“They tried to bury us, but they didn’t know that we were seeds”
- elder wisdom
The natural world is full of teachers. Today my plant teachers are showing me that growth doesn’t always happen where you can see it, or recognize it, or where you might be looking for or expect it. Still it’s happening.
Yesterday as I was watering my plants I noticed something strange happening in the soil of this Alocasia plant. This plant is special to me. I cultivated it from root cuttings without knowing whether or not it would grow. Over the past two weeks I’ve had to leave several living situations for my safety. In the first of those moves I left this plant behind for a few weeks. It was only a root cutting in the ground at that point. I worried that it would die before it even had a chance to live. I was already distraught about Ahmaud Arbery. Every time that I thought about my plants—which have always been a source of calm and joy for me—I thought about Ahmaud and Breonna and Tony and then George.
When I returned to my house and my plants to pack my things and move to a more permanent place I found that the root cuttings had grown. They had not died. They had produced three thriving leggy leaves. By the time I had settled the plant into my new home two more leaves were pushing up towards the light. Unlike the others these one chose to grow close to the surface of the soil.
Alocasia and I have been in our new home almost two weeks now. When I went to water her yesterday I saw something concerning. There are thick bright white chunks in the soil. They did not look like the typical alocasia root. I was concerned that some sort of fungus was taking hold. I looked more closely and realized that these thick white chunks are stems. On top of these stems but still several inches below the surface of the soil are leaves. In addition to the three leggy leaves, and the leaves resting just on the surface of the soil there are two more leaves GROWING UNDERGROUND. When I look at them more closely I can see that those two leaves are about to sprout a couple more little leaves on their subterranean stems.
I am in awe of this plant. I am filled with gratitude(continued in comments)
Gratitude For her and for this lesson, this message that she is sending me. The message is that “the work” doesn’t always happen where you can see it, or recognize it, or where you might be looking for it or expect it to be. Still, whether I see It or not, whether I recognize it or not, it is happening in more ways then I know.
I must admit that my first impulse after I got over my shock and awe, was to dig these little plant babies up so that they could have light and air like their siblings. I was a little on the fence about it though because repotting, being uprooted and settled into a new home, is stressful for plants as it is for humans. I’m still feeling all kinds of confused and displaced from my moves. When I talked with my housemate about it she counseled that perhaps I should leave it and see what it does. I took her advice and also reflected on my impulse to “help” by placing the plant in an environment that I felt would be supportive for it. There was another message.
Here is a plant that is living her own happy little life underground. They have water and sunshine and apparently space to grow. They have now signs of distress and have not asked for my help. They are simply out here living their best life. I want to subject them to trauma because I think that I know what’s best. Even though this plant’s very existence has shown me that my understandings of what is possible is limited.
I’m sitting with that.
As I am myself working underground. As I am finding new ways to be an organizer and cultural strategist, ways that are sustainable for me over the long term I am sitting with the lessons from this plant. My work may not happen in the ways or places that I expect it to and it may not be immediately recognizable to me. It’s still happening. As it happens I must resist the urge to return to my limited knowledge of ways of being and doing, my limited understandings of what is possible. I must allow myself to be present, to be in the words of Mary Hooks “transformed in service of the work.” Ashe to all of that.
Mary Hooks’s Mandate for our times : “ The mandate for Black people in our time is to avenge the suffering of our ancestors; To earn the respect of future generations; and be willing to be transformed in service of the work.”
Mary Hooks is an Atlanta based prison abolitionist. And revolutionary leader. You can read the original transcript of this mandate and the accompanying statement/speech here https://southernersonnewground.org/themandate/
My orientation towards plants as teachers, guides and ancestors is being learned from the book “Braiding Sweetgrass” by indigenous scholar and botanist Robin Wall Kimmerer.