by Josh Rank
At first, it was just the smooth crunch of the dirt. That’s all. The sharp ripping sound and the grainy friction. I’ve never been musically-inclined, but I’ve always loved sounds. Accidental music, I guess you could say. Combine that with the physical release of digging, and you’ve got my reward.
After hours of digging, I found myself standing at the rim of a respectable hole. I didn’t have anything to put in it. I didn’t have anything to get out of it. I grabbed the shovel that was leaning against the fence behind the garage, and before I knew it, here I was. I stopped digging as soon as the shovel refused the motion. The smooth process of moving dirt ended with a heavy clunk. I paused and held the shovel in front of my chest with two hands, the head resting between my feet. Sweat dripped from my forehead, but I didn’t wipe it.
I’m ashamed to admit it, but visions of buried treasure flashed through my mind. I shook that childish estimate which was quickly replaced by the opposite end of the spectrum—a shallow grave. I nervously looked around the yard, empty besides the oak tree scattering shade over much of the grass, and eased out of my cliché interpretations. I knelt on the earth, reached into the hole, and swept away the loose soil.
I sat on the rim of the hole with my feet inside and stared into it. I once heard that trees communicate through their root systems, trading nutrients and warnings of danger. I again looked around the empty yard for someone to share my discovery with, but of course the yard was empty. I turned back to the root. The accidental music began to dim as I lost time staring at the brown protuberance running beneath the soil. The bird calls, distant traffic sounds, and wind-rustled leaves disappeared.
What messages flowed through the root?
I might’ve sat there for months. I couldn’t be sure. I also wasn’t sure what finally sparked my legs to swing out of the hole. Or what compelled me to flip onto my stomach. Or why I crawled face-first into the dirt.
Call it a desire to learn the unknowable. Call it curiosity. Call it whatever version of temporary madness you like. I slithered into the hole and grabbed opposite sides of the exposed root with my hands. I took a deep breath, closed my eyes.
My teeth settled slowly onto the root. I recognized the dull, boring taste of dirt as it filled my mouth, but I paid it no attention. Slowly, so as not to injure it, I tightened my jaw.
Time, previously paused, shot backwards while I lay motionless in the hole. Like the unfortunate conduit leading a live wire to ground, I was locked in place. Information came not in words or even thoughts, but in realizations. The root growing from a tree half a century old was interlocked with an older thee, and an older tree, and so forth, back to a time before humans set eyes on this stretch of earth. How long did the process take? Time no longer mattered. My physical body no longer mattered. I was part of the root and the root became a part of me.
I didn’t feel the first mound of dirt hit my back. It wasn’t until my hands disappeared into the earth that I opened my eyes and realized I might not see the blue sky again.
As the dirt continued to return to its original resting spot, how it returned was a mystery I didn’t care to solve. My fists could no longer loosen themselves from the root. They had become closed circles locking me into place. I felt no fear. I now had the knowledge of the tree system. My loss was not only negligible, but inconsequential. All things must return to the roots, I had just sped my timeline along in exchange for an understanding not afforded to those above the topsoil.
Dirt filled my eyes and nose, but I didn’t suffocate. The root was sharing its resources with me, and I could taste the wind rustling the canopy above.
The sun warmed my leaves.
The birds sang gloriously in my branches.
My days were no longer divided by nights, but by seasons.
Josh Rank currently eats sandwiches in Nashville. More ramblings can be found at www.joshrank.com.