With Room To Grow

2014-06-15 15.12.42My friend Clover is a ridiculous optimist.

She arrived at my home yesterday – plant in hand.  Even though I have killed every seedling and shoot that has crossed my threshold.  Easy ones – amaryllis and succulent.  Even the cacti she brought me when I moved back to Chicago.

They lived in a large glass bowl with sand, rocks and driftwood, as well as a golden deity.  When the first one died, I brought the terrarium to the shop it came from and watched the owner delicately place a new cactus in its place.  During our conversation, he convinced me to try my hand at a succulent – a hearty jade housed in an earthenware vessel, surrounded by wire.  Protected.  Safe.

I too was optimistic.

I saw the jade in my morning meditation, and took it to be a symbol of preparing soil.  Allowing the ground to lie fallow every seven years – as is mandated in the Book of Leviticus.  Without crop.  Resting.  Rejuvenating.

It was during this time – in the first months after my divorce – that several people suggested I not date for a full year, and I saw the soil as myself – getting ready.

I flourished.  But both the cactus and the jade withered.

My apartment gets precious little direct sunlight.  And yet…

I tossed the jade, but kept the container.  The shriveled, grey cactus still sits in the sand terrarium.  A reminder?  A warning?  An omen?

Perhaps it is time to throw away this remnant – what couldn’t survive – to make room for something new.  Not necessarily another cactus.  But something larger and leafier, like the plant Clover brought into my home.

She insists this one is “easy.”  It doesn’t require much sunlight.  Just water – twice each week.  And a new pot, sooner rather than later, as it is a little big for its orange, earthenware container, and will soon outgrow it.

Like me?

For the past several days, I haven’t been able to shake the feeling that something is about to change.  What?  I’m not certain.  But I feel the rumblings within.  I am both anxious and excited – eager to greet the shift.

Perhaps this one will be easy too.  Water.  A little sun.  A bigger container…with room to grow.

In The Weeds

2013-07-17 17.22.57I like to think I am aware of my surroundings.

I’m not.

Out on a morning walk, I wander into the native planting section of Winnemac Park.  There are wood chips on the ground, soft landing for my feet.  A low wooden fence.

I’ve been here before.  But it’s been a few weeks.  Months.  I’m not sure.  I lose track of time.

Today the planting is as tall as my head. Taller.  Green stalks, some with yellow flowers and brown centers.  Purple flowers and greenish centers.  What we used to call Queen Anne Lace when I was a child.  I have to push my way through it, clearing the way for my next step.  Jungle-like.

I am smiling.

I walk through it again on my way back home, as the morning grows hot and humid.  This time I pull out my ear buds.  Right after Labelle’s Lady Marmalade.

It is so quiet. Right here in the city.  I hear the birds.  The dogs.  The cars passing by on the perimeter merely a hushed vibration.  It immediately feels different.

I don’t know why I’m surprised.

My ex always had music playing.  And while I love it, I often found it overwhelming.  I craved the quiet.

And yet, now living on my own, music is very much a part of my background.  Perhaps the quiet frightens me now, alone with my thoughts.

But now it feels like a respite.  A great, big exhale.  As if I am on an entirely different walk.  As if the walk just moments before had never been.  The change is palpable.

I look to a weeping willow and think, “I need to come here every day.  Even just for 10 minutes.  To walk on the wood chips.  To get lost in this “forest” of native planting.”

Ah.  That still small voice.  I couldn’t hear it over the Donna Summer Pandora Channel (which, by the way, is excellent for walking…except when you are trying to hear that still small voice.)

I greet a big, black lab on the path.  He is off-leash.  I am afraid for a moment.  I peer around the corner looking for his owner.  “Is he friendly?”  I ask.  He is.

His owner had been lost in his own world –his nose tucked into one of the tall purple daisy-like flowers.

2013-07-17 17.23.53I feel a tinge of sadness leaving.   I always want more.

Walking home I admire the beautiful teak wood furniture on the porch of a brownstone.  Its pads noticeably missing.  The greenish brass elephants flanking it.

Wooden flower boxes hang off the window of a multi-unit brick building.  The only ones – obviously installed by the tenant.  His joy.  Her contribution to the neighborhood.

Tiny gardens are planted in the small open spaces outside of single-family homes and brown-stone three-flats.  Shady spaces, lush with green leaves and plantings, moist rocks and black earth.  A burgundy Japanese maple.

I smile, sort of wistfully, at the sad attempt at yarn bombing on the trees outside of the church across the street.

Arriving home, my mind is noticeably still.  I could hear Pandora playing in my bag, I had forgotten to turn it off – The Weather Girls, “It’s Raining Men.”  Miracle.  I hadn’t been thinking of them at all.

Plant Whisperer

dying plantI killed a cactus.

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.