Actually three of them. And two succulents.
One of the cacti sat in a beautiful terrarium – a gift from a friend. I took it to the shop owner and he replaced it with a sweet baby succulent, along with specific instructions. Water once a month. Half a cup, using a dropper. The succulent gets an extra watering mid-month. Ditto for the larger succulent, a jade, I bought the same day.
The baby succulent wilted to nothing – is lying flaccid upon itself. One of the cacti, like the first, is about to go. And one is gone. Dead. Dried up. As if it had never been there.
And the jade?
I bought it in response to the suggestion I don’t date for a year. An homage to Leviticus – to the prescribed year without planting and harvesting that follows seven years of specific crop rotation, allowing the soil to rest, regenerate, to become prepared.
I remember sitting in meditation and the imagery coming to me, followed by the thought, “I am the soil.” And then, “I should get a plant.”
All went well for a few weeks. And then it appeared to perhaps be outgrowing its container. (The shop owner assured me it wouldn’t for at least five years.) The soil seemed constantly dry, even though I followed watering directions to the letter – sitting it in the sink and letting the faucet run until water leaked out of the bottom.
Now, two sad, pale green stalks remain.
Normally, I would laugh about this. I never have had terribly good luck with plants. Except for mint. And even that dried up eventually. However, this jade had come to be a symbol of me taking care of me, of my own soil. So its demise makes me more than a little uneasy.
I remember coming home with it. Talking to it. (I never talked to a plant before.) I told it I didn’t know how to care for it. That it would have to tell me how.
I recently read a piece in Oprah about a woman who claimed to have a black thumb. She planted a garden and she got weeds.
One day a friend informed her that her weeds weren’t just any weeds – that they were delicacies in Japan, good for cooking.
But her cooking was like her gardening — yielding less-than-desired results. Until she asked for help.
She took the weeds to a chef in New York. He taught her how to cook them. And she kept bringing them. Eventually selling them to the restaurant, and about 100 others.
A couple of years ago, she and the chef wrote a cookbook together – Foraged Flavor . She quit her job as legal counsel to devote herself fulltime to her new work.
And my dead plants? What are they, the universe, God, trying to tell me – besides that I too have a black thumb? As my friend Stan likes to say, “What’s the lesson? What’s the gift?”
That sometimes conditions are just too unfavorable – that the plants needed a little bit of light and received none? That other people – even shop owners, even experts – don’t always have the answers? That I can follow directions and still get shitty results – that nothing is guaranteed?
That things die? That I need to pay attention to what is still living (barely) and nurture that?
That the soil is poor, needs nutrients? That my year off is ending early?
I don’t know.
The plants have proven themselves to be quiet messengers. I will continue to ask, and to listen closely.