A Reminder About Life, From Two of My Houseplants
I forgot about them, which I’m really, really embarrassed to say. I just forgot them. And that means I almost killed them. Last summer sometime, I put two of my houseplants, together, up on the very top shelf. At the time I thought – “you are going to forget these someday”. But then I over road that intuition with all kinds of logical answers like, they look good up there, there’s space, their leaves can flow down over the other shelves, they aren’t as out of sight as the plants on the very top of the bookcases that I water all the time. I won’t forget them, I’m in this room almost of every day….
The only reason I found the plants is because I was looking at the space in my studio with thoughts of reorganizing my work area. I was taking in the whole room, thinking about what I needed to do when I spied the plants on the top shelf. My heart sank. They were wilted and most of their leaves had turned brown. They were surviving on moisture in the air, which is very dry right now because it’s been so hot this spring. How long has it been since I watered them? Two months, three months, maybe more? How is it possible that I overlooked them? This is so out of character for me…
In reality I haven’t been in my studio for a long time. The world transitioned in March and soon after I transitioned with it. I am an acrylic painter and I haven’t been painting or getting ready for art shows. Shows have been cancelled, and I’ve taken a pause, in a shocked and disoriented kind of way as the vocation I’ve chosen changes, or at the very least is on hold for the foreseeable future. Instead I’ve thrown all of my creative energy into the outside garden, like my very life depends on it. Which in some case, perhaps it does, in a hope and well-being kind of way. I’m moving back to the very fundamentals of living and self-care. So, I haven’t been painting, I haven’t been in my studio, and now I am trying to revive almost dead plants.
Both of these plants were cast-offs that I eagerly took under my care many, many years ago. I found them on a “free” counter at the office I worked in for over a decade before I became a full-time artist. It was forever curious what you would find on that counter and every now and again there were plants. And I always, always, always took the plants, bringing them home like stray puppies and nurturing them back to life. It got to the point where people just brought me their dried up, all-but-dead plants and I would take them home and care for them, re-pot them in larger pots with good dirt and just watch them grow and grow and grow.
Now, something you should know about me is that I have a habit of looking at life events in broad context. I know the world is communicating in all kinds of different ways, all the time. Synchronicity and metaphors are everywhere and, the ones I notice are the lessons, that for some reason, I need to hear at that moment in time. So, the fact that I didn’t water these plants in the same space that I haven’t been giving my art the sustaining forces it needs is important. It’s an abrupt piece of information that is not only pertinent, it brings my life into focus like a good mentor pointing out a blind spot that of course I can’t quite see. So, these are the lessons I find in my plants, they teach me, even when, or especially when, I try to kill them.
As soon as I saw the withered plants on the top shelf of my studio, I of course immediately went into rescue mode. I moved into some version of plant CPR. Get. Them. Water. I took the small indoor watering can I have, lifted it over my head and added water to each pot. I moved so quickly I just took the water that was already in the can, rather than delaying longer to fill it all the way up. I then had to stand on my tiptoes while I held the bottom of the can and tried to lift it and tilt it just right so the water would drain into the pots. I got some water into the first plant pot and then started on the second. My watering can was running out of water, so I had to stretch taller and push harder and, of course, I spilled it. A cascade of water came down on top of me. What seemed like more water than could possibly have been left in the can came down on top of everything I had on the shelves and everything within a couple feet of where I was. I just stood there, wet, frowning, and looking up at the plants. “Okay, I deserved that” I said eyeing them.
I pulled both plants off the top shelf and gave them a good, long drink, directly from the faucet this time, letting them sit in some water to help them revive and replenish. Today, I removed the dried leaves, cut back the long trails and relocated the plants to a place that is more amenable to their care. And, I’m going to think about how my attention has been pulled away from my art into survival mode, into the new reality that is living in a pandemic, into growing food, caring for myself and my family too. I am very pleased that my garden is so green and prolific, it really is teaming with life and potential and hope too. And, after my plant near death experience that happened in the middle of so much growing garden energy, I’m thinking about the other parts of my life that also need my attention. With no end in sight for what this pandemic will disrupt, I’m considering what it means to have a balance of living. I don’t want to kill any of my houseplants, or any of the parts of me that are important either. I’m not entirely sure what this means as far as tenable action, but the awareness came from my neglect and this stark reminder from two of my houseplants.