Visitors are naturally curious about Sam Stemrunners. They’re cheerful, helpful, melodic, and easy to find. They are typically heard first from afar, whistling or singing one of their many vocational songs. Locals may be able to tell visitors what a given Sam is up to just by listening to the song. That said, a courteous visitor will show discretion—this guide is intended to provide background information and answer typical questions, thus mitigating the need to ask them.
To the most common question, “how did the very first Sam Stemrunner come to be?” alas, we can provide no confirmed answer. It is natural to suppose there was once a single Sam from which all other subsequent Sams descended. Whether this is the case is still a mystery, as no known authorities will verify that they possess any deep historical knowledge of their subject. Research is ongoing, but further funding via donations is always gratefully accepted. These can be made in town at our civic buildings/taverns. As to the second-most-common question, “why not ask a Sam directly?” see the “Sam’s calls and songs” section.
A young Sam’s beginnings
Firstly: yes, they do indeed start smaller than adults. Secondly: contrary to common belief, they do not have the beguiling features of an infant, doll-like or otherwise. Nor do they seek out cuddling or fondling. Instead, they are sharp-elbowed and all-about-business from the start. They sprout even knowing how to whistle.
Newly sprouted Sams give off an odor of wood resins with an undertone of cleaning vinegar. They are about one hand high—quite fragile and easy to crush—at the beginning of their lives. They emerge from their pots, twiggy, lithe, and sandy-hued (they darken in the sun over time). Their minnow-like movements can be alarming. Even their cleaning activities can have an unnerving effect, especially if one is at a low ebb (for example, if observing them early in the morning whilst still nursing a clammy head).
To a visitor, it is charming to discover how a young Sam always sets about clothing itself the same way—woven green grass for breeches, neatly tied with a pliant willow or ivy belt. A downy ruff of white fiber about the neck with descending acorn plates over the breast. A jerkin of brown mushroom, dried, beaten, and pliable (such industry!) A sort of tailcoat jacket dyed a seasonal shade of berry-red, purple, or puffball-brown, cinched at the waist with a heavy belt of mouse tail or braided cedar bark. But these articles never vary, and they serve a sensible purpose in the Sam’s self-appointed vocation.
A young Sam’s hats
Only the hat’s manufacture shows any great variety, as it is based on seasonal materials. So, the great brimmed landsknechts of high summer (typically assembled from forest toadstools) give way to winter’s thistledown-lined, nutshell-plated caps and then to spring’s sharply creased capitanos or leafy tams. Feathers, fish and lizard tails, or flowers might be seen pinned to their hats, but it would be wrong to think these flourishes arise from a desire for individuality. A Sam Stemrunner’s role as steward and caretaker is taken seriously. It takes pride in dressing the part.
A grown Sam’s appearance
The nose is small and pointed. The eyes are slightly bulging, black, and as impenetrable as those of any garden rodent. The expression around the eyes is steady and fixed. The rest of the face can be animated. The hair is brown, frizzy, and kept above the ruff. It tends to a coarse unruliness when left ungroomed by a busy Sam. The sideburns descend as aggressively as those of a harvest yokel. While the face may acquire the patina of a well-manured barn floor, the protruding cheeks remain apple-red.
Sams acquire burly knots on their skin, mostly upon the neck and arms, as they age. Their fingernails are tough as claws and a deep rusty rosewood in color. The hands in general have a woody appearance. Their elbows, already pointed, become thornlike and tough with age; older Sams will make stitched elbow holes for these growths.
Finally, there is the thorn-covered tail, which is held slightly away from the body. It is usually immobile and drab, hanging down to above the knee. Though the tail is not used for self-defense, it is best not to grab it.
A Sam’s predilection for animal tails
Common sights at a Sam’s cottage (see below) include fish tails nailed to doors and squirrel tails hanging from windows. A Sam has its own tail. Why does it collect the tails of animals? Some experts surmise that this practice is fetishistic and relates to fertility. There are a few other charitable views on this behavior.
A Sam’s calls and songs
Years ago, advances in recording equipment revealed that some birds vocalize in registers that humans are incapable of hearing. The same is true of Sam Stemrunners. Our first clue was watching Sams moving their mouths in a simple way without appearing to make sounds. And while opinions among many experts about their belligerently limited intellectual capacity remain unchanged, it is now acknowledged that Sams sometimes speak or sing in ranges we can’t hear. Some researchers claim to look forward to using technology that will allow us to hear what they are communicating.
Like the repetitive ditties of birds, many Sam songs show little or no variety among individuals. One well-known vocational song has been recorded in its entirety over 900 times in an unsuccessful effort to discover variation. Those who have borne this fieldwork have likened its melody to the jingles played by American ice cream trucks. It is too long to quote in full here (and it would be hostile to do so), but its first stanza goes thus:
Hey willy willy weed,
how do you grow?
Up to your belly
and down to your toes!
Hey willy willy weed,
what do you see?
One Sam Stemrunner
looking at me!
It quickly becomes apparent to the listener that exposure to the ceaseless euphoria present in this, and most other songs, should be limited. However, where high-density Sam Stemrunner populations exist, this can be challenging. The sound insulation offered by taverns and beer cellars has been recommended by the best authorities as a way to ameliorate any discomfort caused by overexposure. That said, Sams have clear, trebly, oboe-toned voices that carry well across treetops, fields, streets, alleys, gardens, backyards, lakes, and even through closed doors.
On a casual level, Sams appear to engage in conversations. Indeed, it has not been proven that they don’t engage in conversations. Visitors are welcome to determine on their own whether a Sam’s side of an exchange consists of simple niceties or a pool of stock phrases.
A Sam’s domestic arrangements
Sam Stemrunners favor the interiors of dense hedges and bushes for their cozy and quaint cottages. They use materials at hand to make multi-roomed, waterproof dwellings that always include a work shed, sleeping area, and eating area. Work sheds may be subdivided by function. They are typically meticulously organized and clean. On the outside, simple porches are common, as are observatories, rope ladders, simple hoists, and water tanks. Sams always have plenty of water on hand and conscientiously water their host plants, making their cozy cottages stubbornly immune to chance conflagrations.
A Sam’s daily rhythms
Summer, winter, spring, or fall, locals may be awakened very early by a famous song’s first lines, I’m full of fun and up with the Sun / So very much fun, I skip and run as daylight first appears. The lines may be taken literally, as Sams always rise with the Sun. They do not take days off. They do not sleep in after a fine night at a tavern. They are in their beds shortly after dark. Curious visitors may stand near a Sam’s cottage in the evening and hear its curious “snore sprints.” These are rapid, cyclic vocalizations sounding something like “hgah-shee hgah-shee hgah-shee.” Be warned: extended listening may bring on a case of sympathetic hyperventilation.
A Sam’s career and work habits
There are plenty of examples of specialization, but a Sam’s self-appointed vocation can be described simply as “setting things right” or “tidying that up.” This is hammered home in the Sam’s joyful daily lunchtime verse, I’m a Sam / yes I am / I’m a Sam / with a plan repeated many many times all around town. Sams trim bushes, square off hedges, arrange debris into piles, put debris into buckets, move and fill sacks. They especially like to tie any loose ends they see into neat knots. And they do all of this without being asked. In fact, they will do these things even when asked not to do them.
A new Sam’s budding
This event involves a mature Sam retreating to its cottage, where it sings ballads while preparing a wholesome meal of cakes made from acorns or other forest nuts. After the meal, in something akin to an extended lavatory visit, the tail deposits in a flowerpot filled with humus or compost of some sort. The pot is then covered with a damp cloth. It is claimed that a young Sam will emerge within a week. During this time, the elder Sam draws the curtains and recuperates by alternating snore sprints with meals.
Apparently, even if a Sam’s tail should be severed or mangled in any way, it will regenerate rapidly, ensuring a persistent fecundity.
A Sam’s teetotalling
While calls for the forced extinction of Sam Stemrunners, even if this could be effected, are of course made in jest, it must be pointed out that an occasional cider or dram of cognac would do much toward mellowing the brittle jollity—some would say lurking anhedonia—that underlies the Sam Stemrunner’s intriguing temperament. The brisk ingress of a whistling Sam holding a mop and bucket, who sets about cleaning up the floors and tables, bringing with him the bracing smells of lemon, vinegar, and juniper for the rest of the day can tarnish neighborly tolerance, so a Sam should be welcomed with a complimentary drink to ease his energy level. If all Sams stepped into a bar for even the sporadic pint or two and a bit of off-color banter, misunderstandings and acts of casual battery might be reduced.
A Sam’s emotional tenor
Visitors often remark upon their chipper demeanor and wonder whether Sams ever show unhappy faces. Indeed, it is extremely rare to see a gloomy Sam, but exceptions have been observed in certain circumstances.
Recently, the non-native Crosstangle Sentinel has become a popular hedge and bush border in yards across town. In fact, it can be seen in the same general areas colonized by Sam Stemrunners. This voracious little beauty must be fed a regular diet of nuts, wood chips, bugs, or small animals to keep it in good temper. When Sentinels aren’t fed, they begin to nip and prey on whatever is nearby—their stalks are mobile and their multicolored flower heads contain an impressive set of serrated teeth. (If the visitor has not already been advised about these “plants,” please do take heed and give them a wide berth. Sentinels have been bred to bite through branches and twigs, so they are perfectly capable of biting through animal flesh.)
Unfortunately, some plant owners neglect to feed their Sentinels regularly. Due to this negligence, an uncertain number of Sams have been maimed or devoured near their cottages. When another Sam has been in the vicinity and witness to the event, its reaction has been quite remarkable: the Sam would raise its arms and run away, wailing dramatically. Facial expressions did seem unhappy at these times, according to eyewitnesses.
A Sam’s natural enemies
No local predators show interest in the non-native Sam Stemrunner. (The use of the word “invasive” by some experts is of course rash and unwarranted, but nonetheless it should be noted that these Sams are not indigenous, and that their native habitat may be one of the outlying wilderness paracosms, like Crosstangle.)
Chance accidents have revealed that most weedkillers and poisons have no perceived effect on them. Only fire and the Crosstangle Sentinel have been shown to deplete the Sam’s numbers. Recently, however, a local patron of exotic fauna imported a nocturnal species of wyrmect for his collection. These creatures are colloquially known as samsuckers. Alas, all 40 of these (luckily neutered) beasts escaped from their enclosures and now roam the town after dark. While not a danger to us, they do seem to be drawn to sleeping Sams, perhaps attracted by their unique snores. A samsucker will slip into a crack in the Sam’s cottage and latch onto it, sucking out its life while it sleeps.
While the population of Sam Stemrunners has suffered, townfolk will tell you they are relieved to see the Sams taking steps to wyrmect-proof their cottages. It is to be hoped that no other predators appear. Concerns have been raised about the recent fad of breeding devil midge borers (a known scourge of all sap-blooded creatures) in our tavern laboratories, but it is highly unlikely that any or all of them will escape.
A suggested activity for after sightseeing
As the Sam Stemrunner population has grown, so has our robust tavern culture. The town welcomes visitors to relax and sample a few of our many fine ales, ciders, and spirits for an evening, afternoon, or entire day in well-insulated, sympathetic surroundings.