Tougher Than We Think

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A few years ago while driving into town I noticed a big green plant that seemed to be growing, no not growing, thriving between the north and southbound lanes of the highway. Nothing else for several yards in front of or behind this beautiful green plant it stood in the stark dry, sandy area only inches from cars, pickups and trucks as they raced by. I never took the time to stop and really look at this seemingly out of place plant as I would drive by on my way to a fro. Then one day as it matured and took on the look of a more mature plant I realized why it looked so familiar. I made a promise to myself that on the way home I would stop and take a closer look. I pulled into the Llantera (tire shop) across the road and taking my life into my own hands I dashed across the highway to inspect this out of place familiar plant. The closer I got to it the more I was sure that my suspicions were correct. A cotton plant had somehow managed to survive in the most unfriendly of places. But a cotton plant? Here?


Photo by Dario de Baja

I stood there in skeptical disbelief that this cotton plant, the same type cotton plant I had raised as a farmer could possibly be, well, here! It must have come from a wayward lost seed perhaps carried by a bird and dropped here in this highly unlikely spot. In my past life as a farmer my main crop for years and years was cotton. I would fertilize at just the right time, irrigate with just enough water to satisfy its needs but not saturate the ground causing the soil to become over saturated which can cause all sorts of other problems and issues. I would spray with just the right amount and correct herbicides and apply just the right amount of insecticide to keep pests at bay. Nights of good rest were lost wondering how high winds, hail, too much rain, etc. might affect my oh so fragile cotton crop.

Finally freeing myself of that life of non stop crop babysitting, I am here in this non too friendly plant life environment only to find a healthy, vibrant, thriving cotton plant thumbing its nose at all that nature and non stop traffic can dish out. Nary a drop of irrigation water, certainly no fertilizer applications, and as far pests who knows what was attacking it. Car exhaust and being run over a few times seemed to only strengthen this stubborn plant’s resolve to survive. Shaking my head again in disbelief I carefully made my way back to my car to undoubtedly think about this single plant for a long while.

Every time I would drive by my cotton plant I would say hello, tip my hat and wish it well for I did feel that at some level we had much in common. Then one day while driving by saying a quick hello I find a few cotton blooms that are the precursor to soon to come cotton bowls. Stopping to inspect my friendly green giant I felt a certain kinship with it.

Several weeks passed, when one day there they were. Beautiful cotton bowls full of the fluffy white fruit that would soon open completely just waiting for someone to pluck them from its strong limbs. I began wondering what was going to happen to this plant if no one came along to harvest its bounty. Of course optimum harvest day came and went and the still full bowls waited. Eventually, the over mature bowls dried up as nature intended and dropped to the ground looking almost like a small snow storm had occurred. So, I thought to myself this is what happens when nature is left to her own resources and full maturity is allowed to occur without human intervention. This is nature as it was intended to be I suppose.

Then one day I saw a group of workers diligently working to clean up the median between the north and south bound lanes. They were busy picking up debris and some trash that had accumulated over a period of time. I stopped where they were working and asked if they could spare my cotton plant from the sickle. A little surprised by my request they assured me they would work around my green buddy that had worked so hard to survive for so long. Going by a couple of days later I was almost afraid to look to see if they had kept their promise. Sure enough there was an area of perhaps four feet around that was completely undisturbed. This old farmer in me felt so excited that I was successful in saving a life even though it was one that could not speak; and yet we seemed to be communicating on some level.

I decided that I should stop and pickup some of the cotton, the gift this out of the way plant had offered me. Not sure why I felt I needed to accept these bowls, this fruit from my buddy except that in accepting them I would make its life, its difficulties and suffering to survive worth the pain it took to bring these bowls to maturity for me. If I could not appreciate its efforts then who would?

Puling off the road I filled a couple shopping bags with the soft white bowls, all while cars were whizzing by with people in them I am sure wondering what that obviously crazy Gringo was doing. Do not ask me why doing this seemed so important but it did. Less than a week later I received my answer as another group of workers came by and cut my plant to the ground not leaving even a hint that a brave, vibrant life had ever existed on that spot. To say I was sad would be an understatement. I am sure a little moisture fell on this old farmer’s cheeks as I slowly drove by looking at the now clean and seemingly sanitized spot where I felt a kinship few would understand. But gone it was. Driving home slowly I suddenly realized that I had the answer to why I had collected those cotton bowls and protected them from all harm. The answer was in my rear view mirror. Looking back I could still see that barren area but now knowing that I had the bowls, and so, an undetermined amount of seeds from my plant. Yes, my tough old, and apparently wise green buddy had gifted me with seeds to carry on his legacy if he would cease to exist.

Getting home I set out trying to find where I stored those cotton bowls. I remember thinking they would have to be stored in a cool dry place. But where? Looking and looking I only found my exasperation when the bowls were no place to be found. Okay I told myself, they will show up sooner or later. I cannot plant them until March or April anyway so there is no real hurry.

About a month later as I was looking for a pair of pliers there those white bowls were right where I had left them. The reason for needing pliers was lost in my excitement of having located my long lost treasures.

As I was picking through the cotton to remove the seeds I kept thinking about where these life giving seeds came from. I felt honored to be a part of what might be a way to complete the circle of life. My idea of course was to plant some of the seeds to see if I could be a conduit in trying to close the loop on the circle.

The day came and my wife and I planted just a few of those special seeds. Some were planted in a flower garden type area where the new plantings would enjoy the morning sun but would be shaded from the hot summer blaze that August and September might bring. We planted them approximately one foot apart, and then three in three separate fairly large flower pots.

The seeds that I planted at our ranch in the Fresno area were acid delinted, which means that all the lint was removed from the seeds using a special process and then of course treated with other products to make certain they would nearly all germinate or sprout and then hopefully mature into healthy full size cotton plants. These seeds of mine had none of the tender loving care usually bestowed on the seeds of which I was familiar.

But I thought, I have little to loose by dropping them in the ground at the right time and then keeping them damp. I really had very little expectation that they would grow. And if they did grow beyond a seedling just how hardy could they possibly be?

Well, my answer came soon enough as tiny plants almost simultaneously poked their tender heads out of the dirt in the flower garden at first, but then the flower pot plants showed signs of life too! I could see the growth almost daily as they seemed try to reach the warmth of the springtime sun. Their hardiness was never in question. As it turned out all of the seeds planted germinated and became full size adult plants.

Then one evening as I pulled into the driveway my headlights revealed a beautiful flower on one of the plants. This is a sure sign that cotton will be coming soon. At this time, I am still waiting not so patiently for the first bowl to be formed. I feel almost like a father expecting a newborn, but not knowing when it will happen.

I began thinking about that hardy cotton plant standing tall and proud fighting against all odds that it could, it would, survive no matter what obstacle it might encounter. The more obstacles it faced the tougher it became until that once little seedling grew tall and mighty finally doing what it was meant to do. Create seeds to carry on the legacy of that one lost cotton seed that became a mighty plant that would not be destroyed.

Maybe the story of that one wayward and lost cotton seed that fulfilled its mission creating more seeds to carry on is similar to our own lives. We have all overcome some situations that at the time may have seemed so dire, so impossible that we wanted to just give up, shrivel up and die. But something inside of us would not commit to being defeated. Somehow we carried on in our natural attempt to close that circle of life we have been given. I for one believe that circle is worth fighting for never quitting until the two lines meet. For just like the cotton plant we are all much tougher, more driven, more able to overcome than anyone including ourselves would have ever believed.

Now for the rest of the story! Just a few days ago while driving into town I happened to take special notice of the ground where my plant once lived. And there, just barely coming out of the ground were three little leaves solidly attached to a large root still stuck deep in the soil the workers had left behind.

So I suppose the circle of that plants life is not only complete, but now it has a whole new life of its own and will grow meeting new challenges and obstacles but now armed with the knowledge that it will and can overcome whatever may come its way.

What a life lesson this has been for me! Such a positive message from a seed that was never meant to be there much less grow into a plant that would spawn the lives of so many others to come.

I hope this Christmas season brings you happiness and joy. I also hope that the blessings you receive might be passed on to others needing a little help. Maybe, just maybe, we can help someone fill in a few lines or connect some dots in their efforts to fulfill their goal of completing their circle of life.
Greetings and Merry Christmas to everyone from a place I always love to be.

This is my special place.

My Little Village by the Sea

Dario de Baja