Seeing Plants with New Eyes

“Plants are like people: they’re all different and a little bit strange.” (John Kehoe)

By Jesse Eastman

My daughter leads me on an expedition

As I age, I find myself more and more inclined to slip into patterns, comfortable spaces where I know what to expect. When it comes to plants, this means I stop noticing a lot of things that I’ve seen so many times they blend into the background. I rarely step back and appreciate the linden tree in my front yard for the coarseness of its bark, its arching branches, or the way it defines the boundaries of my property. I would notice it more for its sudden absence than for its perpetual presence. The same can be said, to varying degrees, for the rest of my landscape. Newly installed plants are doted on and carefully monitored. Struggling plants receive special attention and care. Healthy plants that are just living their best life, however, tend to fade from focus.

When something or someone new enters these well-worn patterns, it can force our eyes up to see the world anew. For some people, the start of a new romantic relationship can form the basis for a rekindling of our own passion for long-held interests. A new partner wants to learn about you, and in showing them what you love, you learn to see it through their eyes. For myself, my daughter is a perfect lens through which the world has become an entirely new and vibrant place. As she explores the yard, her focus is drawn to a particular leaf. In that leaf she sees an entirely unique thing, different from every other leaf. She will spend ten minutes navigating around the trunk of the tree, feeling its bark and staring up in wonder at its massive size. Nothing is mundane, nothing taken for granted.

As I watch her absorb the world around her, I am reminded how important it is to approach my own life with similar awe. How lovely to find ways to experience each moment like the unique and special leaves they are. Treat each person I meet with the same curiosity and desire to understand as my daughter treats each tree. It’s amazing how we can see and experience so many things every day yet enjoy and revel in so few.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my old familiar patterns. A spicy bagel with ham and mozzarella cheese will always be the ideal way to start my day, and that familiar breakfast routine provides a stable place from which to approach the uncertainty of each day. But it’s also important to learn when to cast aside old reliable habits to make room for new joy. Don’t worry if a rut is so deep you can’t see out of it. Sometimes you just need a helper to show you where to look. 

Originally published on December 3rd, 2020.