Not just things themselves, but the shadows of things. The way it becomes dark when you enter the woods, wind held back in winter, sun blocked in July, everything holding its breath. The crushed bracken’s warm oxygenated gasp.
I didn’t know when I was homesick that I missed the plants I couldn’t see, the habit of their presence. A concrete-and-asphalt dweller’s lust for some shadow. I thought home was a change in the air, latitudinal 10-degree drop in temperature. Now I think it’s conifers – dark and hawk-laden. Swamp: how you can tell where the dog was by the height and color and smell of the scum on his legs. Fern: bracken and fiddlehead that wrap around your ankles and send you tumbling. Old, unchanged things: horror and softness, like a centipede.
In the city: no ferns, no swamp, but jagged oaks, catalpa trees that brain me with their pods as I walk under, black walnuts, buttered dogshit of gingko, ashes that could be Yggdrasil.
A few years ago, I asked my dad about his dreams and travels, uncompleted. He said no need because there he has has ferns, his pines, the former hacked back with a machete at the end of summer.
I had the opportunity to move last year but didn’t. It was something to do with the shadow of the angel on the church’s roof across the street in November. Not just the shadow, but the shadow over and over.
Like cultural appropriation, but botanical. I lay giant Santa Barbara pine cones around my yard, they are oversized for Midwest trees. Ostrich egg size! I put them at the base of my silver maple. I lay a turtle shell under a small flowering bush, also from the life collection of a friend clearing out her house. I do it because they are beautiful, because I love the shadows they cast.
So much of nature is remains, is a shell repurposed by a crab, the whale carcass made metropolitan for so many to feed off, the nurse log in the forest, nutrients cycling from the dead to the living to the dead and back.
I want a tattoo of a fern on my left arm, the soft pale underside between elbow and wrist. I want it because ferns are beautiful – I might get a pteridium aquilinum named for the wing of an eagle. I used to find fern spores in geologic samples among the pollen I counted. The clue they provided was of ancient moisture and disturbance. Ferns fill torn landscapes after fire or in the early summer when snow melts back from avalanche paths. They predate trees, flowers, dinosaurs. I want a wisp of this resilience on my arm. Like a string tied around my finger to remind me that I choose my thoughts, can direct myself inwards. Always head toward calm.
Materials: Fern stolen from neighbors yard through crack in fence, tracing paper, crayon, ink.