This was going to be an essay about seedlings. Those tiny starts of plants that are so aggressively green that they’re nearly glowing. I was going to write about how good it felt to plant a pot full of herb seedlings: tarragon and mint and oregano. I planned to describe how delicious the soil had smelled in our tiny apartment as I pressed tiny plants into the soil and set a newly-minted family of plants on the windowsill to get sunshine and fresh air, how plants make a city apartment feel bright and vibrant, how their own will to thrive in a crowded space can feel like a metaphor for my own. But I realized as I was writing about these things, that the story is as much about friendship. More than the tarragon or the mint, it’s about the friend who called me up to tell me she had extra seedlings. It’s about the plastic wine store bag that she filled with soil using a cardboard berry basket as a shovel.
Growing up, my mother’s friends were always bringing plants to our house. They’d pull into our driveway and throw up the back of their station wagons to unload tangled piles of Evening Primrose or Rose of Sharon that’d gotten too big in their own yards. Theirs were gifts that didn’t cost anything but the generosity of spirit that took them from one yard to another.
My childhood friendships were full of similar tokens. Sporting sweaty ponytails and scraped knees, my friends and I gave gifts with great ceremony: sea stones and turkey feathers, miniature slipper shells, and skate egg cases. More often than not these treasures came home and were tucked into corners of my sock drawer, imparting subtle hints of low-tide to my childhood bedroom. They stayed around long enough to collect dust and lose their stink, but when I went to college the rock treasures were put out in the garden and the broken bits of shell and feather were mostly swept into garbage bags and thrown away. I don’t tell this bit with any sense of melancholy. It’s not the sticking around of these tiny gifts that matters so much as the moment of exchange. The moment when one person hands off something that they think another might just find precious. My new seedlings might not make it through a week out of town, but I’ll remember the phone call and the smell of the dirt as my friend prepared a tiny present.