a different level for me. For a long time, I have viewed the place of Chickahatchie County from the eyes of various little girls and a mule driver. Now...a tree shows me so much more. The tales are changing. I'm getting excited. White Oak is stuck right there on that hilltop. He can't escape to another place. How will that work out for him?
A bit about my thinking and writing process. I wanted the tree to sound wise and smart--for the reader to see him that way. Old and knowing. He knows how he gets energy...could rattle off the whole chemistry of the thing. I wanted also to show how he is changed by humans. They break his heartwood. They really do.