Letter from My 48th Year (Jan 2)
I am sitting on my porch, which is not a porch at all, but a dual pane of floor-to-ceiling windows in my great room where I have placed that ubiquitous Black IKEA wicker chair and a double stack of vintage footstools covered in Turquoise leather (or pleather), and a side table. I am spying on the goings on at the intersection of Fidler and Ramsey, and I am thinking about my small family of plants that live in that window. (The aloe plant lives on top of the green wicker shelf as she is not as enamored of the blinding light as I am.) I possess not a green thumb so I mostly have succulents as they seem to be okay with me trying (and sometimes failing) to remember to water them on the 1st of every month, or if the 1st is New Years Day and you are too busy eating hoppin’ john at a friend’s house to tend to your troop, the 2nd of every month.
There is also what is supposedly a gingko bonsai, which teases me with a yellow leaf or two occasionally, but mostly is quite relentless about staying alive in spite of me. These plants terrify me, how I will mourn in a way that seems unreasonable if one of them dies. Why should I be so attached to these plants? They are only plants, right?
I am sure they need transplanting and have for several years, but I can’t get the idea out of my head that I will somehow inelegantly murder them if I try to transplant them without professional supervision. Having a brood of succulents is not the same as having figured out how to have a husband and children, but they make me think I might have been good at both, I could be good at both. How ridiculous to think these plants are sending me secret messages from Delphi, or wherever it is that things that might have been live their unlives.
I do not know the names of plants, though I find great pleasure in reading things written by people who do. There is such music in the language of plants, though that music refuses to root itself in my head in any concrete way.
This morning I read this in Karl Ove Knausgaard’s Autumn (yes, I am still cheating on Sherman):
“That’s the experience I’ve gained from working in the garden: there’s no reason to be cautious or anxious about anything, life is so robust it seems to come cascading, blind and green, and at times it is frightening, because we too are alive but we live in what amounts to a controlled environment, which makes us fear whatever is blind, wild, chaotic, stretching towards the sun, but most often also beautiful, in a deeper way than the purely visual, for the soil smells of rot and darkness…”
I read that and said to the plants, “Yes, later this winter, I will transplant you and hope for the best.” I also thought to myself, “Perhaps it’s time, this far in the process of immunotherapy, to try flowers again. To brighten the winter, a bulb of narcissus or lilac or some paperwhites.” These things may happen or they may not.
In May Sarton’s journal The House By The Sea, she writes of her “plant window,” which is just what it sounds like, a bay window filled with flowers and plants. I’ve longed for my own plant window for years now (and for a house in reach of the northern ocean, filled with lights and family antiques, though in my case, they’d be from someone else’s family.) I prefer the ocean in fall or winter, blanketed in fog, but that is a beginning for another time, I think.
I have just flipped through about half of The House By The Sea, and I cannot find the passage where Sarton writes about creating the plant window, and even this cursory contact with Sarton’s voice is making me want to crawl into bed and just be with her, which is not at all the plan for the day. So I give you this paragraph instead from Monday, January 19th (1976, when I would have been a newly minted six-year-old)
“… I enjoy this house, the space and light, the plant window full of flowers, cyclamen and begonias, the browallia I brought in from the garden still a marvelous deep purplish blue. The little orange tree is covered with round oranges, and, amazing to say, the lavendar [sic] star-of-Bethlehem still falls in showers of little petals. A final bowl of paper white narcissus takes my breath away with its intoxicating sweetness as I go past, for such perfume really does seem a miracle with the frozen world outdoors. “
What is it about plants and flowers that makes a home feel so alive? Though I think I prefer plants as I can’t abide the scent of some flowers, like roses. I love them outdoors, but indoors, they are far too cloying and suffocating. They smell like what I imagine Miss Havisham might smell like (though to be fear I know of her only through hearsay rather than the actual novel).
Before I go, a word about poor Sherman Alexie who I am obviously cheating on left and right. I am realizing that what I want right now is to be transported into another life, another world, another country, and Alexie’s book is too real. I don’t know rez life, but the emotional part of it is all too familiar. And while familiarity can be comforting, I suppose I’m looking for a different kind of sweetness right now. Though, my dear Sherman, I promise we will keep plodding along together no matter how I may stray and/or dilly dally along the way.