By Sarah Crowley Chestnut
A little over a month ago, my husband, son and I arrived in Mariposa, California–my hometown. I have not lived in Mariposa for fourteen years, save a one year stint between living in Prague, Czech Republic and Vancouver, B.C. Mariposa is an old Gold Rush town, and a gateway to Yosemite National Park. It is small (a fraction of its size at the height of the Gold Rush), it is historic, it is beautiful, and it is rural. I do not think I could have overestimated how accustomed I have become to city sounds, sights, and smells. City bus stopping and going all night a half a block from the apartment? No problem. Noisy (drunk?) neighbors coming and going from the building? Didn’t hear them. Sirens at 3 a.m.? What? But fill the night silence with bull frogs’ croaks, coyote howls, and edgy dogs baying a quarter of a mile away and you have one nervous girl. Not to mention a nervous husband (“Coyotes?? Can they get in here? Is Jacob safe? Can you close the door, please?”), and a very, very alert almost-two-year-old struggling to go to sleep. Our first night here, Jacob called us into his room repeatedly: despite the heat, he did not want the overhead fan on in his room, and he thought the crickets outside his window were birds in his room. “Oh, no, Jacob. Those aren’t birds. They’re crickets–bugs–good bugs, like Goldbug. They are singing good night to you. They’re outside.” Good bugs may be a significant stretch of the truth, but it is closer to the truth as far as Jacob, his sleep–and ours–is concerned.
We are adjusting…slowly. I am spending time in the garden, and time walking the eleven acres of stickery weeds, dry grass, pine, manzanita, and protruding granite boulders. And there are fruit trees, and a seasonal pond a mallard pair has made their (temporary) home. We have picked the sour cherries and made preserves (which didn’t set up properly), and the apricot tree, though sparsely fruited (no thanks to a late frost this spring) offered up a daily apricot or two for a two week stretch. Clothes dry far more quickly on the line here than in Vancouver (I think perhaps clothes dry more quickly on the line anywhere than in Vancouver). We are finding our way around Pioneer Market, the local grocery store, and we come home from the Wednesday evening farmer’s market with peaches and eggplant and cherry tomatoes and flats of apricots to jam. Did I mention that it is hot here? Did I mention that my blood had grown thick and my skin fairer than fair in the northern, cloud-covered climate?
Perhaps because I have been spending so much time in the garden, and perhaps because the garden is a storehouse for spiritual metaphor, I have been thinking and wondering a lot about transplant shock lately. Not that any of the plants themselves seem to be suffering from it, but I think it may be the best way to describe my current state.
“Transplant shock in plants is almost unavoidable,” writes Heather Rhoades on a helpful little website I found. “Let’s face it, plants were not designed to be moved from place to place and when we humans do this to them, it is bound to cause some problems.” And we humans? Are we made to be on the move or are we made for a lasting home? No doubt the answer is–helpfully and yet unhelpfully–both. When it comes to plants (and maybe humans, too?), avoiding transplant shock requires gathering up the roots–as many and as gently as you can–and including them in the move. Let your plant drink her morning tea or coffee from the mug her dear friend pulled from her own cupboard and sent along in the move. Let your plant put on her favorite hoodie even though the morning breeze hardly merits the extra layer. She will feel more like herself that way. Also, soak, soak, soak the newly transplanted plant with water afterward; running through the sprinklers is good, or taking a toddler to swimming lessons will do the trick. When it comes to recuperating from transplant shock, let your plant head for the cookie jar, or to the local doughnut shop, or at least to the apricot tree across the driveway. A weak sugar-water solution will help to revive plants after a move. Allow your plant to go underground, to be a little inward, a little inaccessible. Trimming the plant back to allow energy to be focused on new root growth will result in more vigorous, visible growth later. Let the liquids flow freely–the transplant needs to be kept moist. Iced tea. Lemonade. White wine. Red wine. Any wine. And wait. Recovery–yes, recovery–from a big move takes time.