Daniel G. Fitch - City of Trees

“Did you ever visit the sacred city in the trees?”

“No, it was forbidden. But once, many years ago, not far from there, I watched a group of invisible birds drink an entire lake in an afternoon.”

“Invisible birds? Birds, like hawks?”

“No, not like hawks. I could see traces of them, like the wind. Fluttering around the surface, but they hid from us as spirit clouds. Drinking all the water and renaming it.”

In that famous picture, the crater barely registers; one’s eye is at first tied up in the knotted ropes hanging from every tree, ghostly vines tangled in the fog with oddly purpose-filled structures. Speculation ran rampant when the photo was published. Some thought it the work of a heretofore-unknown people, fascinated by vines. It could be instinctive behavior by one of our simian ancestors, for purposes unclear. Or was it, perhaps, the remains of a ritual long lost to the mists of time?

Then the paleobotanists came, and showed that the vines had been knotted within the last few decades, most likely in the 1980s. The paleontologists, meanwhile, found very little evidence of habitation anywhere near the site, and the half-mile crater in the center of all the knotted construction had burned with a fire hotter than jungles can create, a fire that cleansed all evidence of what might have been built there.

It took the wildfire archaeologists to name liquid hydrogen. That was unexpected, and arguments in journals escalated. Then, some interviews with nearby villagers managed to connect a few dots: some elders recalled a bright light in the sky back many moons, an event initially interpreted as a meteor landing. But it could now be interpreted as something taking off, instead. And there was a date in 1983 with a minor earthquake centered near the site.

Villagers told of a secretive tribe of sloth-like humans, with prehensile tails, whose forest magic was strong. The anthropologists gathered miles of interviews, confused and contradictory. After a while, curiosity drained and we were left with the photographs.

“Do you remember, as a child, seeing any of the tailed people?”

“Yes, the sacred spirits of the forest. They did not appear to me after I was a man.”

“Did they speak to you? Do you know anything about them?”

“They were very sad for us. They did not speak, but I… we knew their mind. They felt we, all of us in the village, were children. Not just me, a child at the time. They treated people all gently, as one might a confused child. And they were grieving for us, for some reason.”



“Has anyone seen them recently?”

“They all left. They took everything, including their bones, leaving only the skeletons of their cities.”


“All the trees you see around here are their creation, although they tied the houses to themselves when they left.”

“Did they leave any writings? Any messages?”

“They knew that no words, no message would help us. Nothing would protect us from you.”