'SOMETHING SLOW AND PURPOSEFUL WANTS TO TURN EVERY HUMAN BUILDING INTO SOIL'Richard Powers, the Overstory, 2018
Some already were there for quite some time. And some, after their first arrival, decided to come back every year during spring. Some stayed only for a couple of months, some stayed for a year or two. Some preferred the shadows, some needed days full of sunlight. There were those that needed a place for themselves, a shower every now and then or someone to connect with. Others were content with just a little bit of sand, or even stone.
Hedge mustard preferred sandy grounds. Every year it started to appear on the sidewalks, at the foot of a lamppost or near the parking lot. Small yellow flowers celebrating spring's sun, hailing insects on its petals. Somewhere during the end of summer the decision to come back next year. Siliques bursting, spreading seeds. A dying body enriching the soil.
Each April, emerging in increased numbers, common horsetail. Persistent as it is, it already took over a big part of some of the gardens, spreading its rhizomes further into the street. White goosefoot, burgeoning in forgotten spots, such as the small patch of land in between the second and third block, opposite the bus stop. Choosing territory by pinning their taproots into the soil, lateral roots joining determinedly. Neighbouring cleavers and common sowthistle disputing terrain. Shepherd's purse growing on the site's borders, dispersing along the sidewalk. Annual meadow grass finding its way in between the tiles.
They had always been spreading chemicals to take care of themselves and to take care of each other. Through their vines, some species warned their siblings when being attacked. While bugs started nibbling their leaves, their neighbours started to defend themselves. Some had been emitting chemical compounds into the air, in order to attract the predators of their attackers. Arranging for someone else to get the job done. But now they started to use those compounds in a different way. There were bigger amounts and different mixtures. New effects and new purposes.
All along the street, white nettle, bitter dock and field pennycress had started to flourish. Lush gardens appeared where tiles had predominated the front of these buildings. One evening, the human beings at no. 188 were having dinner, all four of them sitting at the big table in the main room. Just as they were about to have dessert, a strange feeling befell them. They wondered if it had something to do with the food they just ate, or if it had been too muggy inside. Just to be sure, they opened the windows, as well as the garden door. They sat themselves on their couches, leaving the pudding on the kitchen counter. That same evening, their neighbouring humans from no.186 had a similar experience. The elderly couple had been sitting in the garden, when they noticed that an unusual feeling had found its way into their bodies. Not being able to pinpoint the exact source, then assuming it probably was caused by something in the air, they decided to go back inside.
Italian rhye-grass explored ground beyond its usual plot. Curly dock rose along hedges and creeping thistle started to move from the overgrown garden near the playground to the bordering terrace of no. 54. Here, one morning shortly after waking up, a middle-aged men felt like he had to leave the house as soon as possible. Whereas normally he would bake himself an egg, eat it with a slice of white bread and drink a cup of coffee, he now left for work immediately after he got dressed. He failed to notice the sudden increase of purple flowers.
Prickly lettuce emerged between the tiles. Barren brome grew from the parking lot. More and more of these pioneer plant species were invading the street. Broadleaf plantain, tansy, common nettle, lady's thumb, cock's-foot, welsh poppy, common knotweed, ground elder, red clover, all expended their territory. Dandelions, daisies, pineappleweed and high mallow settled in between. Small bushes appeared on places where they hadn't been before: elderflower, sloe and common hawthorne. A silver birch navigated seedlings across the pavement.
The human beings started to leave their houses more often. They went out for dinner a few nights a week and spent more weekends over at family and friends. Some even worked overtime at the office, simply to spend less hours at home. Being at home didn't soothe them anymore.
Meanwhile, several species of lichens began to cover roofs and walls. With its vivid yellow to orange body, maritime sunburst lichen brightened the exterior of the post-war apartment flats. Its saucer-shaped fruits creating an almost extra-terrestrial texture to these dwellings. Similar in colour, different in structure, egg yolk-lichen began to appear. Grainy and looking like little lion's paws, this lichen spread eastwards, starting at the housing block near the end of the street. Light-grey sunken dish lichen, with its cracked skin, crossed the street's sidewalks, eventually mixing with the yellow ones on the brick stone walls.
Halfway up the street, a man commenced cleaning the outside of his house, but these lichens were perpetual. Moreover, he didn't had the energy to stand there on a ladder all afternoon, using the pressure washer to get rid of these stains. For this strange feeling he lately experienced, completely took over the moment he went outside. He got inside and lay down on his bed.
Houses became like hotels, solely sheltering humans overnight. And after a while, even that was too much for some of them. One human family after another, ceased to come back.
Mosses and liverworts started to appear increasingly. Like tiny green rugs, they spread across the asphalt. Wall screw-moss climbed up the pavement. Red beard-moss furnished the facades. Starting from no.104, common liverwort travelled all the way up to no. 118. Its small bowls growing on fleshy leaves, causing raindrops to scatter the spores. A miniature landscape dominated by whimsical palms. On the other side of the street, neat feather moss travelled the drainage systems of the more novel buildings, resembling a forest of obese pine trees. Broom fork-moss and cypress-leaved plait-moss softened these buildings' appearances. The latter, with leaves like feathers, made it seem as if the houses were huge parrots, coming to life on windy days. Variable-leaved crestwort crept unto balconies. Bristle-moss set foot on doorsteps.
When the last human resident had left this street for good, fungi found its way into the weak spots of wooden doors and window frames, guiding lichens and mosses inside. Translucent butter waxcaps started growing in the newer apartment buildings. Their waxy bodies swarming around like tiny yellow ghosts. Crooked white cups of spidery mossear mingled with the chubby stars of swan's-neck thyme-moss. Slender, red stalks sprouting from these floors, scattered spores all over the house. In the older apartments, wolf's milk's red bubbles started to appear alongside the windows. At no. 109, a Chinese windmill palm had been standing in its flowerpot for over four years, now suddenly sheltering a small group of golden parasol-like plantpot dapperlings, both soon to travel across the living room. Moss bell strolled on kitchen floors. Sloe filled corridors. And spreading all over the street, beneath a roof of nettles, in between moss and lichen, inside and outside the buildings: sphagnum brownie, aromatic pinkgill, shaggy mane, grayling, nettle pox and golden bootleg.
Buildings began to decay. Lichens and mosses secreted different kind of acids in order to break down bits of brick walls and concrete, turning it into soil. Starting as fine white strands, dry rot grew into large masses of mycelia, sending its tentacles throughout wood and walls, digesting that part of the woods which made it stiff and strong, before evolving into these brown fruiting bodies, like melted American pancakes, sending their spores into the air. Weeds and shrubs entered the houses. Cleavers crawled up the stairs. Where windows were left open, common ivy sneaked inside. Couches and chairs became hosts to nettles and ferns. Bookshelves housed paper-loving palomino cups. Nipplewort settled in shadowy corners. Yarrow inhabited hallways. Chicory's lilac-blue flowers embellished bedrooms. Hedge bindweed grew its white trumpet flowers against the walls, pulling itself up on paintings and cabinets. Polyurethane-eating fungi started feasting on televisions. Laminated flooring disappeared under high-piled herbal carpets.