we spend our life trying to become, but the beauty is in the unbecoming

October 29, 2017

Marigolds and Sequoias

Earlier this year, when two of my dear grandparents were sick and work's burden weighed on my spirit, I declared in a moment of frenzy, "We need flowers for the patio!" As if annuals would solve life's problems, Jeremy dutifully drove me to the hardware store where I purchased Marigolds, Begonias and one basil plant, with hope that, this time, the basil would make it longer than a week. I spent that afternoon potting flowers and listening to podcasts, in what felt like an act of defiance against the stress.

After the initial planting and as life calmed down, I cultivated the habit of wandering outside and meticulously checking the plants for signs of new life: inconspicuous blooms or tiny green leaves. I'd step out daily with a carafe of water to slosh over the natural bouquets; the work of watering and dead-heading these flowers felt easy and predictable. Look for new flowers, rip off dead flowers, water everything, and repeat.

Not long after tending to my annuals, Jeremy and I vacationed in Northern California. The trees are massive. We hiked deep into the forests of Yosemite, at times alone for what felt like hours. Felled trees criss-crossed the floor of the forest, serving as breeding grounds for saplings and a comfortable place to rest our out-of-shape legs. At the tail end of vacation, I picked up a copy of The Secret Life of Trees. As the author explains, trees communicate with each other, nurture one another, and grow best in community with other trees (i.e. forests).

Last December, a friend gifted me a "grow your own Christmas tree" kit, part gag gift and partly because she knew I would love it. I carefully prepared those seeds for germination. To my delight, the seeds sprouted and grow tiny trunks and branches.

Earlier this week, that same friend passed along The Practice of the Presence of God to me. This short book describes Catholic Brother Lawrence's ability to find joy and purpose in simple daily tasks. In one of the opening pages, the reader learns that Brother Lawrence first devoted his life to God after gazing upon a barren, winter tree. The author writes, "seeing a tree stripped of it's leaves, and considering that within a little time the leaves would be renewed...he received a high view of the providence and power of God, which has never since been efface from it's soul." Barren trees bloom again.

Autumn has finally arrived in DC today, and raindrops splashed against the branches. The air smelled of wet earth during my walk, both refreshing and unexpected in the city. As I dodged puddles, I noticed the roots of the trees digging themselves deeply and widely into the cement, with no care for urban planning or mulched-off boundaries.

How inherently dependent yet resilient plants are. Old flowers wither, making way and providing nutrients for new ones. Little acorns flourish into trees older than time. Forests defy climate change and human destruction to live in community, while also cleaning our air and stabilizing ecosystems.

Tiny, packaged pine tree seeds use the coolness of my fridge, store bought soil, and D.C. tap water to grow into trunks and branches. Persistent tree roots carve out the space they need through the concrete of city sidewalks. Winter trees show no signs of life; yet this first appearance deceives, as trees remain fully awake beneath their bark. Trees and plants have no control over season's length; they have no choice but to greet the elements each day with the rising sun. Basil plants die after a week. (It's inevitable.)

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