Every night at midnight, the purple clouds came out to dance with the blushing sky. The swans below float effortlessly on the crystal water of Lake Morton. The dim light gives the small historic bungalows an iridescent glow.
The thick warm air that usually feels suffocating, feels like a safety blanket over her relaxed shallow breaths. The crying cicadas beckon to the world that spring is over, and summer is here. Tonight, their monotonous music fills the void of the silence as she drifts off into a trance in the swaying porch swing. She feels safe sitting outside; alone, under the glow of midnight, when even the mosquitoes are sleeping. Entranced, she stares at the swans in the glass water, and she can’t tell if the swan is the one moving or if the water is. The swan turns his head to look at her and they lock eyes. It knocks her out of her trance and she’s not sure how long she’s been staring, but the navy-blue sky tells her that sunrise isn’t far behind. She stands to walk inside, the old porch creaking beneath her feet. She quietly opens the front door, walks into her room on the right, and falls onto the bed. She’s lying on her back watching the fan blades circle above her and then the next thing she knows, the sunlight is begging her eyes to open again.
“CAM!” Her eyes shot open.
“CAM! Wake up! We’re gonna be late.” Indy was banging on the front door. Indy is Camelia’s best friend from school. She’s short, around five feet, three inches tall, with caramel-colored skin and a petite athletic build. She often wears her naturally curly black hair in an afro ponytail on the top of her head. Her personality is as big and bouncy as her hair. She’s known and loved by everyone, makes new friends easily, and her ADHD means she’s always busy and also usually exciting. She hates being late though.
Camelia jumped out of bed and ran to unlock the door to let her friend inside.
“Sorry! I have no idea why my alarm didn’t go off. I’ll be ready in 2 seconds, I swear!”
Camelia, Cam for short, is tall, nearly six feet, with pale skin and straight, orange hair. She’s thin and lanky and her arms and legs look like they’re a little too long to fit her frame. She’s not as extroverted as Indy, but she’s easy-going and mostly a go-with-the-flow type. She’s usually quiet, calm and always reliable. If she commits to something, she follows through. It’s not like her to forget to set her alarm for her first day of work at her new summer job. She throws on some baggy shorts and a white tee-shirt, slips on a pair of flip flops, grabs a banana for breakfast and walks out the door. It took just a little more than 2 seconds, but she was ready to go surprisingly quickly.
Cam and Indy jog down the front steps leading from the front porch to the walkway. Indy’s older brother, JR, was waiting in his car, a 2001 gold Toyota Camry, at the end of the walkway. The girls hop in the back seat and buckle their seat belts. Today is their first day of their Summer jobs as camp counsellors for The Roots, a kids day camp at Edward Medard Regional Park in Plant City, Florida. Indy and Cam are almost 16, and this is the first time either of them has had a job. Thankfully Indy’s brother works at the Dollar General in Plant City. So, he agreed to the 30-minute drive from Lakeland, where they live, to Plant City to drop them off during the Summer.
Plant City is a small rural city that most people haven’t heard of. It’s full of farms and gets easily overshadowed by its neighboring large city, Tampa. There’s also not much to do there unless you like picking produce. The two things that make Plant City a city to visit are strawberries and the trees at Edward Medard Park. Plant City hosts the strawberry festival every year in early spring, and while it’s not accompanied by a big festival, the trees at Edward Medard Park are something to visit year ‘round.
Edward Medard Park is a huge park spanning a couple thousand acres. The park has some good hiking trails and a big lake. Last year, the county put in a playground and some water fountains to make the park more accommodating to families with small kids, but the coolest thing about the park is the trees. The park is home to a unique species of trees called Radix Trees. These trees are usually found much closer to the equator in tropical climates like rainforests. The trees also usually grow alone, but for some reason, Plant City found itself home to this giant cluster of Radix trees, making it the largest grouping of Radix trees in the world. What makes these trees so unique is their roots. The trees look a lot like oak trees, but they expose their giant roots, bringing the intricate wooden webbing to the surface above ground level. But more than just being able to see the roots of the trees, the roots move.
All plants move as they grow, but Radix trees grow 100 times faster than regular trees, and their root systems move to find the best soil and water supply. So instead of looking like a normal tree that stands in place, the Radix roots are constantly moving. They are moving incredibly fast from the standpoint of a tree, but to human eyes they move very slow. The roots speed is somewhere between the speed of a snail and the speed of a sloth. If you look at the root systems, you can see them moving like water in slow motion, or their own kind of unique breathing. You would think that trees growing 100 times faster than regular trees would be super tall, but something in the genetic makeup keeps them from growing more than 100 feet. In the rare occurrence that a seedling sprouts, the trees grow so rapidly that you have to be there when the seedling first breaks ground or you’ll miss its growth. It’s rare to see the trees growing like that though because the mature trees don’t reproduce often, and no one has figured out how to propagate them.
“Alright guys, we’re here,” JR says as he shifts the car into park. “I’ll swing back by after my shift ends at two.”
Cam and Indy only work from nine to noon at The Roots, but JR’s work shifts are from nine to two every day, so they plan to just hangout at the park after the summer camp ends. “Thanks JR! See you then.” Cam says as she climbs out of the car. Cam and Indy walk up to a purple oversized tent that’s shading a cheerful middle-aged woman with short salt and pepper hair. She’s wearing a vizor and a tee-shirt with the Roots logo on it and standing behind a table with jerseys, lanyards, pull-string backpacks and name cards.
“Hi y’all, I’m Ms. Linda! You must be Camelia and Indy right?” the woman says.
“She goes by Cam.” Indy says.
“Well welcome to the Roots Indy and Cam. We are so happy to have you as counselors with us this year.”
Miss Linda gives the girls their Roots jerseys that they slip over their tee-shirts as well as name tags on lanyards and pull string backpacks that have branded water bottles inside. She invites them over to a group of high-school-aged kids also wearing jerseys and she gives each counselor their assignments for the day. The counsellors are organized into five groups: Hiking, Fishing, Recess, Art and Yoga. The kids are divided into 5 equal groups, and each assigned a set of counselors to start their day with. The hiking group walks one of the loop trails around the park with the kids, the fishing group takes a small hike to the nearby lake with a bucket of fishing poles and some tackle boxes, the recess group walks over to the playground, Ms. Linda leads yoga that practices poses similar to the moving roots that she sees, and Cam and Indy, armed with paper, paint, and brushes, are assigned to the art group. Each group spends about 30 minutes on their station and then the kids rotate groups. Then for the last half hour from 11:30 to 12, the kids eat their bagged lunch.
It's blistering hot outside, the suffocating humidity of Florida Summer swells in their lungs. About two hours in, Cam and Indy are both wishing they had been able to land a job as a lifeguard or working inside. Even a boring desk job would have been better than this heat. They continue helping kids make artwork using the movement of the Radix tree roots to move the paint around on their papers. Finally, they get the call for lunch and everyone walks back to the tent.
As they are walking back to the tent, Cam realizes that in her rush to leave this morning, she didn’t pack anything for lunch. Indy offers to share hers and Ms. Linda offers some extra fresh fruit and bottled water that she has in her cooler. Cam thanks her friend and her new boss for their generosity and gets lost in the ice cold, juicy, watermelon from Ms. Linda’s cooler. Soon the parents are lining up to pick up their kids. After the kids are all picked up, Ms. Linda gathers the counselors together. She thanks them all and gives them a brief rundown of tomorrow’s plan and stations and the counselors walk to their cars. Tomorrow, the counselors will each work a different station than the one they had today.
Cam and Indy have another two hours to kill before JR is off work and able to pick them up. First, they walk over to the playground and sit on a bench in the shade. They chat about the kids for a bit and how they both want to work indoors or at a pool next Summer, and then decide that they don’t want to sit for the next two hours. “Let’s take a walk through the trees and scope out our hiking trail for tomorrow” Indy says. Tomorrow, their station is hiking. Cam agrees and they walk back to the Radix trees and into the woods.
As they walk the well-defined trail, they have the perfect view of the Radix roots. It’s cooler in the forest thanks to their shade.
“The trees are pretty cool.” Cam says, “I mean, I know we are kind of used to them, but it’s pretty cool that we have more here than anywhere else in the whole world right?”
“Oh yeah! For sure, they’re cool. It’d be cooler if they squirted out fresh cold water to cool us down in the middle of our summer camp days.” Indy teases.
Cam laughs, “Forreal! I was researching them the other day though and did you know that not only do they move their roots to get better soil and water for themselves, but scientists have witnessed them sharing resources with other trees nearby. So maybe if you were a thirsty tree, they would squirt water on you.” Cam playfully nudged Indy’s shoulder.
“Is it scientists or botanists?” Indy wondered aloud.
“What?” Cam asked, not following the line of questioning.
“You said scientists have witnessed the trees sharing resources, but aren’t botanists the ones that study plants?” Indy continued thinking out loud as they walked.
“Hey! Did you see that?” Cam interrupted, “that root over there just shot out some smoke or something. Did you see it?”
“Where? Which one?” asked Indy. “That one!” exclaimed Cam jogging over to the tree about fifteen feet ahead of them on the left side of the path.
Suddenly, more smoke began to release. This wasn’t just a little puff of smoke, it was bright purple and it was engulfing Cam like a cloud. The tree roots creaked as they moved. Indy had never seen them move like this before. All in an instant, Indy saw the roots part, and a hole opened up near the base of the tree. Then Cam was sliding into it or being pulled into it. Before Indy could even get a word out, the smoke had cleared and the roots returned to their usual state.
The ground looked undisturbed, but Cam was gone.