There is a semi-annual ceremony in the Vance house. At some point – perhaps after a sudden trip to the nursery or an impulse stop at a roadside garden – I bring in a bunch of new plants to the house. Then I remove the carcasses of the ones who have not survived the twisted Hunger Games that is our back patio.
And as I walk in with these organisms whose only job is to “add a little green to the house,” I can swear that I feel a shudder go through them when they cross the threshold. As if they can sense it. They are entering a place of death.
I’m bad with plants. I mean, I’m really bad with plants. I even killed an aloe once, which was billed as an unkillable plant when I bought it. If “brown thumb” was a thing (as oppose to something that sounds like a fraternity dare) I would have one.
To make matters worse, I have a cat that actively tries to destroy every plant that dares invade his space. He once spent three months carefully chewing down the spines on one side of a cactus plant just for the thrill of knocking it over.
Which is sad because I’m passionate about plants. Like any good outdoorsy biologist, I love nothing more than sitting in some field with a hand lens, keying out sepals and stamens, dying to know if this delicate beauty is a Gerber jamesonii or an Echinacea purpurea.
Love that stuff.
Aw, man, who am I kidding? I’ve got to level with you, I just don’t give a fig for any plant shorter than myself. Those flowers I just mentioned? First things to come up on a Google search. I just wanted to sound like I know stuff about plants.
And I really do want to know stuff about plants. I mean, not not enough to work at it but enough to notice it’s a gaping hole my whole outdoorsy-thoughtful-writer vibe. In college, I aced all the animal classes and was a teacher’s aide for forestry. O-chem? Oh please. But I dropped out of plant taxonomy inside a month. Because trees are cool and shrubbery is not. Trees define a forest and dominate your sensory experience. It’s a “Midwestern hardwood” forest, not a “trillium, Virginia creeper and a bunch of other insignificant stuff I don’t care about” forest.
I’m sorry, that was harsh. I’m not angry at the plants, I’m just irritated that they’re so hard to remember and tell apart. And it’s not like I was deprived of opportunity either. My father is an amazing gardener and was a professional landscape architect while I was growing up. I have fond memories of him pointing out the various plants in the yard while I looked on and prayed for it to end.
And so I have to wonder, do the plants in my house know how I dislike them? Does the wide-triangle-leaf thing (Thingus withtriangulus) dying in my patio know it’s not the first I’ve killed? Does the roundish-waxy-leafed-almost-a-tree thing (Waxish ahreallywhogivesatoss) that refuses to die know that its continued existence means nothing to me?
Or do they just cower in fear of all the plant ghosts haunting the house? Oh, yes, I’m convinced my house is littered with plant ghosts. Despite the persuasive evidence put forward by Venkman et al (and recently corroborated by Gilbert and Yates), I don’t believe in human or animal ghosts because there would be just too damn many of them wandering around the planet. But plant ghosts? Yeah, I could see that. They don’t wander.
And it’s not just the plants that I personally killed. This being the Christmas season, I’ve decided to decorate my house with the reanimated corpse of a Douglas fir. Just sitting there, in full view of the plants in my back patio, draped with unnatural lights and trinkets I’ve placed on dozens of other similar corpses.
I’m actually quite looking forward to hanging the dismembered body parts of a white pine around the entryway to the dining room while listening to carols. Maybe a little tinsel to highlight their decaying tissues.
So I guess it’s no wonder all of my plants die. Between starvation, neglect, ghosts, grisly trophies littered about and a sociopathic kitty, my house is like some kind of plant nightmare. If I was to replant one of them back in the forest – maybe that prickly thing (Ouchus goddamnitus) in the corner – I imagine the other plants giving it a wide, uncomfortable berth while it tells horrific tales of torture to frightened seedlings.
And then, as suddenly as it began, it stops talking and lets its gaze drift off into the distance as if trying to catch some fleeting distant memory. And the rest of the plants fall silent, out of respect and maybe even fear. There is a certain sense of awe that comes from being so close to a survivor of the House of Vance.
Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons