Houseplant or oak tree: How deep are your roots?

Nature inspires me. All of it. There are so many things to observe, to take in, to learn. One could spend multiple lifetimes just watching and still not get it all.

As a child, I always liked animals, but mostly in a normal, “they’re so cute and cuddly” sort of way. I learned tid-bits here and there about my favorites, but never really observed them. I supposed that’s how it is with most children…very caught up in ourselves, so there is little time to really see something else for what it is rather than how it makes me feel, or what I want out of it.

As I got older, I developed a fondness for plants. At first, in much the same childlike manner of “it’s pretty” or, when I first dabbled in growing food, “it tastes good.” But in the last few years, starting with seriously trying to supplement the family menu with homegrown, learning to forage, and switching over to more natural medicine and health, I’ve really learned to observe the plants, and nature. To take in how things grow, where they grow, what they like and don’t like, how they respond to things, and especially how they work together in this amazing, unseen network of life that moves and evolves and interacts right before our eyes (which we usually never even notice).

There is something about plants I almost connect to and understand. They have a function and a goal. Isn’t that what we all hope to find? It may be a “weed” growing somewhere where the soil is hard-packed (deep tap roots of dandelion and dock are wonderful for breaking up hard soil) or depleted (all clovers, as part of the legume family, pull nitrogen from the air to “fix” depleted soils). Or it may be one plant growing on another, like the honeysuckle that twines and climbs and grows on the wild blackberry bushes around the edge of our woods. Or maybe it’s the jewelweed that tends to grow near poison ivy (jewelweed is an antidote for the sting and itch of poison ivy).

Or the crop plants, fruiting plants like tomatoes and peppers, squash and cantaloupe. Their whole function in life is to reproduce. They grow, they put out flowers, they (hopefully) get pollinated, they make fruit, the fruit makes seeds, they’ve done their life’s work. My fruiting crops didn’t do much this year, but as the weather has gotten colder, they have suddenly gone into overdrive and put out flowers and fruit as if in some desperate last-ditch effort to get some offspring out into the world. Once the frost hits, their short lives are done with and all their hope lies in their “children.”

But then there’s the trees. I’ve always loved to look at trees. I’ve always marveled at the old giants, so very impossibly tall! Or with branches so far reaching they can provide shade all day to dozens. Or with trunks too big around for even three or four people to wrap arms around. I admit, I don’t know much about trees. I know an evergreen, because it’s green all year. I know some from their smell. I know oaks drop acorns, and I know what a maple leave looks like. And I can tell an apple tree from a pear tree from a peach tree…but only when the fruit is there to give me a clue!

There’s something there I can’t quite identify with. They stay in one place for years and decades and centuries. Their roots are deep and far reaching, and keep reaching the older they get. Their children, and their children’s children take root and grow there with them, spreading their “family” from generation to generation into a grand, grounded, far reaching forest. Once those roots are planted, there is little that can ever change where they call home. Even in death, those roots stay put, and slowly become part of the soil, still providing for those who came after and remain. Maybe that’s it.

I have no deep roots.

I’m an only child. I’m a military brat. The longest I’ve ever lived in one area of the world is where I’ve been for the last 12 years, and even in that time I’ve lived in two different states and moved 5 times, some moves being over 45 minutes away from the last house. I’ve lived in 3 different countries, and visited many more. Growing up, the longest we ever lived in one town was 4 years, and usually that included at least one move. I’ve lived in hotels and motels, apartments, townhouses, and houses. In cities and in the country. In good parts of town and in bad.

Even now, the houses my parents live in, my mom in Arizona and my dad in LA…these were never my home. I’ve never lived in either house. And they’ve both moved 2 or 3 or 4 times since I turned 18 and went out on my own.

I have no deep roots.

I have no “back home” place. I usually refer to Arizona as “back home,” simply because I was born there, and I went to high school there. But there are no roots there. Just memories of where I used to be.

I don’t even begin to understand how people feel when they talk about their “back home” or the place they grew up. Where mom’s house is the place that was home, and still is. Where family runs thick and visiting feels like coming home after a long vacation.

I have no deep roots.

I have no siblings. I have no extended family around me. My grandparents have all passed, passed before I even thought to create a real relationship with them. Before it even crossed my mind what I would lose when they were gone. My closest relative, an uncle, lives 10 hours away, and we aren’t close. We’ve “spoken” (text, email, telephone) 3 times in the last 8 years. The largest percentage of my blood-family lives on the other side of the world, and I know nothing about them, nor have we ever even thought to get or keep in touch.


I try to make a home wherever I am. But I don’t dig in. I don’t get attached. I’m like a houseplant, always moveable, bringing my own little chunk of dirt with me wherever I happen to be, never touching the real ground or setting down any strong roots. Sitting alongside other houseplants in various arrangements, looking out a sunny window at nature. At the plants and trees. At that great, old oak in the distance. I suppose a houseplant would marvel at an old oak tree, wouldn’t it? But a houseplant doesn’t really have a greater function or goal. Sure they help clean the air and provide some oxygen to the area. But they, typically, don’t produce any fruit, and they sit solitarily in a pot, providing nothing to a neighboring plant. They may produce a cutting here and there…an offspring of sorts to be nurtured and grown and passed off to a friend or moved to another part of the house?

potted aloe vera plant
Photo by Ylanite Koppens on

And I wonder, when my children grow up, the little cuttings of myself that have been nurtured along side me…when they are full-grown, will they be houseplants, or will they find somewhere to dig in the ground and put down roots?


How deep are your roots?

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