The squirrel family had gathered from far and wide to give thanks. The eldest, a scrawny fellow with half a tail and a mangy coat clinked his wine glass, intending to speak first.
“I’ve found shelter in the limbs of this oak for many years now,” he squeaked, “and I want to thank it for its hospitality.”
Further down the table, a beefy fellow interjected, “I agree, but what about the acorns? I want to thank the oak for faithfully producing and then sharing the bounty of its fruit with us.”
Now squirrels aren’t tidy creatures, at least when they eat, so they did not notice that the floor under their table was covered with detritus. Yes, not only was the floor covered with leaves and table scraps, but it wasn’t just this year’s leaves and table scraps: It was leaves and table scraps from countless years. Technically it was leaf mould, or the O-horizon of the soil beneath the table.
Along with various squirrel gnawings, word had filtered down to the simple life forms within the O-horizon that it was the season of giving thanks. While there were a dozen or so squirrels enjoying a few leftover pears—pears must be tasty to squirrels since our pear tree was stripped bare this fall—the O-horizon was teeming with small and microscopic life forms: Insects and worms, bacteria and fungi, plant roots and their associated fungi.
Now, the O-folks’ busiest travel day of the year is not determined by the calendar, but by the type and availability of detritus. In other words, in the rare event that a storm drives green leaves from the tree, instead of leaf mould, there might be compost. In this case, the thermophyllic bacteria would temporarily multiply. Or, if winds knocked down a tree limb, the population of saprophytic fungi would be larger.
At this holiday, the only boon in the tiny population was among parasites, leptospirosis and salmonellosis, because what was falling from the squirrels was not only what came from their mouths. Anyway, there were plenty of invertebrates ready to thank not only the squirrels for their droppings but primarily the trees for keeping them nourished with an annual supply of leaf litter.
The old oak quickly deflected the praise.
“Kind squirrels, I grow my limbs for myself. I am reaching for light so that I can turn the carbon that I breathe into sugar. I drop so many acorns to try to insure a heritage for myself. And you, slimy critters by my roots, I drop my leaves to protect myself from winter’s icy winds. I owe you thanks for recycling my waste into an ideal home for my roots.”
The O-folks replied, “If you drop it, we will come.”
At Thanksgiving, in this amazing world that is our home, who should thank whom?
Joshua Arp is an ISA-certified municipal specialist, Clarks Summit’s municipal arborist and an operator of an organic lawn and landscape maintenance business. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.