Thursday, February 3, 2022
In addition to the many, many words I write here, I have a monthly prompt to reflect on each day. The difference is that the prompt is meant to be addressed in a single sentence. And not one that has 49 commas, two dozen semicolons, and goes on for six pages, either.
The prompt is intended to be meditative, whether it’s about gratitude, or encouragement, or improvement, or being.
This month, the prompt is about noticing. Anything, really, as long as it’s actually noticed. I noticed the Pez dispenser on my desk was empty today, but that’s not quite the same thing as noticing the particular shade of gray of a Mockingbird’s breast or the scalloped white edges of its wings.
Do you ever notice how many days you can go through without noticing anything? And yet today’s word is not notice. It’s a good contender, though.
No, today’s word is actually something I noticed today, even though it’s been in my life for over two decades. I should say she has been in my life for over two decades. She is Alice, and Alice is the single plant I have not killed in my life. So in honor of noticing her today, I want to tell you about Alice.
When Ralph and I got married, which is nearing 25 years ago now, my mother (of cutout cookie fame) took a clipping from a plant that her father, my grandfather, had given her, and rooted it. Then she gifted us this baby plant, and we loved her and squeezed her and called her Alice.
Don’t ask me why. It just happened.
Alice was pretty prolific. Her vines grew longer and her leaves grew bigger and we stretched her out across the office in our house near the sunniest window we had.
I’d like to say we doted on her and took excellent care of her, but it would be more accurate to say we were terrible plant parents and would eventually water her when one of us noticed her leaves starting to shrivel and fall off. Then we’d buy fertilizer and be diligent about bringing her back to health before almost killing her all over again.
I’ve killed all the plants in my life. The peace lily and the African violets. The snake plant and the rosemary. I tried very hard to keep the ivy alive but it just didn’t want to hang out with us for more than a few years.
Somehow, though, Alice persisted.
It’s not that I didn’t care about the plants, it’s just that plant parenting is a thing I’m not very good at.
I’ve never had a green pinky, let alone a thumb.
One year, when we lived in our condo, I decided to grow a vegetable garden. We had a tiny patch of dirt, about two feet by three feet, and a pretty nice patio for pots. I bought books, and obsessed over how to plant things together that would complement each other. I bought seeds, and tiny pots, and things to keep the seeds in the pots warm.
The books told me to start the seeds indoors, so that year our entire living room floor was covered in black plastic bags, with dozens upon dozens of seed pots on top. I carefully dripped water into each one whenever the books told me to. And I waited for the weather to be ready to move my plants outdoors.
I kid you not when I tell you it was the coldest, wettest spring I ever remember in my life. We had snowstorms right through May. The wind came in gales, the rain came in buckets. There was no way I was stepping foot outdoors, let alone transplanting tiny basil and tomato and green bean sprouts.
The weather was so bad that eventually everything in my seed pots died before I could get them a decent amount of space and sun.
The following year, I scaled down my efforts. I put a few lettuce plants in a pot, bought a couple of tomato plants from a nursery, and tried to root potatoes in a big raised bed with about a billion tons of soil (at least) because I read that they were easy to grow.
Things that happened: The rabbits ate the lettuce, and were so adorable while doing it that instead of trying to stop them, Ralph and I just took pictures and videos and went aw.
I learned that tomatoes need a lot of sun, and my patio did not get enough consistently, so I had to move them from one end of the patio in the morning, across to the other end in the afternoon depending on where the sun was. Every day. Multiple times a day.
As for the potatoes, I got very dirty turning over soil, but never grew a single one. At the end of the season I dumped the entire contents of the raised bed into the two-by-three dirt patch and gave up.
That pretty much ended my love affair with the idea of gardening.
The year after the potato debacle, I gardened not at all. The dirt patch remained a dirt patch, except for the usual array of weeds and whatever grows when you don’t care what grows.
At the end of the summer when the dirt patch was a mess of wild green and attracting all kinds of insects and making it impossible to get in and out of our patio door, I decided to clean it up. I grabbed a garbage bag and started pulling weeds. They were stubborn weeds, not wanting to come easily out of the ground. Eventually I found out why.
They were attached to potatoes.
It was the best harvest I never planted. I took that lesson and ran with it, and never tried to grow another thing again. I just let them grow themselves. These days I buy starter herbs from the Farmers Market and put them on the balcony. I water them when they look particularly wilty, and eat them when they look green. And I buy a lot of mint. Turns out it’s almost impossible to kill.
I found that out in the condo when I put a tiny grocery-store-sized pot outside and the next year it had taken over the entire dirt patch and the grass beyond and the neighbor’s dirt patch, too. Last summer the mint on my balcony turned into black stalks of charred death, but after a few days of watering the pot was full of mint again.
I just love that plant, not least of all because it goes as well in a cocktail as it does on a lamb burger.
Over the years I’ve gotten a lot better at taking care of Alice. I water and dust her, say good morning when I get up and talk to her throughout the day. And occasionally I stroke her leaves and tell her how pretty she is.
Tell me you’ve never had a word or two with a plant you loved.
I’m grateful that she thrived in spite of me.
She did give us a scare a while back when she began to lose a lot of leaves. Her vines may have been six feet long, but most of them were bare except for a few leaves at the end of each one.
I started to worry about what life would be like without Alice, and the answer was a lot less green.
So I took a deep breath, cut off the straggly branches, and rooted them.
It worked like a charm.
It worked so well, in fact, that we had to buy another pot. In went Alice’s roots. And then there were two.
The second plant became Alice Clone.
We’re creative like that.
The process repeated itself two more times. First we almost killed her, then I rooted her, then we needed to buy another pot.
Right now we’ve got Alice, Alice Clone, Alice Clone II, and an as-yet-unnamed Alice root.
The cool thing about Alice is that she has been with us since our wedding day, and in my family long before that. At this rate, she’s going to outlive all of us, or at least her clones will.
Alice is a little piece of living history in a pot. Or four.
She has lived in five different homes since coming to us, survived two cats, and made the 900+ mile drive to our current home in Franklin, Tennessee stuffed into a cardboard box.
She was well worth noticing today and given a starring role in many, many words.
Photo left to right: Alice, Alice Clone, and Alice Clone II on a couple of wire crates in our apartment today.