The first tree grew in a fallow Iowa field – some new, strange oak, small as a fingernail clipping, within hours the size of a rib, and so on, until it towered over the empty acres as gray front clouds screamed eastward and whipped topsoil into dervishes that whirled with dry lightning, like some ancient marauding army. The next day a second tree grew and knit its branches with the first. The day after, there were four.
The migrant farmhands found the trees while sweeping for plastic cups, condoms, and bonfire ashes spotting the ground like fairy rings. The trees’ branches so wide, their trunks straight and dark as children’s creyones marrones, their leaves sparkled like scales in the midday sun.
“Hector, llama al hombre,” they said to the one who spoke the best English. Hector grumbled, but he called the owner. The Iowan.
When the Iowan, a man who fancied himself a Texan, stepped down from his black and chrome pickup, he tipped back his ten-gallon and said, “Well, I’ll be.”
The farmhands stood outside the tree’s shade, chewing bread and bologna. The Iowan scratched his forehead, spit. “Tractor. Andele!”
While a hawk rode thermals overhead, the Iowan levered the throttle. Chains clanked, tires spun, the chassis groaned, but the tree’s leaves didn’t rustle. The Iowan swore and got back in his pickup.
“Well, get on! Y’all get that out. Andele!” he shouted again and keyed the ignition.
The undercarriage burst into flames. Before the Iowan could lever the door open, the truck exploded in a ball of heat and spiraled steel. When the fire died and the smoke blew away, the wreckage revealed a small tree. The farmhands placed their seed caps over their hearts. Hector raised his phone and took a picture.
Forestry professors came in vans stamped with mascot birds. They lifted their sunglasses at eight identical trees, their branches tangled, their leaves like chainmail. “Thought only four.”
The farmhands nodded. “Creo que son respiración.”
The professors sketched and measured. The leaves supported weight. Drill bits pressed against the trunks exploded into silver splinters.
By the next day, sixteen trees. Thirty-two the following.
They backhoed, exposed spreading roots. NBC7’s Gabriela Washington reported a chainsaw had snapped like a whip, severing a distinguished professor’s leg. The story showed up on Buzzfeed and quickly fell beneath “Fallen Child Stars,” “Tabby and Croc: Besties,” “39 Ways the Internet is, like, Amazing.”
Planes dusted the two infested acres with dioxins and triclopyrs, which ran off the leaves like rain. Trees sprouted through the county highway and the neighbor’s farmhouse, its roof first crumpled like foil, then sheared in half by the canopy.
Two weeks after the first tree, the National Guard blocked roads and closed airspace. They backhoed, laid Semtex, and waited for the roots. The ground shook, but the roots kept moving.
“It’s the table that can’t be scratched. My wife hopes it takes over our living room next,” joked one late-night host.
The president and Iowa governor stood together, while tanks lined I-35. Longhairs strummed guitars at roadblocks, sang, “Peace Train” and “The Times They Are A-Changin’.” Dreadlocked Earth Firsters screamed reckoning and broke through the barricades, running into the trees.
Cars crawled southbound from Des Moines, air conditioners fought to filter and cool the exhaust-choked air. Children watched through back windows and parents huddled over smartphones – the cell towers along the evacuation route wrung-out for bandwidth – as a dark metal bird flew toward the trees’ center and rained fire from its belly.
When the dust and heat rolled away the trees were only leafless, like a web of synapses. The bombing continued.
The president appeared on television nightly. He fingered his flag pin, showed us the bottom of this thumb, and said, “America will defeat the trees. America will win.”
Perched in the booster seat in his parents’ Volvo, James Brumfield fingered through Elmo’s Big Car Ride as his parents shoveled bulging suitcases into the hatchback. Each time he looked up from Elmo’s adventure across the Mississippi and through the West, James scrunched his face and thought very hard about why his neighbors had decided to hack down the trees planted in their St. Louis sidewalk. James never decided on a reason, he just went back to Elmo, while in adjacent parking lots piles of young elms burned.
Looting was isolated at first. After Des Moines, young men in Cleveland and Chicago ran down the sidewalks, arms filled with TVs and laptops. Two days later the trees crossed beneath the Mississippi’s waves, and leafy rivers toppled and repaved Omaha and Kansas City. Cows in Ohio watched pointed saplings rise around them. Americans streamed toward the coasts.
Erma Thomas survived Katrina in an attic. When trees pierced the asphalt beneath her window on Dallas’ Southside, Erma packed a picnic and went to Wilson Park. Over the buildings, pillars of smoke rose and mixed with clouds. Families abandoned their skewered cars with what they could carry. Erma sat on a bench and ate.
On the coasts refugees clamored onto boats and passed children into outstretched arms. Parents dove into the oily water and followed ships to sea.
Others met on beaches, watching the approaching wall. They shared stories and sipped Budweisers, toes in the sand. The sun crossed the sky and the trees grew taller. Branches flexed and knit until the last spots of sunlight shrank into nothing.
In orbit, the International Space Station continued in automation, beaming pictures of the spinning planet. It did so whether or not somewhere on Earth, beneath the leaves or on the Atlantic, on some hard drive, some monitor, someone saw its photos, all white, blue, and green.
About the writer:
Logan Adams is a freelance writer, Northeast Minnea-politan, and 2013 graduate of Iowa State’s MFA program in Creative Writing and Environment. Find lists of his work at loganmadams.com.
About the artist:
Rahele Jomepour is an Iranian illustrator who was featured in 200 Best Illustrators World-wide in 2010. Her works have been selected for several international awards including the 3×3 Illustration show, New York, 2013; Fourth Picture Book Award, Korea, 2012; and Theater Illustration and Poster Design, Venice, Italy, 2011. Her illustrations have appeared in books and magazines in Iran and Portugal. She currently lives in Ames, where she is completing an MFA in Integrated Visual Arts at Iowa State.