Elena Ferrante: I devote myself to plants. Is it because I am afraid of them?

Plants are prisoners, yet they extend, twist, creep their way in

I love plants. Maybe even more than animals, more than cats, which I adore. I like everything about plants, but I always feel as though I know nothing. I buy them at the nursery, I distribute them on balconies and in every room, I plant them in the ground in the garden. I learn their names, including the scientific ones, and I write down in a notebook how much to water them, when to give them hormones, whether they need a lot of sun or a little.

And not only that: I study the types of soil, the time for pruning and the techniques. I worry about late freezes as if they were earthquakes or tidal waves.

I take such care of my plants that I become fond of them. I check them continuously, I feel the soil with my fingers to see if its still damp or dry. Out of love for them, I tolerate the unpleasant smell of organic fertilisers and the crowds of flies. I patiently rescue leaves attacked by parasites. And when I realise that one is mortally ill, I discover that I love it more than all the others and turn to trusted experts to find out what to do.

But while I have taught myself so much, I continue to think I am shamefully ignorant and that my ignorance will be punished. I feel that plants are alive, very alive, and yet prisoners. They cant move, they cant seek shelter, they cant escape clippers, hatchets, saws. They inspire pity and so I feel they are designated victims an emblem, perhaps, of all the victims on this planet.

But a precisely opposite feeling is grafted on to my sense of pity. Their expansion worries me. They are prisoners and yet they extend, twist, creep their way in, break the stone. Their roots grow deeper and deeper; they try to send them elsewhere. Maybe its that contrast that disorients me; they have in themselves a blind force that doesnt fit with their cheerful colours, their pleasing scents. At the first opportunity, they manage to get back everything that was taken from them, dissolving the shapes that we have imposed by domesticating them.

At the movies, on television, images of burning forests cause me as much suffering I feel the life thats evaporating, hissing, writhing amid the flames as the speeded-up images of tree sap, that like a cancer slides past every possible obstacle, frighten me.

At times I suspect that I devote myself to plants in this way because Im afraid of them. But then I should admit Ive assigned to vegetation a symbolism that applies to any form of life. We appreciate it, we love it until, bursting the boundaries that our authority has set, it overflows.

Translated by Ann Goldstein

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2018/oct/13/elena-ferrante-love-of-plants

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