We are Groot

Thriving isn’t a goal but a state of being, says Tanya Meeson

Woman&Home SA, October 2021

The thing I love about plants is what interesting people they are. Resilient, defiant, always pushing up and out no matter where they find themselves and no matter what shape they take. Call them ‘flower’ or ‘weed’ and they’ll muscle their way through any crack; ‘tree’ and they’ll cling to a cliff edge if they must. The ones named ‘moss’? They’ll blanket bare rock and squeeze into any crevice, while those called ‘creeper’ will scale whatever height challenges them. And ‘fynbos’? Well, those heroes will flourish in dead sand and exalt the fire-swept mountainside. Even plants’ strange cousins, lichen and fungi, have willful personalities that overcome rusty signpost and dank cave alike.  

It seems to me that the parable about sowing seeds on barren ground reaping nothing is blatantly untrue. Close to where I used to live in the city, a dropped palm nut powered its way through tar and concrete to become a spiky sentinel over a bus stop and trash dump. And in my backyard now stands a small but proud olive tree that grew from a cutting thrown carelessly into the courtyard of a run-down Woodstock digs, where it all had for sustenance was rat piss and cigarette stompies.

Film makers have been onto this idea of plant resilience for years now. The lone green sprout in the wasteland of destruction as a symbol of hope and returning humanity is ever-present, from Wall-E to Blade Runner.

It’s not so far-fetched an image. We need only to cast our eyes to Detroit, where the exodus of people and business left the city bankrupt and the houses empty, until grasses and trees came easing in through broken windows and open doors. Or to the mighty banyans of Angkor in Cambodia, who were left to their own devices after Khmer was sacked and so coiled their thick roots lovingly around the sandstone temple arches and walls.

Rewilding in the wake of human evacuation and urban decay is well-documented with astonishing imagery: the city of Pripyat surrendered after Chernobyl, the abandoned fishing village of Houtouwan, the deserted Ross Island of India… Yup. In the inimitable words of Jurassic Park’s Dr Ian Malcolm, life finds a way. No matter what we do, plants will do what they can to do what they do best: grow.

Which reminds me that what I love most about people is what interesting plants we are.

From our physiology to our emotional and mental landscapes, we’re designed to expand, to stretch and reach, to put out something of ourselves into the world, season after season. We’re designed to thrive. The only difference between us and plants is that they’re just free of the constraints of thinking and fussing about it.

And there is a lot of fuss with us people.

There’s a lie being told across our socials right now that to thrive means to be some Goop-touting, glossy-faced entrepreneur prospering, maybe with a shining family of four, maybe lying sun-tanned on a Clifton beach, but always amazeballs. The lie also tells us that to flourish, the conditions to do so must be Just Right: the money worries over, the 9-to-5 discarded, the goal weight achieved, the perfect house settled…

I simply don’t believe this. To thrive is not to win a happiness prize in perfect conditions. It is not an end point, but a condition of being. It’s the continual state of evolution, the pulse of expansion; the instinct to reach out and around, a pulling in and building up. In my mind, to thrive is to have the responsiveness, agility, and resilience to grow – whatever your situation.

Thriving doesn’t just happen in the sun; it doesn’t always feel light. But just because you’ve got some rat piss and cigarette butts to get through today, doesn’t mean you’re not headed for some sweet, sweet soil and fresh air tomorrow. Just because the tree lies dormant in winter doesn’t mean it’s dead.

That little olive tree is 11 years old now. Its parent tree, itself a rescue off a Citrusdal farm, long in the ground, composted. Summer is approaching and my olive’s new shoots will push out eagerly towards the sun, another band of growth around its trunk, another new wrinkle on my brow.

This column was first published in Woman&Home SA.