This (very) little light of mine

Plants and I haven’t always seen eye to eye. One needs to be in a certain place (both literally and figuratively) to set down roots, to care for something other than yourself, to nurture a thing that takes years in the offing and may or may not say “goodbye cruel world!”, committing herbicide in a strong crossbreeze or going all brown-fronded if you decide to take a few days extra vacation. In my last days in New York City I was *getting* nearer, intellectually, to that place where I yearned for green things and it was perhaps this gentle metamorphoses that finally drew me out of the city and back down south. In that final Brooklyn apartment, a “garden apartment” (read: deepest darkest basement), I kept a tired philodendron right up next to the window. Every day the sun’s slow march up the narrow skyway of our block had the plant pressing its leaves against the wavery old window panes like a little match girl in reverse. What warmth and light there is… out there. City darkness descending at 4pm had me dreaming lustily of golden mote-filled southern farmhouse afternoons surrounded by blooming Meyer Lemon trees and gardenias in winter as if “The South” was some sort of magical giant tropical jungle (which it kind of is) and “my farmhouse” was some sort of airy glassine hothouse (which it decidedly is not). Our house was built in 1895 and, in the manner of houses built before the advent of electricity or running water, it is sited on the highest natural elevation of our land and oriented exactly due east/west. These simple, profound spatial choices make it so that any water runs down and away from our house (no flooding, ever) and that, since the sun travels directly overhead, our house is often 10 or 15 degrees cooler than it is outside. This is just the sort of brilliant old-fashioned use-case practicality that thrills my soul when I encounter it in the wild. How fascinating! How ingenious, you builders of yore! How fortunate we are when the power goes out, say, for a week in an epic summer storm, and we sit, cool as cucumbers, as modern houses with their giant south facing windows and sturdy retaining walls heat up like peeps in a microwave.

The thrill is gone, however, absurd nostalgic feelings of superiority short lived, when one realizes that what this sunshine situation ALSO means is that while our house stays easy breezy day in and day out, direct sunlight shines in the front windows for only an hour or so after rising until the sun meets the roofline and then again for about an hour in the back windows as it retires for the evening. Needless to say that isn’t NEARLY enough to support my own personal citrus grove (I know, I know,  a concerto is played on the world’s tiniest violin). But it IS enough to support a hearty menagerie of general shade lovers wrangled by myself by hook or by DIY crook into the few areas that are treated to the brief patches of sunlight that meander across the walls throughout the day. Several feet of a patch of wall perpendicular to a window in my bedroom gets a generous slant from noon onward… so I built a vertical hanging shelf based on this tutorial using some super old boards and rope that happened to be lying around in the shed.A row of Sweetheart’s tiny succulents and divisions of happy shady growers stands at attention in a motley collection of narrow vessels on the windowsill in the laundry room, gilded for a brief but adequate time in the 3pm-ish range.My search for vertical solutions led me down vintage-style hanging planter rabbit holes, which led me to discover that even the simplest ones were selling for, like, $50 on Etsy, which led me to my first attempt at macrame (decent! I should have gotten special string for the purpose, the twine I had on hand is a little… hairy… but considering the whole thing was basically free? Bon.) using a turned wooden bowl I inherited from Rav as the base……gets suspended in the small patch of diffuse light by the kitchen sink, alongside a mother-in-law’s-tongue (still there, happy…actually very much like my own mother-in-law, these little pals are lovely + easy going and have the best time quietly doing their thing pretty much anywhere where no one will bother them), a prayer plant cutting (no longer there, not bright enough), and a basil start (never had a future there other than as pesto, finally deposited into the herb garden/in my belly):***Note: these are not blog photos! Well, they are, I guess, exactly that, by default of being en blog, but, they aren’t, like, “styled” or whatever that is or means, that striving perfection that might keep people from posting in places for years at a time because oh look at that it’s actual life… see: drying dishes, old tupperware, soda stream, Sweetheart’s aeropress (not the photogenic Chemex set there, just so), an ancient sponge used only for wiping up babe’s post-prandial mat, and the cluttered little hook under the cabinet where I hang recipes from a butterfly clip when I’m cooking to keep my v. limited counter space free from books + papers (from this picture it looks like I was last making an almond cake). Eff it. ***The little landing at the top of the stairs gets the best light in the house, doubled and reflected off the white standing seam roof of the front porch, it’s the only actual direct sunlight we get all day, and it’s absolutely glorious in this slender little zone for a few morning hours. Three plant stands, a small plant table, a terrarium on the floor, and the cat (obviously) soak up any rays they possibly can while they can. It’s like plant YOLO. This is where I put green things that maybe, possibly, just perhaps are inching towards that tropical dreamscape of higher light + care requirements… palm types, jungle types, and an eight year old fiddle leaf fig impulse purchased from the Ikea in Elizabeth, New Jersey. The Fiddle Leaf Fig just put out a new branch WHILE WE WERE OUT OF TOWN.

Oh ho ho! My how the tables have turned! I find myself completely surrounded by green things, each with its own distinct personality, each thriving in its own special zone, each chosen to thrive despite perhaps less-than-ideal conditions. Like all things: you might not always get the heady jasmine and winter clementines of your dreams, but finding what fits where and working to make beauty green up and grow in the space you have… well, that’s pretty darn nice too. Or, like someone once said better than me: once in a while you get shown the light in the strangest of places if you look at it right. Or, perhaps even more to the point: you can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes you just might find, you get what you need.


Author: loiseaufait

Little by little the bird feathers its nest, and object by heart burnished object we surround ourselves with lovely necessities of memory and function. It is these things that make a silly Apartment a Home or a silly Wednesday an Occasion. Whether my nest is an old farmhouse, a sixth floor tenement walk up, or a brownstone basement... whether I share it with family, vagabonds, women of heart and mind, or a little brown cat and a sweet ginger banjo, my principal joy is filling it with light and laughter (and corralling).

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