My aunts, mom and grandma always talk about their plants when they get together. Coleus, bougainvillea, snow-on-the-mountain, wandering Jew, violets, agapanthus, Johnny-jump-ups, poor-man’s-orchid, spider. They trade cuttings, smuggling them over state lines, to propagate at home. They discuss their plants like children or pets. They share tips, and compare progress.
We turn plants into sentimental objects as we do with books and art, but with plants it’s different because they’re alive. They grow and change. You see photographs of your former apartment, and there’s that lily, half its present size. It’s like looking at old family pictures: “Look how little you used to be!” Plants have a history and a life. That’s why they’re so hard to give up, even when you don’t love them anymore, even when you don’t have room for them. What are you supposed to do, just let them die? Impossible!
When recently I had to move everything out of my house, I realized there were more little plants than I was willing to find places for in my new cramped quarters. I thought, it’d be silly to feel sentimental about these plants. I could replace them later if I wanted. Yet, I just couldn’t give up the succulent I kept alive during my first year of teaching.
It sat on top of a microwave oven, in a tiny, dark, cold office space that was really a storage closet with a window. During the times I thought I might lose my mind, I watched the plant’s health. It refused to wither. It stood hardy and strong, and occasionally sprung a tender new leaf. Sometimes I would forget to water it, or take it home during vacations, but it withstood this neglect, and stubbornly lived on. This buoyed my spirit more than chocolate or pats on the back.
Our adopted foliage can serve as a sort of bellwether for our lives. Most of us have gone through periods where we let the phone ring, the dishes pile up, and the houseplants shrivel. Eventually, the pile of brittle leaves forces us to assess the state of our lives. Of course, because we have sentimentalized our plants, it’s tempting to read their lives, like tea leaves, for clues to our own. Once, when a relationship was dying, my African violet exploded with unseasonable purple flowers. Maybe, I thought, there’s hope. There was—for the violet.
My step-mom visits a particular hemlock in a park near her home every New Year’s Day. She walks circles around its trunk, one hand on the bark, releasing regrets from the old year and planning for the new one. Her own history and life are now intertwined with the hemlock’s, as year after year, the tree receives her hopes, and ushers them forth with fresh oxygen. “Here you go,” it says. “Here’s some more life.”
2011-03-15 10:49 编辑：kuaileyingyu