Garden variety

In addition to the “Buy Nothing” group on Facebook that has proven useful in the past, I’m also a member of a local group devoted to plants and gardening. Frequently people offer extra cuttings or rootlings they are looking to rehome, ask questions about botanical identification or pest control solutions, or seek advice about how to prune or when to pick or where to plant, and sometimes the poster’s sense of humor creeps in, infusing my day with the welcome distraction of levity. Here’s one of my favorite examples:

What’s nice is that this received lots of positive attention, many people offering comical monikers and just generally sharing in the hilarity, not one single sourpuss carping that the group is for serious inquiries and information or complaining that this violates some remote clause in the membership bylaws.

Some of the people in this group post and comment so frequently that they develop an online persona, and I’ve actually acquired a good friend and a few friendly acquaintances this way. One of them posted a question about the carrots she’d harvested, inquiring as to why they had grown straight at first but then had all turned a practically forty-five degree angle, yielding a harvest of bent-elbow-shaped and oddly formed root vegetables. Here is her photo:

My first thought upon beholding this bouquet was that it looked like quite the luscious home harvest, each carrot perfect by virtue of its imperfection, so organically, unapologetically real and actively defying conformity, not to mention expectation. These weren’t your garden variety (an idiom which demands to be replaced by “chain grocery store aisle”), straight-laced, arrow-shaped, saturated-orange vegetables; their variegation, striation, and fanciful forms seemed more like a handful of funhouse snowflakes, and they spoke to me on an existential plane. I had no idea why they didn’t look like the carrots in a Beatrix Potter book, but I liked them so much more.

My affinity for this bunch deepened further when I learned the horticultural cause of their individuation and differentiation: Virginia clay. When the carrots had grown down to a depth where they encountered a layer of that impenetrable, rust-colored sediment, their growth was hindered by the density and thickness of the substrate, and they either had to extend themselves at an angle or find cracks in the clay in which they could inch their carroty growth, finding little holes in the barrier to fill themselves into. What a marvelous example these carrots provide! They wear the badge of perseverance in the shape of their own empirical entities, embodying the survival mentality in the whole of their figuration, each unique form visual proof positive of the growth mindset of instinct, of nature waving its steadfast flag in the face of adversity. These carrots, driven by the powerful force of enoughness (the combination of enough water, enough space, enough sun, enough nutrients), weren’t stopped in their tracks by the impenetrable sediment of red clay; no, they just changed direction, found detours, swerved for the sake of unswerving development. The ways nature models problem-solving and indomitable purpose never fails to amaze.

One of the commenters on my friendly acquaintance’s post quipped, “Clay is clay and gets in the way,” which I found right delightful. But no soil was intractable enough for those committed carrots, their bodies bent on the impetus to survive and thereby find avenues to thrive. I picture them humming along underground, putting out one minuscule feeler of root matter after another until one gained purchase in a hospitably soft spot, then lodging itself in that promising direction and devoting energy to enlarge its presence, to essentially increase itself.

Some of us show signs of our own survival potential to the naked eye; we have slings and scars, prosthetics and wheelchairs, crutches and canes. But most of us carry our life force of fortitude in ways and places that aren’t visible, that lie beneath the surface of our appearances, that aren’t sensed as accessibly or discovered as readily. Now imagine for a minute a world in which the evidence of our personal growth, the evolution of our selves, were emblazoned as part and parcel of our physical form. How gnarled would we be, how torqued and twisted and knobbed and knotted! We’d be a mass of angles and jangles, curlicues and curves. We’d be like those carrots, creative in the face of clay in the way, refusing to cease growth despite the hardness ahead. And how very, very beautiful we’d be.

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