Author's Note: This is a creative researched essay. Meaning: you're supposed to be entertained AND educated. If you don't feel like you were both, then I did something wrong. Also: I don't have to site sources. Finally, I'd like to give credit where credit is due, this essay wouldn't have been possible with out Vasticity. Thanks dude.
Trees are magic. We have historical proof of this. They feature prominently in several mythoses. Take, for example, the Norse Yggdrasil, the mighty tree that holds the nine worlds together. In the Ancient Egyptian story, “Tale of Two Brothers,” Bata places his heart on a tree’s blossom for safe keeping: when his wife and her lover cut down the tree, Bata dies. The ancient Greek city of Dodona is purported to have had the first oracle, a black dove settling on an oak tree. “Tree” is the 220th word in the King James Bible. It appears 301 times in the old testament, and 67 times in the New. Not to mention how many prophets had to tear apart “groves” where Canaanites worshiped Ashtoreth, one of their sensual goddesses. The list goes on and on.
Perhaps people throughout history connected so strongly to trees because of their shape. Tree roots and branches mirror one another, with the soil as a reflecting point. Both split and fork again and again, creating a dendritic pattern. This same sort of pattern can be found in rivers, window frost, and even within our own body as veins and nerve endings. Trees not only mirror themselves, they provide an insight into what our inner selves look like. The dendritic pattern happens wherever there is flow. Both trees and humans are both made mostly of water, so it stands to reason that we’d both consist of dendritic patterns. But where we know how blood runs through our veins using the pump of our heart, trees have a much more difficult task of delivering water without the aid of pumps and valves and moving parts.
The xylem is a system of tiny tubes that transports water through a tree. The xylem itself is located in the very center of a root, and thrusts all the way up through the trunk to the leaves, against all odds. Transporting water up that high is a nigh Sisyphean task. The water should boil. The water should stop after only ten meters. The water defies gravity and the concept of a vacuum, using negative atmospheric pressure to enter the leaf. The tree deserves a patent for creating such a mind-boggling way of water transportation. The Roman aqueduct seems behind-its-time when one considers xylem evolved around 450 million years ago.
To properly understand the way the xylem functions, you must first imagine yourself in a minimum-wage newspaper-delivery job in the back-country. If you have a hard time imagining that for yourself, I have provided a first-hand account of what it was like for my dear friend who seems to be an avid collector and connoisseur terrible jobs. I asked him which job was most life-draining, and he answered with absolute certainty that it was his newspaper delivery job.
“One of the most annoying things about delivering papers was the complete and total self-sufficient aspect of it. I mean, for barely above minimum wage + 40 hr./week pay you were expected to do everything. You had to chart out where each delivery would go yourself, and they would never help you with payments on car stuff.”
The xylem grows with the tree, forging its own path. This is one of the reasons why it is able to actually deliver the water to the top of the tree. If the xylem had not always been filled with water, there might be pockets of air inside. This would spell disaster because the only thing keeping the water from boiling in negative atmospheric pressure is the fact that it’s 100% liquid.
“The other most annoying part was the weather. One time there was this windstorm. If you were like in a field, and there was a tree, it was on the ground no matter what. So I had to figure out a way to get around all these things by myself. I had to come up with like ways to go backwards and around, which wasn't possible for some of them.”
Like the mail or newspaper, rain or shine or axe to the leg, the deliveries must come through. The leaves demand water, the xylem must fulfill, or the whole tree withers and dies. And when it finally does reach the leaf, hundreds of water molecules evaporate, just for the chance to take in a single carbon dioxide molecule. Most of the xylem’s work disappears into thin air.
“In terms of soul-sucking, the lack of sleep was obviously the biggest thing. I mean it's an every-night thing, and you have to be paying attention, so your brain truly doesn't get rest.”
Just like my Ex-Nespaper-Delivery friend was by the time he quit, Xylem is dead inside. Yes, the very foundation, the very center of a tree’s life force is dead, the cells empty. Perhaps it’s because it also never sleeps. Even in the winter, it just slows down.
“At one point during winter I got stuck in a probably 3-foot snow drift and just decided to go to sleep. When I woke up, there was like, no indication that there had ever been a road there. It looked like Hoth in Star Wars or something. Coincidentally that was also the time where I decided I was done with that job.”
Sometimes the xylem just quits in the winter as well. It might just burst if it gets too cold. Go out into a forest during winter, away from the busy noise of the city, and stand there, with snow up to your knees. You might hear cracking sounds, even though there’s no movement between the ice-cloaked trunks. These crackles are the frozen water in the xylem bursting through those dead cells. Some trees get rid of excess water to prevent this bursting, some load up on sugar, and some deserve yet another patent by taking advantage of a process known as super-cooling. The only way I can explain how trees understand super-cooling is “magic.” Maybe the people in ancient time weren’t so wrong after all.