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Elan Vitae


  • Shena Driscoll Salvato


Roots run deep. Metaphorically, yes. In reality, it depends upon what those roots encounter on their journey of growth and how much room they have to grow. As humans, when we are housed in the same space for a time, with defined physical parameters while our nature could be longing to grow outwardly, inwardly, and in ways yet unknown to us, our roots might not have that opportunity to run deep either. Instead they can spiral, curling around and around and around themselves, crowding our space and inhibiting potential growth. Such as it is each year when I have a break from routine in my world as a knowledge worker. After I tear off my blinders, toss them aside, and allow my mind to untangle from the barrage of details I have been incessantly tracking (and apparently allowing to consume me) for the preceding months, I look around and suddenly see all those things I had been avoiding, neglecting, or maybe just not noticing. My houseplants always tend to call out to me. With care, I take them outside on a calm, sunny day and free them from their terra cotta planters, now much too small for what they have become over the last few months. It is as if I can hear them breathe a sigh of relief as I gently turn them upside down and shake them loose from their confines. No matter how much bigger the previous container was, I undoubtedly find their roots swirling and twirling, somehow not gnarled and tangled amongst their own crunchy, translucent, water-filled selves, but gracefully intertwined with one another. These roots were definitely not running deep, since they didn’t have the room to do so, but were horizontally spiraled, plump and full and clearly ready for more space. The roots continue to grow within those confines, pushing through the dirt, expanding among and beyond even parts of themselves, keeping the leaves above the soil alive, but not thriving.

I often marvel at the time in which we live, where we have such an abundance of choice. We can choose to stay where we have sprouted. There, roots may feel deep, firmly connecting to a sense of place and history there. Or on the contrary, while remaining there, our roots might twirl and swirl and spiral and never reach the depths of our potential, as we restrict ourselves to our familiar surroundings. Some might not even realize they have a choice. The familiarity could constrict the depth and breadth that might have been achieved, had we broadened our horizons and broken free from the confines of our familiar surroundings. Conversely, we can choose to remove the confines of a container altogether, allowing our roots to reach in directions we had not known were possible, lengthening, stretching, allowing for exponential growth not just within, but outwardly as well.

From my comparatively much smaller spider plants, I am called back in my memory to standing at the base of the towering strangler fig trees, the gargantuan specimens I gazed in awe of when I moved to the Cloud Forest of Costa Rica. Most astonishingly, they sprouted, not from the ground, but from meters above the ground: likely from a seed deposited by a passing bird soaring high above the canopy of green, or a bat swooping through the deafening sounds in the dark of night, or a monkey rustling through the glimmering leaves as it swung from branch to branch onto an unsuspecting but ripe-with-potential nook in a host tree below or a cupped leaf pooled with water, high in the branches. There, with optimal conditions at play, the seed sprouted in another tree: high, high, high above the ground and sent roots down, down, down from the canopy. Not into the earth, just yet, but through the air, meters upon meters through the moist, fragrant, teeming air until they finally would touch ground. Oh to be there, at that very moment, to observe one of those roots making contact with the earth for the very first time. Over time, more roots grew and grew, also lengthening and thickening after they touched ground, at the same time reaching toward the light, stretching through the canopy, finding the opening that would give the new tree life, not only for itself, but for so many other species that would come to know the tree as its home.

That is a bit how it was for me when I landed on top of that green mountain, an optimal time in optimal conditions, letting my roots stretch and grow and twist and reach, far from the earth where I had sprouted, allowing a process to unfold in an entirely new space, fostering new connections and discoveries.

Just as the seed of the strangler fig begins its journey of growth, how can we open ourselves to the possibilities of a familiar process unfolding in a new, different, unlikely place? While the options are limitless, we can choose just one and play with it, exploring the possibilities. Like the sprouting seed, how does our process unfold? Rather than being in a conventional location, where can our process unfold? Let’s connect with our knowledge of the process and ask ourselves, “What could result if X happened here, instead of there?” The tenacity of the spider plant and the majesty of the strangler fig call us to remain open, in their awe-inspiring examples of possibility.


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