Grapevine

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A loop of wild grapevine out beyond the Far Field might be the oldest living thing on the mountain. It’s hollow inside, so there’d be no way to date it by doing a ring count, even if annual growth rings were discernible on grapevines.

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It’s as big around as my thigh – but there the resemblance ends. I can only dream of such a rippling, braided musculature. It arches briefly through the air, splits into three, and dives back underground with the grace of a dolphin.

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Notice how the light passes right through it. I should come here during a storm sometime and see whether it hums like an Aeolian harp. Who knows what prehistoric rumors this grapevine might pass along? Whatever trees it might’ve clambered over in its youth – tall chestnuts, perhaps, or cavernous white oaks – are long gone, replaced by a younger, weedier woods of black birch, black cherry, and red maple with a scattering of red oaks. Wild grapes have done well over the last two hundred years with all the clearcuts and disturbances here, given their habit of vigorous sprouting from root and vine. Last January’s ice storm opened up the canopy once again.

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Grapevines may lack the architectural genius of trees, but their flexibility in form and function makes them more adaptable, more able to weather changes. The tendrils know a thousand ways to curl and coil and twist – a habit to which this ancient, nearly rigid section of the plant seems equally predisposed. With us, too, great age can mirror infancy. But encountering something so long in tooth and so full of complex weather, it’s difficult not to feel that one is in the presence of a common ancestor from the late Cretaceous, when the rise of flowering trees called up the very first creature with a prehensile mind.

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Dave Bonta (bio) crowd-sources his problems by following his gut, which he shares with 100 trillion of his closest microbial friends — a close-knit, symbiotic community comprising several thousand species of bacteria, fungi, and protozoa. In a similarly collaborative fashion, all of Dave's writing is available for reuse and creative remix under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. For attribution in printed material, his name (Dave Bonta) will suffice, but for web use, please link back to the original. Contact him for permission to waive the "share alike" provision (e.g. for use in a conventionally copyrighted work).

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