It’s been a terrific wet spring west of the Cascades.
Strangely enough, we all hear grumblings about this cool, wet, season, despite it being a cosmic gift. Our local prairies and meadows haven’t looked this good in years. It’s the same with the forest understories and oak savannahs. Even if the flowers aren’t their showiest while being pelted with rain, and even if the bee activity is a bit suppressed, this is still a year of lush vegetative growth.
One of the more interesting results of all this rain, is that it has conjuring forth long-lived individual plants – checker lilies, some lomatiums, delphiniums, and others – that don’t always make consistent appearances every year. We knew this was a thing, but we never really thought much about it until this season.
The precise terminology is prolonged dormancy.
A surprising number of wild plants do this, although we don’t know exactly how many or which ones. Prolonged dormancy, describes a quiescent stage in which an herbaceous plant simply sits below ground without sending up any foliar growth – apparently alive but neither generating nor expending much energy as a dormant root system. Some plants basically sit this way for years if conditions are sub-optimal. Then, in the good years they appear briefly like a dream. In a lot of places, this has been one of those dream years.
Plants adapted to this survival strategy probably exist everywhere: the inland west, deserts, frigid boreal soils, floodplains and coastal swamps.
Maybe this kind of survival strategy also exists in us.
Recently it feels like a quiescent stage has settled in over the human condition.
Everywhere you look now there’s empty commercial real estate. The most fragile small businesses have boarded up their windows and departed for somewhere else. In contrast, there’s no vacant apartments or affordable homes for sale. Gas is over $5 a gallon. There are help wanted signs everywhere. People are apparently quietly on the move, but who knows if they are landing anywhere.
We have become places of #vanlife and blue tarps. We have become debt and precarity and free home COVID tests. We’re the secretly fascinated spectators of war crimes and shelled out cities. We’re the fentanyl and mass-shooting society of the spectacle, a click-bait social media hall of mirrors, posed, and pretend. We’re supply chain shortages and low-quality online knock-offs of our own materialist mythology. We’re endless Zoom meetings and immigrant Uber driver’s sleeping on each other’s couch. We’re Prius road rage and mail theft gangs and posturing policy makers on every extreme.
We’re also the rain and the sun.
We’re the fireweed in the ditch that never died.
We’re the take things apart and try to fix them up people. We’re pollinators and sock darners (because where would you buy a good pair of socks now anyway?). We’re decency, and generosity, and strength, and creativity.
Every one of us.
Like meadow plants, our most colorful and exuberant parts may go through their own prolonged dormancy. We are the underground bulbs and boarded-up business. We quietly endure our own sub-optimal conditions. Sometimes for years.
And still, within all of us are green shoots. Ever-present potential. That potential is great, but not inherently so. It’s only great because sometimes the rain falls. As it has in the past, and as it will again.
May the rain fall on you.
Eric and Mari