Friday, August 19, 2011

Arguing, Potting, and Pruning

The plant is as old as he is, and we're talking near his conception. His mom received it as a gift when she was pregnant with Robb; when Tucker was born, she gave us a new philodendron, rooted and planted from the leaves of the mother vine that was more than three decades old.

That's a really profound gift, life giving in a beautiful way. I don't have a green thumb, by any means, and I was somewhat intimidated by a gift with such longevity. I aimed to do my best. She promised it required little. Just some water and pruning now and then.

Robb and I argued a lot about the philodendron.

He liked for it to be long and flowing, with tendrils that reached off the counter and down to the floor.

I did too - I mean, that's great. But I argued that the plant should be fuller near the soil and then grow in length. But any time I pruned it, Robb worried, tossing out accusations that I was trying to kill his mom's plant.

I wasn't. But she even confirmed that it could benefit from some cutting back, so it might grow in fullness. Perhaps less stringy.

Any time I cut it back, he was sure I had killed it. Killed it. Maimed. Done for. Tricia hates plants. She wants to kill anything that represents life and conception.

Such were the assumptions.

I was really sure I was right. He was sure that my right-fighting would lead to the plant's demise.

So you know what I did? I rooted my own. Here. You have yours, I'll have mine, and they are both born from the same mother vine. You care for yours any way you choose, and I'll care for mine in the way I deem best. If either of us is wrong, we'll still have another strong, healthy plant.

A souvenir of who was right all along.

We watched each other's plants. It became a race to the finish, an object of serious competition. Mine sat in a glass of water next to his potted version. As soon as my darling plant had strong enough roots to dig into soil, I would equip her with her very own home. In a lovely yellow pot.

We watched. We trash talked. His grew longer, mine grew deeper, and we stood firm in our convictions.

And then, there was that one day.

I walked in the door from a morning of teaching, and I poured myself a tall glass of water.

And that's when I saw it. The glass that had held the shapely, baby roots was gone. In its place sat a colorful pot, with a small, freshly potted, plant.

"What?! What... is... this??"

I demanded, completely aghast with my hands splayed across the kitchen counter, as if I had seen a dead rodent next to the toaster.

"I planted it for you."

"Why on earth would you do that??"

"I was helping you. I thought I was doing something nice."

I blew a gasket. I was furious. "Do something nice for your plant, not mine! That is mine - my plant. Mine. Mine!"

Firstborn children like to be in charge. Each of us firstborn in every way, Robb and I often vied for domains of control in our home. We often said to each other, "Hey. This is mine. You find something else to be in charge of."

He potted my plant. All under the guise of doing something nice for his wife. Ha. I sniffed that one out. I was sure he was trying to sabotage my efforts, sticking this poor, dear plant in thick soil before she had the hearty strength to stand on her own.

I threw a fit. I really did. It wasn't pretty. He stood by his intentions: to be kind. I stood by my contention: that plant was mine to be kind to.

He found the end of his tolerance for my juvenile tantrum. "Fine. Fine. Fine! Tricia. Fine. Here you go."

And he plucked the plant, roots and all, from its freshly packed soil.

And he dropped the whole thing in my fresh glass of water.

I gasped and shrieked.

"There. Happy? I was just trying to do something nice for you."

We watched with silent, gritted teeth as the water turned brown and bits of soil floated to the bottom of the glass.

"Yes. Thank you. I'll take care of my own plant. Keep your hands to yourself and your own plants, thank you very much."

We spent a hearty day-and-a-half in our separate corners of the house, fuming at each other and avoiding contact of any kind. That's what marriages are made of, really: silly fights over cookie crumbs and bathroom towels and expired salad dressing. Those are the little ditties that forever give you something new to talk about, when you think you've learned each other inside and out.

The plant has now lived longer than he did. Born before he was, it still thrives on our kitchen counter.

Eventually, I married the two plants; I have repotted my (healthy and thriving) plant into a larger pot with his (which is now doing well since I have trimmed it back, as it naturally should be). What we once intended to be the potted product of right and wrong has now become the a variegated reminder of a silly argument.

But perhaps it's a picture of much more. I am enduring my heart's very own season of pruning, like it or not.


Pruning initially makes the tree . . . more unsightly. It makes a dead thing look deader, if that's possible. When I do a heavy pruning on my trees, usually in January or February, my children accuse me of ecological barbarity.

"Why did you destroy the tree?" my daughter asks.
"Just watch," I say.
"For how long?" she asks.
"You'll have to come back later. This will take a while."

Pruning is winter work. A tree's dormancy strips the thing to bony nakedness, fruitless, leafless, ugly. A tree in winter is useless and unsightly. But it has this one advantage: you can cut the wood deep, right back to the trunk if you must, and the tree will survive.

If it's done right, the tree will be better for it come springtime: stronger, shapelier, more vigorous.

Above all, more fruitful.

~ Mark Buchanan, Spiritual Rhythm


Penny said...

I love your way with words. Beautiful, insightful, wise as always. :)

Kay Day said...

I just watched a movie where someone was concerned about the seemingly over-enthusiastic pruning of some bushes. The answer: "'Cut away everything but the spirit, ' papa says. Then it will bloom."

Jan Verhoeff said...

I have a philodendron, from Mom's services last October. It's filling up our dining room window, needs pruning. Thanks for the reminder. :)

jennyfaithlowe said...