Jolene likes warm summer rain, being read to under a tree in the shade, old movies, slow dancing, soft dog noses, and good conversation. Perhaps I ought to tell you that Jolene is a potted plant. But a potted plant with a definite personality.
Jolene was a gift to me from a human friend. It was about a year ago. The human friend did not know that I have never been very good with raising potted plants. And Jolene is a succulent. A plant that confounds me even more than usual.
When Jolene arrived, she was small and compact and rather perky. It was summer, and so I kept her outside. I tried to put her in the sun, but she got scorched and looked rather alarmed and so I moved her into the shade on a table within my veranda. And then she got strangely long and overly leggy and so I put her into a larger pot and she just grew and grew and grew until now she drags her arms and legs across the table or along the ground, like a figure skater. And sometimes she reaches out toward other plants and holds herself up to the dog or to me as if she wants to be hugged or to dance.
I brought Jolene into the house for the winter. And that’s when she really blossomed – in personality. Her limbs just stayed green and produced more and more pointy fingers (or perhaps they’re toes or ears or lips). There were no actual blooms.
I soon discovered that she’s not at all fussy or demanding. She does like companionship, and she can be a bit pushy about that. But her nutritional needs are slight, and she accommodates nicely for missed drinks as well as the occasional drowning.
And so, my appreciation for her grew right along with her. And I began reading and thinking more about all the possible interrelationships between humans and plants.
According to Robin Wall Kimmerer, author of “Braiding Sweetgrass” (and one of my favorite wise women), in some Native languages the term for plants actually translates to “those who take care of us.” What a delightful change of perception for those of us who seem to think we are the nurturers.
Plants clean and produce the very air we breathe. They ease our pain and illnesses. They feed us. They shelter us. They cover our bodies with fine, soft, cloth. Plants even soothe our souls and balance our lives – especially according to those who practice feng shui and herbal healing. And since Jolene seems to be a type of Jade plant, she is also meant to bring prosperity and harmony into my life.
But only recently are we humans researching and learning about the very real, one-to-one friendships they offer.
One writer calls them: “Plant Allies.” And proposes that they provide consistent emotional support, they relieve stress and anxiety, they clear the mind and lift a mood. And, much like our human and animal friends, he notes that Plant Allies will come and go throughout our lives – as we move through different life stages and phases and journeys.
So, perhaps I shouldn’t assume that Jolene and I will always share secrets and jokes between us. But, for now, I’ll enjoy her odd quirks and smartypants attitude. I can tell her my dreams and worries, no matter how wonky. I can sing my favorite songs out loud in front of her, even if it’s a bit out of tune. I can read to her from new manuscripts and columns I’m writing, without fear of her falling asleep or walking away.
John Steinbeck wrote in “East of Eden”: “I remember my childhood names for grasses and secret flowers.” And I suspect he read out loud to them, too.
It can be a strange and sometimes isolating world we live in. So I find it oddly comforting to know a dear friend and confidante may be waiting as nearby as an old gnarled tree, or a new lemony dandelion – or perhaps in the form of a sassy potted Jade plant received as a gift who goes by the name of Jolene.