A story about what nurturing a simple plant has taught me

I bought it last spring at a plant store that was going out of business and was selling off bamboo shoots at a dollar each.

“It will bring you good luck,” said the plant store saleswoman. That did it. I could surely use lots of that, particularly at that moment–and frankly, at any moment!

SALLY FRIEDMAN
SALLY FRIEDMAN

Of course I should have bought more than one bamboo shoot. But a particular one called out to me–a slightly anemic, pale little specimen that looked like it needed a friend. In animal parlance, the shoot I carried home was the runt of the litter.

I plopped that tiny shoot down in a clear glass bud vase with water and assumed it would perish soon. Not only was it fragile from the start; it also was now under my care, which has not always been a fortuitous thing for plants.

Through the spring and summer, that bamboo shoot did nothing but languish in its bud vase. It “drank” the water I gave it, but didn’t seem to be sending down roots. There was one day when I came very close to tossing it into the kitchen trash–this wan little pale green bamboo did nothing to enhance the kitchen aesthetics, and its lack of progress was depressing.

But on a morning last fall, as I was cleaning up the breakfast dishes, I almost dropped the mugs. The little bamboo shoot was growing. And it had developed a tangled little root system of its own.

I pointed it out to my husband who has never been a devotee of plants. He was, shall we say, unmoved. But suddenly, I had something to cheer on, something to observe and nurture and fuss over.

It did occur to me, of course, that this was a little bit like mothering itself, this fierce interest and investment in a living thing. And watching a child grow was, for me, a wistful, distant memory at this stage of my life. And how I missed it.

So every morning, I would come into the kitchen for that pivotal first cup of coffee and that first glimpse of the world. But where once I flipped on the TV reflexively, now I did something else first: I checked out my little bamboo shoot.

Foolish as it may sound, its welfare became important to me. I was its guardian, keeping it alive and thriving. There is something magical about doing that in an outdoor garden–or in a bud vase.

The sheer pleasure of looking at that bamboo, now replete with shiny, healthy leaves darting out in unexpected places, could brighten my day.

My grandchildren soon caught on to their softie grandma’s affection for the green shoot. So they, too, became invested in its welfare. Along with their fascination with video games and iPods, the seven of them made periodic checks on the bamboo when they visited. Just Carly, the youngest, was totally indifferent to it, concerned only about getting her hands on whatever treats were on the counter. Plants could wait.

It’s been almost a year now since I carried home my little treasure. It’s been that long that I’ve watched it languish, then thrive.

In that time, the larger world–and my own–have been through a lot. But somehow, my little bamboo shoot has made it. And so have I. We’re in this world together, for better and for worse.

The profound moral lesson? Really none.

Just the realization that in nature, as in life, there are small triumphs. That patience is that virtue you’ve always heard it was. That good things do come to those who wait.

I’ve grown a bit superstitious about messing with my bamboo shoot. So I just keep on doing what I have been, sticking with the formula that’s worked until now. Water—attention–and yes, love. Oh yes–the first person who ever taught me about plants counseled talking to them. So I do that too.

I like to think that my bamboo shoot is, indeed, a good luck charm. A talisman that watches over me.

And frankly, I’ll take my luck any way I can get it. s

pinegander@aol.com

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