by Elizabeth deGraw Renna

A couple winters ago I was shoveling snow off the rickety old deck in back. The sky was overcast and it was cold out. I paused to rest and let my heartbeat slow down a bit, looking around at the snow-covered backyard. Some movement caught my eye and I turned toward it. A fluffy white seed was floating through the air. I had no idea what plant or tree it was from, but it looked a bit like a sunburst of white fluff spraying out from a small brown seed speck in the center, similar to a dandelion gone to seed but lighter, airier, and unattached to any stem. It was designed to float on any accommodating puff of air. I stood, amazed, watching this seed fluff float by, wafting up and then down on the light breeze that was present that day. Where in the world had it been and how had it come to be floating around in the middle of winter, dry and soft and airy just after a snowstorm? The resilience of that seed fluff impressed me.

Resilience, noun
Resilient, adjective

– Marked by the ability to recover readily, as from misfortune
– Capable of returning to an original shape or position, as after having been compressed
[The Latin is resilire, meaning “leap back”]

For me, resilience has to do also with a core of inner strength of some kind. It’s a quality of character that often seems inherent – it’s just there, part of a person’s nature or part of a plant’s nature. I think you can “grow” your resiliency, but it probably takes practice and mindfulness and intention. It feels linked, somehow, to optimism and a general outlook on life… unless you’re a plant and then resilience is just a part of you or not. “Hardy to Zone 8” kind of thing.

The resiliency of that seed fluff ball struck me on that cold winter day.

Two months ago I was in Portland, OR on a visit. Sitting in a coffee shop, my companions and I could see a young man with dredlocks seated on the cement, near the corner of a relatively busy street. We didn’t know if he was homeless (very possible, my native Portland friend said) or mentally ill (he appeared to be), but respectfully we didn’t stare. He got up from his seated position at one point and his movement caught my eye. His arm went up and I could see that he was reaching for a fluffy white seed that had come floating by. It took him a bit of effort to catch the fluff seed because the breeze was causing its flight to be a bit erratic. But he did capture it and as I watched him, he sat back down and began to look intently at the fluff seed. What did he see, I wondered? What was he thinking about? He, himself, was resilient. He was surviving his situation, whatever the details might be. He found fascination in the fluff seed that came floating by.

So, the other day in early October I was sitting on our new deck, a relieving replacement for the rickety version I had been shoveling on that snowy winter day. A white fluff seed came floating into view and landed on the floor of the deck, near me. I decided in that moment to try an experiment: I picked up that fluffy white seed, designed so perfectly to float and travel and to find a place to land and germinate. I filled a small flower pot with potting soil and I gently buried that fluff seed and poured some water on the dirt. That was about three weeks ago. I’m waiting to see what happens, if anything.

I’m curious: what kind of plant is it?
Its “becoming” is based on movement. Its ability to fly and float helps ensure its potential to survive and move on to the next step of becoming. Is it meant to be buried? I have no idea. Will it respond to watering and germinate, right now in the fall? I’ll find out. Does it require a dormant phase , perhaps over winter, before it can germinate? My biggest question, the thing I wonder about the most, is “what will it become?” The potential is there and I feel interested anticipation.