I make no secret of my habitual killing of all manner of plant. This winter alone I managed to kill most everything that grew in happy abundance last spring, summer and fall on my decks. It was an embarrassment of fecundity last year. I tried to winter a few things inside but the house has little to no direct sunlight spots and one at a time they fell to the dry air, the lack of light, the forgetfulness of their caretaker where water is concerned.
This one plant still has some life in it and for that I’m thankful.
For a short while it lived on the windowsill in our living room, then the floor close to the back door. The leaves dropped off one at a time, turning yellow then falling pitifully to the muddy soil below at the base. The long, stick-like stalk shows evidence of past lives, potential for the fruitfulness I hope it lives to see.
It’s been a rough road, I’ll tell you.
The lemon tree began as a grocery store lemon I had purchased and forgotten about. When the lemon had finally dried up too much even to slice and put into water for some festive but unlikely Martha Stewart moment, I rescued the seeds. I dried them on a paper napkin on my countertop, half thinking I’d try to grow it, mostly thinking I’d throw it out by the end of the day, the end of the week, the end of the month.
After a time, I tossed it into a small paper cup with a bit of soil, stolen from a plant that no longer needed it, a plant that had moved on to a “better place” we imagine. When the first shoot poked through the soil I considered that it was a losing proposition. Even if I managed to keep it alive it was likely it would not survive the swings in temperature in Chicago. Even if it grows to maturity it’s likely it won’t bear fruit. Most grocery store produce has had that bred out of it already. Who grows a lemon tree from a seed in Chicago? Who’d want to?
The picture above is the culmination of almost 2 years of fighting the elements and the odds and my own brown thumb and yet here it is. It feels triumphant and terrifying too. When at last this winter all but one leaf had taken a powder my husband scratched his head as I watered the poor creature day in and day out. He shrugged his shoulders when I placed it in the bathroom near the glass block window. I knew it would be warm there all day, stream in as much light as possible in the house and perhaps soak in the moisture from the room when I forgot to water it.
This, the last ditch effort, pulled me a long a little at a time. I was unable to give up on my lemon tree, on this bare stalk with only a little life left in it. Then, last week, a shoot sprung out from the side. It was only a nub of a thing but it was new and I spoke to it softly, “well, what about this?” I spoke soft words of encouragement and wonder. I held back still, not placing too much pressure on the tiny, struggling plant. “Do what you can…take your time.”
And it did. The nub shot out, reaching tiny leaf fingers to either side, feathered fingers from fists, palms opening wide. And every day I look to see more growth, more hope, more life. And every day I dare to consider that maybe there will be more, maybe there will be a tree taking the place of that struggling stalk, until then I will speak softly and offer water and hope and room to grow.