Friday, August 12, 2011

Message from a houseplant

I'm not sure of the variety of plant, but it's something standard and typical, maybe a begonia. I received it from my daughter's third-grade teacher at the end-of-year class gathering; it was a thankyou gift for fulfilling room parenting duties all year.

I'm not generally great with plants, but I hoped I could keep this one producing colorful blossoms at least through an event that I was hosting the following week. I put it on a side table in our kitchen and enjoyed its pretty pink and white blossoms.

I watered it every couple of days, and it hung in there. I had no delusions that it was flourishing, but it didn't seem to become any worse for wear. With me as gardener-in-chief, that was the best that could be hoped for.

But then a few weeks later, I decided to put it out on the deck. I had a large planter out there that didn't have any plants in it, and although I don't know much about growing flowering plants outdoors, I figured it would live at least as long as it would inside.

After I put it outside, I stopped watering it regularly; if more than three or four days go by without rain, I pull out the watering can, but for the most part, now I let the plant live on rainwater, which has been falling every few days these past few weeks.

I thought the plant might die in the acute heat wave of late July, but it didn't. And then last week I noticed it looked better than ever, with lush dark pink and purple blossoms and dense green vines cascading over the side of the planter.

It was very clear to me that the plant was benefiting enormously from being outside rather than in. Even with irregular watering, rainwater seemed to suit it better than tap water. Even with the variety of temperatures we've had lately, from a high of 102 one July afternoon to lows in the 60s or even cooler overnight, the plant looked healthy and robust.

I knew what the message was. I knew what that plant was showing me. The plant had a simple message, and I was definitely open to it: living things flourish when they are allowed to be outside.

This is definitely true of me; it's why I was so happy during the week I spent in Colorado in late June. It's why I know that some afternoons the most self-nourishing thing I can do is hop on my bike for a short ride. It's why so many of my most meaningful friendships revolve around taking long walks together.

Now, every time I look through the door that leads from the kitchen to the deck and see that plant, it's like a reminder. Need rejuvenation? Just go outside. And yesterday afternoon, that's just what I did. We'd just arrived home from two days in Maine, and I was feeling a little out of sorts. I had wanted to stay longer, but we had to get back for Tim's baseball game. At home, things felt messy and disorganized to me, and I felt burdened by unpacking and getting the house back in shape and catching up with work.

And then the plant's message came through. “Go outside. To flourish, go outside.”

I can't, I told myself regretfully. I need to empty the cooler, start some laundry, make dinner, put away my clothes, remind Holly about tidying up her room, help Tim find his water bottle. It sounds great, but I can't go outside.But again, the message: “To flourish, go outside.”

I thought about it again. I can't do something as frivolous as a walk or a bike ride, I told myself, but what about weeding the garden? That's work, not play. But it's also outside. After just five minutes of weeding, I felt myself relaxing. Sure there was a sink full of dishes to wash and a dinner to plan. But it didn't matter. I was getting fresh air and a late-summer breeze. It felt so good to be out kneeling in the dirt, pulling up weeds, looking up to see cloud formations, watching dragonflies drift past me.

After 45 minutes, the garden was fairly well weeded. All the other factors were still in place, of course: the dishes and laundry hadn't taken care of themselves. But that was okay. I'd heeded the message and benefited so much from just 45 minutes outside. The plant's message was absolutely correct: to flouish, go outside. I'm so glad I listened to what it told me. And I'm so glad I could act on the lessons learned.

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