When the world was first told to shove itself into isolation, nature exhaled a deep sigh for the first time in a while. Many traded driving for long walks immersed in azure skies and nostalgic birdsong.
If you are a romantic like me, you likely attempted to bring a sense of the outdoors into your living space with an abundance of houseplants.
Suddenly, everyone had succulents adorning nooks and vines spilling out of terracotta pots. It no longer mattered if you had the greenest of thumbs or could never remember to give them water. The only requirement was that you had time — and I felt like I had more than enough.
Did I attempt to produce my own plants from grow-your-own miniature kits with directions and all? Yes. Did I succeed? Absolutely not, but that was one of the many lessons on failure the past year taught me.
The seeds from these kits found no allure in sprouting during such unforgiving times. As a result, I invested more time in observing the one plant that had not failed me yet: a golden pothos named Berkeley.
These intertwined vines with heart-shaped leaves first found a home with my mom when she attended UC Berkeley — fitting as the plant was named after campus. Traveling from Berkeley to Los Angeles and back to the Bay Area, the plant never stopped growing. It saw wins, losses and a traumatizing attempt at soil changing, but Berkeley’s leaves kept multiplying with sporadic golden streaks.
Berkeley the plant was one of the first things I saw every morning and one of the last before I slept. Even so, I never actually knew what type of plant Berkeley was until last year. This devil’s ivy earned its title from its unrelenting ability to live even in darkness. Another life was fighting to survive despite the transitions and transformations that tempered its growth — and that gave me hope.
I spent the past year witnessing Berkeley the houseplant’s tenacity that would make its alma mater proud.
Observations began with studying soil, which largely determines the possibility of life for a plant. Berkeley had a previous soil transplant that nearly ended its life. Once resituated into the proper soil, Berkeley made a quick recovery.
The same is true for us. If you labor without the right foundation, growth becomes less attainable. While efforts to find the right environment prove far more complicated for humans than for plants, they are arguably even more necessary. Root yourself in the soil that helps you grow.
Berkeley would not have thrived without support. I realized how much the plant leans on the wall, counter and miscellaneous surfaces. It instinctively knew to rely on its surroundings.
Last year forced me to accept support beyond what a plant relies on to maneuver. Even still, asking for help must be normalized — it’s how we grow and succeed. Without the support Berkeley had from the wall, the plant would have struggled to reach the ceiling of its potential.
Even in the absence of abundant light, Berkeley the plant continued to grow. A stem would reach one place the night before, only to surpass the previous marker ever so slightly by the next morning. Darkness doesn’t stop the devil’s ivy from absorbing light.
Berkeley resoundingly spoke to the despair 2021 often drew the world into. If a plant can see through the night, I can tackle darkness and even grow with it — not forgetting to take in the light in 2022.
These initial lessons originate from what I can see when glancing at Berkeley’s pot of plenty. The final realization, however, required me to literally look beneath the surface. Adjusting to the indoor homeliness of its environment, Berkeley the plant had to adapt, and it did so with what my amateur knowledge of plants can only describe as growing feet.
Berkeley managed to lift itself up and scale the wall by creating little stubs on its stems that can cling to surfaces. As if reminding me to hang in there, this golden pothos was putting one foot in front of the other, one day at a time. At the very least, we could use this reminder to live in the present moment and remember the steps behind us that helped us get here.
Anthropomorphizing a houseplant helped me realize what lessons from 2021 I needed to carry into this new year. Berkeley’s absence would have meant that I had both failed to keep a plant alive and learned probably much less from this year that I’m still somewhat processing.
With all this plant reinforced in my life, the least I could do was ensure it lived. Somehow, I knew that Berkeley would keep growing regardless.