Tuesday, August 27, 2013


I got a bad feeling about this.

I was climbing down the rocky slopes towards the Catfish Creek when I caught sight of this brown pod…

…attached to a branch of that scrub chestnut oak.

It just plucked off, right into my hand, a snap of the fingers.

It had almost no weight to it.  I carried it in a loose fist towards the beach…

…and laid it out on the big rock for a little alien autopsy.

I’m not at all qualified to do this.

My first instinct?  This must be some sort of fungus or mold, not the most intelligent of life-forms but one that fills a very important niche here in the forest biome.

Fungus is actually how the trees communicate with each other.

It’s true.

Alerted to pests or diseases, even bad weather or fire, the trees will pump out chemicals into the ground, signals to other trees.

The fungus is able to pick up these messages and send them through their wires to the next tree…

…an underground and undercover communication grid that connects root to root, the fungus playing the role of the long-distance operator.

It’s happening right below my boots and yet I can’t see it, can’t hear it, can’t feel it no matter how hard I try.

I have to admit I was a little jealous.

So the trees can talk to each other?  They just won’t talk to me.

Is it too much to ask for a simple hello?  After all we’ve been through together?

The answer, for the time being, is no.

But maybe inside this pod…

…I can catch some sort of signal, some sort of contact.  Maybe there is some message, once intercepted, that can crack the code.

The Rosetta Stone of tree-talk.  It could be right there under my knife, a discovery that would secure Jon Spruce’s place in the pantheon of champion tree-hunters.

First man to talk tree.

But, like I said, I got a bad feeling about this.

I hate it when I’m right.

Saturday, August 10, 2013


Awakening this morning from uneasy dreams, I realized that I had the whole day to myself, no promises, no obligations, no errands, no dues.

Ah, summer.

So, like most people with a summer day to burn, I went down to the beach…

…to the banks of the Schuylkill River to catch some rays, a new paperback in hand.

It was a typical day under the Ripe Berry Moon, although a little bit cooler than usual for this time of year, not something I’m complaining about.

The sunshine glared off the muddy shore, lighting up every little pebble, every half-buried rock, every stray two-by-four and soda can washed ashore.  The wind was blowing both jasmine and diesel, pulling the waves towards the beach on a string.

And the best part?  I was entirely alone. 

Unlike most beaches, this was a secluded place away from the noisy masses, a hidden cove.

Next to me, there was a large patch of high plants, no idea what they’re called.

I usually don’t like sitting so close to strangers but, to be honest, they didn’t look very friendly or inviting…

…those puckered mouthpieces inching their way towards me and my summer repose.

Unable to resist, I did grab one of those gaping maws and pulled back the thick lip of leaves…

…only to reveal the cranks and gears of their peculiar engineering.

Such odd parts…but, then again, I’m sure if something ripped open my own fleshy envelope, it would also reveal some odd parts, a strange system of beating sprockets and mammalian machines.

Those tangled stalks dominated half the beach here and seemed to catch the entire spectrum of Philly’s flotsam and jetsam: beer cans, plastic bags, trash and refuse and litter, two car batteries and one dead, bloated fish.

Warning: August is not for the squeamish.

This is Nature’s most efficient season, when it’s at its reddest in tooth and claw, the hunter and the hunted dancing around the arena of Survival, the predator and the prey in high pursuit, life and death around every bend in the trail.  

The most dangerous of hunger games.

The Wheel right now is cranking away at a breakneck speed, around and around the lifeless Void that lies at the very center of its heartless hub.

Ah, summer.

Do or die. 

It’s a cold thought for a summer day and I shouldn’t let one patch of unfriendly plants, and one dead fish, ruin my summer day at the beach, or ruin the experience of sinking into the curious novel I found stacked away at a local used book store.

It was love at first sight.


On an alien world, a bizarre and intelligent plant offers more than just companionship…Strange Relations.