Saturday, December 5, 2009

What holds the universe together?

What is the universal glue that keeps everything bound together? If you walk through the woods here, it only takes a few moments to figure out the answer. It's not gravity, or molecular attraction. It's Smilax tamnoides, the bristly greenbrier.

This vine is one of the dominant plants in the woods. It springs straight out of the ground and pushes up up up up, until it either falls over under its own weight, or until it touches another plant. Then it sprouts a tendril, latches on, and commences some serious climbing. It makes wild leaps from tree to tree, forming thick mats that are impossible to walk through. These vines are tough. As if the unbreakable vines themselves aren't trouble enough, they come well-equipped with infernal needle-sharp bristles. Close to the ground, the prickles look like whiskers on an extra from The Godfather. Further up, the thorns are less spiky--more like thorns on a rose.

Because they're so tough, they don't seem to stretch much. They're always under some tension. It's wise to remember that when you go in armed with pruning shears, ready to do a little vine trimming. One cut will cause the vine to lash out in all sorts of unexpected directions. I'm forever getting whacked in the arm. A particularly evil specimen once twined itself around my leg. When I cut it, the infernal thing took careful aim and launched itself at that soft pad of flesh at the base of the thumb. Not satisfied with merely punching holes in me, it pierced the skin, then slid sideways, breaking off those little black needles and leaving them embedded. Much of the rest of the evening was spent with a sterilized needle, tweezers, and a bright lamp, picking at the little spears.