Ever the master of metaphor, Walt Whitman selected the proper snip of greenery to cheer him when brought a bit of Spanish moss inside. Actually not a moss at all, what Whitman cast as a reminder was actually an air plant.
Belonging to the genus Tillandsia, most air plants are known in the plant world as epiphytes (Greek for “upon a plant”). They do not root, are not connected to soil, and only depend upon the tree trunks and canopies, rocks or other strata they grow upon for physical support. Air plants drink in the available moisture from the atmosphere around them through specialized cells called trichomes that prickle over their silver-lining leaves. They are self-contained, in their way, ebullient and expansive on their own — but they, like we do, need the community of others.
There is so much emphasis on self-reliance in our culture. On pulling yourself up by the bootstraps, taking care of your own, loving yourself before you can love others. While these maxims have a kernel of truth in them, as most tropes tend to, they also don’t exist in a vacuum, as air plants do not spontaneously materialize from the ether. For better or worse, we learn through relationships. We thrive where we are held, emboldened, encouraged.
But there is a balance.
Whitman seems to feel his reliance on others as a kind of weakness — his friendships are all-consuming, perhaps even distracting. He despairs for company, anthropomorphizes the live oak as lonely. But, unintentional sage as he was and continues to be, Whitman chose to bring home not a bare twig as a keepsake. He twined some moss around it.
Because innately Whitman realized that the moss — growing upon but not taking from, enhancing the environment and adding to the biodiversity of the solitary oak — represents the symbiotic cycle of reliance we share with one another, and ultimately, with all of nature.
Nature is the constant. And not one mote of it toils in total solitude for one second. Even those shuttered in high-rises, landlocked and alone, can look outside and bear witness. As our climate speaks to us in shudders and shouts, we are forced to listen and finally fully realize our interconnection.
On a recent trip to Florida, some of the Ceremony family visited a mom-and-pop air plant import/propagation operation. Though the visit was somewhat scheduled, the encounter was serendipitous, the ripples of which are still resounding. Built by the passion and sweat of a couple and their family (and extended workplace family), the company is the ultimate store/grow house for the entire Tillandsia genus. The couple began bringing air plants back to the USA from their travels abroad in the early 1970s as a hobby. Realizing that the robust interest shown by friends could translate into a viable business, they set their sights on expanding. And how.
At the end of the day it is not the market viability of the air plants but their unique and powerful message that led this couple to forge ahead, empowering their family and community and spreading wonder and a message of sustainability to the wider world of plant enthusiasts.
Throughout this last year of isolation and soul-searching, Ceremony has been blessed with expansion and growth. The wider tidings of the plants we are so honored to provide a temporary home for deserve the lion’s share of this success. What Walt Whitman intuited when he wound a little moss around a stick then sat to write about it speaks to this.
We are worlds within ourselves, all. We each contain multitudes, absorbing and receiving spiritual nutrients from our spatial and social environment. We don’t intend to drain or burden one another but instead to hold each other up, provide a place to grow from our own space of wholeness. The most sensitive sometimes need the most care, our alert cilia always processing, seeking, striving to add our microbiome to the story in the most harmonious fashion. Sometimes it takes letting go a little, not clinging so fiercely to our own histories and roles.
Air plants are aces at adaptation, paragons of resilience. Sometimes we feel like we have all this figured out. Other times, we’re just desperate for something, ANYTHING, solid to cling to. Air plants remind us that there is a happy medium. Maybe we don’t feel it all the time, especially these days, but that blooming inner bounty is always there. Even if you aren’t sure how to provide it with the best of care.
Just ask us, we’re here.