palo verde

[P]lants themselves hardly tend towards the eternal or economical. The oak hoards the ground and sky, putting shadowy hands to the task of strangling upstart sprouts. The same dominating leaves, the source of the tree’s supremacy, are then sucked dry of nutrients and cast off in the shortening autumn days. Bougainvillea, a subtropical garden imperative, tosses fuschia bracts on the ground like smoldering cigarettes for the ushering winds to sweep up. They litter driveways, easily mistaken for pastel candy wrappers. Numerous species of flowers – aptly termed ‘ephemerals’ – have designed lives lived in short weeks, bursting up and into flames of color without human eyes catching the light. Dandelions meanwhile string the sky with fine seeds, more than keeping up with the rapid turnover of their membership brought on by grazing, mowing, spraying, and decaying. Humans may make seeds precious in Nordic mountains, but plants toss out hundreds or thousands in the knowledge that just a few will make it. The flower you’ve anxiously cut – hoping it will impress or console – may be replaced by another flower as stupendously replaceable as the last. Need I even mention the quantities of pollen falling carelessly out of pinecones? Plants ask their mothers what they will be, and Doris Day sings out the refrain.

– “Fake Plants” (unpublished essay)

Philosophers Michael Marder and Jeffrey Nealon, among others, have traced the origins of ‘plant blindness’ (a general ignorance of and about plants) to a longstanding tradition in Western philosophy: imagining the plant as without telos, without a culminating purpose. While some authors have endeavored to demonstrate that plants are meaningful and worthwhile on their own terms, palo verde is a consideration of how we might engage plant meaninglessness. Each day for seven days, I go out into my garden where fallen palo verde leaves form a dense mat on the ground. I clear away the leaves in a spot, then use the leaves to form lines and shapes on the ground – usually in response to what I see in front of me. I create until I am overwhelmed with a desire to destroy what I have created. Then, I wipe away what I’ve designed and blend the area back into the surrounding yard. Created in 2021, the piece is necessarily also a reckoning with the mass loss of life during the COVID pandemic, as well as my own anxieties surrounding the question of living a meaningful life.

palo verde was created for Hidden Garden Games 3 and debuted June 2021.