If I have good karma and come back as an elevated life form, I hope to return as an evolutionary biologist. Upon ascending to something close to Buddhahood, I would like to be E.O. Wilson (whose most recent book I mentioned in my previous post). As it is, I am who I am, and I’m endowed with far more curiosity than knowledge.

That curiosity was sparked two days ago by my visit to Barton’s Cave in Belize, a cave used by the ancient Maya for ceremonial religious purposes including human sacrifice. Steep limestone cliffs flank the entrance, and from those cliffs hang remarkable vines related to the ficus family.

These vines originally took root in the nooks and crannies of the rock formation, extracting whatever water and nutrients they could from their barren perch. Nothing terribly unusual about that. All manner of scrubby plants find precarious rocky footholds. But these vines do something more — they grow a vine-like root that, over the process of years — our guide said decades — descends twenty-five to thirty feet until they reach the water below. Just think about that — for years those useless appendages dangle to little effect. But eventually they reach the water, and there they become transformed.

The vines sprout roots in the water. And over time, the roots trap sediment from the current, creating their own ball of nutrient-bearing soil. Over time, the vines grow thicker and stronger, yet they descend no deeper than a than a few inches. They have what they need, and they go no farther. I have seen tropical vines in other locales drop from trees and implant roots into the ground, but never have I spotted such a thing as this. I find it astonishing.

If Charles Darwin and E.O. Wilson were the godheads in the great chain of being, I would rank somewhere between a fruit fly and an anopheles mosquito. I have traveled relatively little, and what I have seen I have viewed through an ignorant eye. But I do look at the world of nature with a sense of wonder, and that is its own reward.

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2 responses to “Amazing Vines”

  1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
    Reed Fawell 3rd

    The Lord Root of the Matter yet again digging into Belizean dirt these many decades later, as if caught in a vision, unravels a boy’s mid-twentieth century celluloid nightmare into a Great Chain of Being that hangs down the Belizean sky in a tangle of vines that dangle finally into roots twisted and coagulated into a great dirty fuzz ball that burrows into the dirt finally, only to crawl out from the earth into a blazing sun where it crinkles up and sizzles then balloons into THEM, thousands upon thousands of creatures, that crab out across the burnt earth and keep coming at the kid with their mandibles snarling and snapping and hissing until the critters are incinerated into burnt bitty Bastards by a Belizean fire-jumper (played by James Arness) who then gets himself caught in the snout of glacier that freezes him like Burnt Norton into a monster entombed in a block of ice for twenty centuries of frozen restless sleep vexed by nightmares in a rocking cradle until it rouses itself up into The Thing, a rough beast whose hour has come round at last in a blood-dimmed tide where innocence is drowned into a gaze blank and pitiless as the sun, moving its slow thighs while all about it reel shadows of the indignant desert birds until darkness drops again over that rough beast, The Thing slouching towards Bethlehem to be born Beelzebub, until its stopped dead in its tracks by Lord Root of the Matter who recently down from Henrico County meets it deep in tangles and twisted vines of a Belizean jungle.

  2. Andrew Roesell Avatar
    Andrew Roesell

    Dear Jim,

    Belize, will you and yours carry yourselves back to Ole Virginny soon?!?



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