Plants and Birds and Rocks and Things.

If you ask me, growing up in Vermont was like winning the childhood lottery. No, we didn’t have a ton of money. We didn’t have cable TV, and no one I knew had the internet – or even knew what it was. There were no malls, or roller skating rinks, or movie theaters, or any normal childhood or teen hangouts within a 30 minute drive or more.

But what we did have was nature – and an abundance of it.

Ver-Hampshire. Vermont on the left, New Hampshire on the right. Home all around.

My “backyard” consisted of 150+ acres of field, forest, and mountain. Not a day went by that the adults in our life – parents, friends parents, and teachers alike – didn’t send us outside to play. Ten below zero on a January afternoon? Here, take a balaclava so you don’t get frostbite on your nose. Raining on a summer morning? Take the soap, wash yourself off in the driveway while you jump in puddles. You better remember to wear your boots to school in the winter, otherwise you’re going to have to stay on the blacktop at recess with the teacher (but you’re still going outside) .

As kids we spent HOURS playing in the woods, building forts (both wooden and snow), catching tadpoles, picking blueberries, and climbing trees. We’d turn piles of downed logs into a stage, where we’d perform talent shows for each other. We’d make intricate sledding routes, and pretend we were on an Olympic luge course. We knew what plants to avoid (the stinging nettles were the worst) and which plants could provide endless hours of entertainment (the exploding pods of orange jewelweed could send us into fits of giggles). We knew when the wind blew just right and all you could see was the underside of the leaves, you better get home quick, because a storm was coming.

More home.

Every house I ever entered had a “mud room” attached to it – a place where you would come in the front door and ditch your shoes, boots, jackets, etc. so you didn’t track mud/snow/leaves/grass all over the house and make your mom upset.

Nature was not a luxury, it just was.

…and even more home.

I grew up – as kids tend to do – and eventually found my way to a city where a plot of land covered in trees is viewed as a hot commodity, prime for leveling and building a new shopping plaza. Or better yet, cookie cutter neighborhoods with houses so close to each other, you could hand your neighbor a cup of sugar through your respective kitchen windows. A place where the sound of birds and cicadas is never not drowned out by the sound of car alarms or construction. A place where you can practically throw a rock in any given direction and hit a Walmart (I’m not even kidding, we have 12 in a 15 mile radius). At those Walmarts, there is no shortage of cheap, disposable plastic crap that will be used for the duration of a week long vacation, then mindlessly discarded to wind up in landfills. Buckets, shovels, flip flops, boogie boards, and chairs – if we’re lucky, they make it to the barrels in the beach front parking lots, but more often than not, they just litter the beach.

I know that I sound bitter and jaded, and I’ll admit that to a small extent, I am. This is not the place for a tree hugging, forest wandering, outdoor lover. But this is where I live for the time being due to circumstances that are incredibly worth it, and I’ve made peace with it. Yet despite living here on and off for a cumulative decade, the lack of nature still feels so foreign, and frankly, almost suffocating to me.

So I buy house plants.

I call them “my babies” as a reference to Linda Belcher and her porcelain babies, and try my damndest not to kill them. Over watering, underwatering, too much sunlight, not enough – truth be told I have no idea what I’m doing. Thankfully, I have a skilled horticulturist friend whom I reach out to like a first time parent with a brand new infant. “Why is it doing this? Is it supposed to look like THAT?” You get the idea.

For an entire year I thought this plant was fake, and didn’t water it. Turns out, it’s real…and really hard to kill.

Two Boston ferns, a spider plant, and countless succulents have died (accidentally) by my hand. Never the less, I persist. My husband rolls his eyes every time I buy a new plant. I give excuses like “it was on clearance, and sad, and needed a forever home” as if I had just wandered into the plant version of the humane society. I’ve yet to resort to sneaking them in the house, and saying “this old thing?” with a scoff when he asks if that’s a new plant.

One of the Boston Ferns that didn’t survive our (probably too much) love and care.

Numerous studies show that having plants in your house can yield a variety of physical and emotional benefits. From increased focus and productivity, to decreased levels of stress and anxiety, plants are good for you. And unlike the Brussel sprouts and lima beans mom always put on your plate when you were younger, you don’t have to eat houseplants to reap the benefits.

But that’s not why I buy them.

I suppose I collect these plants for the same reason some people collect designer shoes, or Franklin Mint limited edition collectors plates: because looking at them makes me genuinely happy. Looking at them reminds me of how much of who I am is connected to the great outdoors, to the dirt and the trees and the plants and the animals.

Don’t let him fool you. He loves the plants too.

And you know what else makes me happy? The birds that come to my numerous illegal bird feeders (apartment living rules are – not – for the birds). Chickadees, cardinals, my beloved painted buntings, and that asshole woodpecker that slams into the window both during landing, and departure.

Let’s not forget the random rocks, seashells, sticks, and shark teeth my kids have given me over the years from their various adventures (never from parks or wild places where it’s not permitted, don’t worry).

Kain’s rock collection. They all have names, too, such as “pink parallelogram rocky”.

They all clutter my workspace (yes, even the birdfeeders) and they bring me so much joy. For years now, I’ve tried to fight off the societal need to buy or collect “stuff” in order to create happiness, but in this case, I’m making an exception **. If I can’t regularly have the amount of nature my soul craves, then I’ll bring nature to me.

Surround yourself with the things you love. Don’t wait for joy to just “happen”, unapologetically and enthusiastically create it yourself.

(In short, I just wrote a 1,116 word essay to justify bringing home a new succulent. Take that, husband.)

** exception number two on “not needing stuff” is going to be the park ranger hat I’ll require when this once-was-my-work-desk-now-it’s-a-greenhouse corner of the house gets a little larger. Oh, and two for the cats.

About Heather

Hi. I'm Heather. Exercise physiologist by day, adventure seeker...also by day, and sometimes night. I like: mountains, running long distances, rabbits, sleeping in tents, poking at campfires with a stick, and Gordon Lightfoot. I dislike: peanut butter, bent tent poles, sitting still for too long, and writing "about me" sections.

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