There is not a single herb but has a mazal in the heavens which strikes it and says, “Grow!” (Midrash Rabba, Bereshit 10:6)


I have gone to plants, looking for examples of how to be at home. Who is more dignified, who is more graceful in being right here? Who is more active and productive, right here? They have schedules, by time of day and by season, and surely schedules I cannot see. They have social lives. The agaves and the cactus in the front have a well-established practice of social distancing and it seems rare for anyone to get hurt. I have gone looking to the plants I know for counsel on belonging, companionship. clear boundaries, and participation.


It can be faintly embarrassing to be human in front of them. We are shifty. Poised to run off at any moment, or to manipulate circumstances to maintain a viewpoint, stepping in with cameras and editing tools. Where plants are broadly adaptable, humans are also adaptable, with the particular specialty of training conditions to adapt to our will, with results that range from impressive to startling. It seems like some feedback may be coming in that all this adapting of everybody else is ripe for an Adaptation.


Plants’ exquisite sensitivity to conditions, is a refreshing tonic for a restless human, ensconced in the maintenance of unbounded hypothetical considerations, to be carried out somewhere else at some other time, often as not by someone else, or maybe someone trying to be someone else.


In the great staring and head-scratching that results among those emerging blinking from Zoom calls, the plant world receives and recovers us. Missing dimensions reappear on the scene. Magnification ensues, a spontaneous universe of live action. Isolation becomes deprived of factual reality when we recognize that are numbered among the living. Is it that simple? Of course not. And also, yes.


In observing plants, I am being introduced to a quality of necessity that I understand as sincerity and I will try calling reality. In contemplating the expressions of a plant, I feel privileged to a more inclusive way of sensing, a more relative awareness, mystical insofar as it involves dirt. What is dirt? If life is at stake, and for the living, it always is, here is life depending on the composition of dirt, depending on light—what is light?—, depending on even an angle of light, attending to essential shadow—what is this shadow?—, essential moisture, not too much, temperature, slope, the all-important slope! Air currents…


I am finding companionship with plants, if they will have me, because they belong immediately and intimately to the whole state of affairs. They inhabit two worlds at once. They go on divining in the dark even as they stretch up into the light, making a living every day. The dandelion gone to seed does lead me to the stars, and to the center of the earth, and to my own location in all of it.


I would hazard to call it presence.


Carolyn Riman is a mixed-media artist living and working in New Mexico. Her work incorporates printmaking methods, alternative process photography, drawing, painting, and installation. She seeks to create mutable environments that tease open the weave of familiar contexts.


She has studied at the UNM College of Fine Arts, and the Institute of American Indian Arts. She has been granted residencies through the Fine Arts Work Center, the Historic Santa Fe Foundation, and the Jentel Foundation.