Today I packed up several plants that I've spent months caring for, watering and fertilizing and covering in plastic bubbles when the air was too dry. I carefully arranged them in a sturdy reusable grocery bag, and carried them down the street to meet a group of folks from my local houseplant club for a plant swap.
There were maybe... a hundred? people there. Mostly women, but not all. Several visibly queer folks, which made me feel a little more at home, and also folks of a variety of races and ethnicities that reflect the city pretty well. I heard some Spanish, at least one SE Asian language I couldn't quite place. I analyze crowds when I'm nervous, I guess; I didn't know anyone at all, and that's always a weird social situation.
But the Free Table saved us all, gave us something to hover around awkwardly, smile at each other, say, "What did you bring? What are you looking for? Hello, stranger. Hello."
There is something so strange about taking care of a plant. Plants don't love you back, not really, and yet when you pour care into them, in the way they need to be cared for, and they flourish: they love you back. They teach you how to look for the kind of care a being needs, not just the kind of care you want to give them. Which, yes: I have learned the lessons of overwatering, and the subtlety that is bright enough indirect light.
I'm profoundly grateful for the plants that have given me the kind of duties that can keep a person alive. Grateful for the woman I met today who taught me how to take care of a hoya carnosa, chatted with me about her endeavor to keep alive a finicky prayer plant, and then disappeared for half an hour, only to reappear abruptly with some pothos cuttings, and a little pot of Swedish ivy, and two lepismium cruciform cuttings. "Here," she said. "You'll like these ones, they're weird. You'll have to root them, just stick them in dirt--you'll want a fast draining soil, a cactus mix or something. They're interesting, right? Architectural."
And I about cried. It's been a long time since someone watched out for me, just because. Or maybe it hasn't been that long, and I've just needed it more, this year. Needed to know I'm on someone's mind. Plants love you back, but if that's the only kind of love you're getting, you'll starve eventually.
But it's okay, because plant people care. We care about keeping things alive. We care about keeping each other alive.
When I say I'm an anarchist, this is what I mean. I mean that what sustains me, what sustains the whole world, I believe, is just people, choosing to water a philodendron, taking cuttings of a plant to give to a friend, quietly checking in with other living creatures and asking, "what do I have that you need? what can we give each other, to make each other more than we were before?" Some people call it mutual aid. I don't know that there is a name that can encompass it. It's a giant, tender thing, this thing.
Anyway, so this is a book review. THE PROPAGATOR, by Simone Kern, appears in the August 2019 issue of Metaphorosis Magazine. It's about taking care of plants, and taking care of other people. It made my heart feel too big for my chest. It's a novelette about what it really means to nurture, to grow new life, to care about the struggles and pains and needs of another living being. About how far you'd go to care about other people.
I cried reading it. It's really good, you guys.
Content warning for traumatic pregnancy/birth experiences.