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Werner A. Low


Previously, there had been innumerable varieties of grasses and ground cover, as well as shrubs and bushes, but nothing that a man seated on a horse of fifteen hands couldn’t see over. And then, overnight, a few of these things — sycamore, they would eventually be called — began to push up from the loamy soil.

Because the seedlings sprouted first in cultivated fields, farmers just plowed them under as if they were weeds. Until one happened to emerge between the irregular boulders of a dilapidated stone wall and that farmer, either through neglect, or perhaps thinking that a bush would aid, rather than subvert the purpose of the wall, just let it go.

In one year this seedling grew taller than the farmer himself and now qualified as a curiosity, to which most everyone had the same reaction. Not just that it was so tall, but that it looked so straight and determined. One fellow wondered aloud if the shaft might be used for something practical, but most were sure that, once cut, it would become as limp as a rope.

Proud of his unique object, the farmer, who was childless, tended and protected it. Before long, however, other specimens were discovered, recognizable by their large leaves and, later, their distinctive, exfoliating bark and pendant fruit balls. Once you knew what to look for, they were everywhere, like the recrudescence of an ancient disease. Or, as others warned, an ominous prophecy.

Someone — his or her name has been lost — named them “trees.”

While most people pulled out the seedlings, others cultivated a few as conversation pieces, or out of sheer rebellion, though it was not forbidden. As the sycamore grew to heights of thirty or forty feet, and were no longer so rare, artisans began to use the new material — called “wood” — to create art and practical objects. Some advocated the idea of establishing woodlots as a source of this new material, but the vast majority of people viewed the sycamore with suspicion, and it’s easy to see why.

Imagine that your land has always been open and clear. One day, a spike pushes up from that flatness and — now picture this in speeded-up time — a gigantic shape, in winter like the clutching hand of a witch, begins to extrude itself from the soil. First one of these, and then another. These gnarled hands reach, inexorably, toward the sky, casting a shadow on your gardens, and then your house. The terrain around them warps as they suck life from the buried secrets of the Earth. And at night, when the wind blows through their branches, it sounds like snakes hissing across the sky.

Is it not prudent to fear something like that?


Werner Low lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts. His fiction has appeared in a dozen or so magazines and journals. A new novel, Don’t Worry, Dandelo, is looking for an agent, a publisher, or just a friendly face.  For more go to