I stab my beloved sweet potato with five toothpicks, designating him the crooked star of my kindergarten science experiment. As the newest resident of the water-filled raspberry gelato jar, he is quite the couch potato, spending entire days bathing under the sun. He had been soaking among his similarly transfixed friends for a week when I raised the jar above me to check him out. I knew I was looking for roots, but the idea of them hadn’t even crossed my mind. So when I saw Raspberry Cheesecake’s one small, white knub, like a small finger or a single prong of a fork, I just stared. I remember Elizabeth Gilbert reminding her audience that for centuries artists weren’t believed to be genius, but rather to have one. She urged us to release ourselves from the pressure of creation by recognizing that our genius is outside of us. Like a friend to help us find our words. Lopsided potato in hand, I looked to my Genius. She looks like me, but much, much sexier. She shakes her head and shrugs, “I got nothing.”
Quarantine has turned me into a certified Garden Girl. I have grown a mighty entourage: one raised bed for my herbs and 10 pots shared by eggplants, cucumbers and peppers. As the Miami sun overheats them, their only defense is to submit, losing their perky leaves for a wilt. As the mother of these plants, it is my rightful duty to resurrect them with the artificial rain of my thumb inside the hose. It feels as if I will just have turned away for a moment, and when I look again, they have come back to life. Like “Toy Story” action figures, they only move when I, the child, am not looking. My plants are reborn daily. Leaves don’t hold grudges.
If these botanical mood swings are merely artful coin tricks, then the finger reaching towards life was magic. The root is a reminder that the Earth was a sustainable, self-growing and repopulating system far before we got in the way. Humans have created battlefields all over the world to fight the slow growth of roots erupting. Even backyards are forced under our control.
We want nature only when it’s unnatural. We cut back tree branches, take out “ugly” shrubs and plant grass where it doesn’t belong, all in a fight against the same plants that just want to dip their toes into the Talenti-jar stew of the earth and try their best to give us some food. We have brought irrevocable damage to the Earth, but the sweet potato is as forgiving to us as it is the sun, begging to heal the wounds we’ve created by continuing to grow. When you water your plants in your terracotta pots and store-bought soil, it feels like the world of the eggplants and peppers is yours. But the single fork prong of a baby root made me reckon with what was out of my hands. The only way we’re going to survive on this brilliant planet is if we start playing by the soil’s rules. The guy from diynetwork.com tells me that he’s been feeding his family off the same cycle of potatoes for 10 years now. I imagine my potential lineage: the future potatoes, the future gelato jars and the future Madagascan vanilla beans and hazelnut chocolate chips. The plants are doing their part for us. All we have to do is do ours and put the thumb into the hose and let the magic do the rest of the work.
I do believe that some people, thumbs tinted emerald, are better with plants than others. As for me, I water my plants when they’re acting grumpy, pretend to know which leaves should be plucked and write full-length, grammatically correct questions into my Google search bar.
I am just the waterer, the trimmer and the dirt pourer. I am the anonymous clipart hands holding the seedling that sprouts from the dirt. In the end, all I did was put a tooth-picked potato into a plastic jar of sink water. It was only when the Earth came in, clad in vegan leather right off the electric motorcycle, taking the cards right out of my hand, that we started to bring in some chips. It’s not luck, it’s my Genius.
Contact Casi Cobb at [email protected].