An incident


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Yesterday was a bit of a sad day for the fronds and I. It started out well enough. I was off on a day relief teaching, and so couldn’t take the fronds with me – a busy high school is not a safe place for delicate plantlets. Dave generously offered to plantsit- amazing how much he’s getting on board with this project when his first response to my idea for it was ‘That’s crazy, people will think you are very strange.’ Anyway, since I had the car and he had a late start he was going to ride his bike into work. I was excited about this idea as I had pictured taking the fronds out by bike but hadn’t had the chance yet. We discussed bag/basket options, and padding. He agreed to take photos and report back on their day.


When I picked Dave up at the end of the day I was almost irrationally excited to see the fronds. I had missed them! On the phone he had mentioned something about them not doing too well, but I didn’t think it would be anything we couldn’t handle. But when he handed them to me, I could immediately see something was amiss- the once neat soil was all shaken up, jumbled. Honesty was still standing tall, but where was purslane? I turned on the inner car light and sifted through the crumbs of soil, searching, searching. Even when I knew it was almost certainly gone, I kept on sifting, forlornly turning over the same soil. Murnong seeds were gone too, but I found one slightly battered one in the corner.

It turns out that the fronds were not ready to see the world by bike. Dave tried his best, and I would have done no better, but the bump of the cattle grid at the end of the drive, and another out on the road was enough to shake up the soil and dislodge my tiny frond. After those first bumps, Dave rode as slowly as he could, almost making him late for work (amazing that such small beings are influencing our movements).


When you were very young.

I was saddened at the loss of dear little purslane, who had showed me the daily folding and opening of its leaves, and glistened in the sun. I was also laughing at myself for being so affected by the fate of a being no larger than a rice grain. How do you grieve for a weed?


And now for confession time: I actually had a couple of backup pots, just in case of this very kind of event. I had imagined slyly replacing the fronds if need be, and not having to tell anyone. But that now feels against the spirit of this project. They are the same species of plant that I planted at the same time. But there’s only one purslane plant I had been gazing on for days. Perhaps it had picked up some of my exhalations and incorporated them into its very body? And now it is gone.


Fronds 1, at right, soil aftermath and the space where once was purslane, and Fronds 2 at left.

I’m still interested to observe the three species (if Murnong ever germinates), so I am going to adopt pot number two as the new travelling fronds. But I aim to still nurture the remaining Honesty in pot 1 to mature planthood, and hold a unique affection for them, as I watch their seed leaves straining to free themselves of the papery seed coat.

My frond.
You were tough
But not enough.
Eagerness to light
Masking shallowness of root.
You hardy weed
Of surface soil
With folding leaves
Of night and day
Your fragile hold
Was not enough
Our tender care
Was not enough
The time we shared
Was not enough
The soil was loose
The road was rough.



5 thoughts on “An incident

  1. Alice, I’m sorry to hear of the injury of your fond fronds. I read the title of the post and the first line and even I went ‘oh no! I hope all humans and plants are ok!’
    It is interesting to see how the plants have been accommodated into your family system and how it emotionally disruptive it was when they were lost. There is so much care and tenderness in your writing, and it makes the reader care for the fate of your plants.
    If this is the response to the loss of a seedling, I can only imagine the overwhelming grief felt by Indigenous people around the world felt when their lands were taken from them and despoiled.


    • Yes Katrina, I agree. I realised the level of authentic caring as well as the stories/ travels themselves, had me invested in the plants too. I had been moved by the bike story and the genuine grieving and it made me think of the need for rituals of grieving for the earth, lost species, daily losses of weeds, etc. I also realised I was invested in a narrative of survival related in many ways with my struggle to deal with my narrative of blossoming biodiversity at expense of mass extinction.


      • Being ‘invested in a narrative of survival’- yes, I like this way of describing it. Part of me wanted to tell this story, to replace the fronds without telling anyone. But I’m glad I was honest, this incident and my sharing of it has in fact brought out so many interesting responses and learnings! This feels like staying with the trouble.
        Dave thinks I should thank him for adding some drama to the story. Also the fact that the Murnong seeds didn’t germinate at all defied my imagined story of connection with indigenous history through plants. My lack of knowledge/skills to coax them into life is loaded with metaphor- knowledge lost/destroyed, a story that is not mine to tell. (Also Murnong keeps getting autocorrected to mourning!).


  2. You are raising some crucial questions for these Anthropocene times- one is rituals of grieving for species which may be not pathologised as ‘weird’ or ‘strange’.


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