July 3, 2022

the potted plants

trees in plastic pots sit in a concrete planter
photo caption: three trees in individual plastic tubs sit together in a concrete enclosure. i took this picture when i had a discarded idea about centerpieces. now i wish i had asked people to talk around a tree on every table.

[Quick note: I’m taking a break next week to get myself back together as I recover from covid. New posts will resume on June 24.]

I’ve been living in isolation in the bedroom of our apartment for almost two weeks now. The isolation is protective: I haven’t transmitted the virus to anyone, not my husband or our cats. I’ve only made a few jaunts into the outside world while my unwanted virality lingers. The small potted plants on our balcony have suffered in my absence. Some of the leaves and fronds have turned brown or sickly. Others are blotchy from the alternating sun-and-drizzle cycle of summer up here. To be honest, I’m not much more careful with them when I’m at full health, either.

But the poor plants are dependent on me for the life they have. They’re also all alone, individual and separated by plastic or ceramic pots. Chlorinated water rains on them from who knows where. Occasionally I remember a fertilizer or plant food. I’ve realized, sitting alone in my bedroom for 24 hours a day, how lonely they must feel.

There’s still so much about plants that we don’t know, though they are always around us. We’ve known that plants can emit messages that other plants can receive and respond to. The network of fungus woven through the soil also helps their ecosystems survive. These mycelial networks share information and pass on nutrients to the plants they touch.

How different must a houseplant’s experience be when we compare it to the exact same plant buried in soil? And how commonplace is the belief that there must be no difference between the two? There’s plenty about our environment that dominant culture takes for granted as natural.

Leanne Betasamosake Simpson wrote about colonial ecosystem collapse in her book, As We Have Always Done. Nishnaabeg people might see all beings in a system existing and dependent on the other. White settlers might see that same world as existing for their sole dominion. Over the course of millennia, this creates vastly different worldviews.

It makes me consider how those worldviews play out today in ways that are less obvious. What would a dominant society look like if it was born to know how connected we all are? What if people in my society understood that we were houseplants now desperate for a forest?

my name is josh martinez. i have always loved trying to understand systems, and the systems that built those systems. i spend a lot of time thinking about how to get there from here.

i own and operate a consulting practice, Future Emergent.

say hello: josh[at]bethefuture.space

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