The ambiguity of roots

What is happening below ground? A Lynchian struggle, beautiful acts of collective solidarity or are the roots coming for us?

Mass of tree roots
Tree roots by Eilis Garvey (Unsplash)

I inherited the small garden years ago. I pretend its unkempt state is part of a grand plan to nurture wild nature but really it’s a reflection of my gardening skills and inconsistent enthusiasm. So I’ve become the garden’s custodian, the wildlife seems to do okay and I achieve little more than keeping it tidy and growing some herbs. I’ve inherited it and I will pass it on.

The tree stands in one corner, providing shade and a playground for squirrels scrambling about with great dexterity. Sometimes, I stand in the garden barefoot, which is risky considering we share it with three dogs. I listen to the hum of the city; see the moon shine through bare branches; wonder at the life all around. The ground is solid, passive, a frontier to another world.  Occasionally the roots from the tree break through the surface, a periscope from belowground.

I wonder what happens beneath my feet. You can see it in different ways. A Lynchian descent below the surface where there is insect on insect carnage and worms are ripped from their sanctuary by the beaks of the blackbird looking to feed its young. The roots of the trees and bushes are fighting, choking, entangling, albeit at glacial pace. Their prize is nutrients and moisture to well, simply keep on going, territorial conquest to sustain the eternal growth until the tree dies and its roots rot into back into soil.

And yet, we start to understand that trees can act as a collective, connecting through a network of roots and hypea. They nurture each other, communicate, send warnings, grow in solidarity. Their roots are not pushing onwards in the name of conquest but seeking each other out. Like us humans, maybe they just live with the tension of competing and working together, of solidarity and freedom.

Sometimes I wonder if they have another aim. Are they communicating about us? Those roots are probing our walls, our buildings, relentlessly pushing back at our attempts to tame the wilderness. Ever see an abandoned country house and its garden, once handed down by generations of once powerful families, slowly being engulfed by the roots of ivy and trees? Give the roots time and they will help bring our buildings and monuments down. They are the scouts of the final empire. We are all Ozymandias.

Roots are ambiguous, you can see in them what you want.

The trees have a power but it is fragile. Once, a neighbour suggested ripping it all out, starting again with a blank canvas, instilling new roots to the garden.

I looked the acer in the prime of its autumn red, then at her with horror. Why would you do that? One day, definitely, I won’t be around to stop that.

One day, maybe, no-one will be around to stop them.

Written as part of the Creative Pollination: a free writing course hosted by the Woodlands Community in Glasgow.

2 thoughts on “The ambiguity of roots

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