During solstice-week, some roots and bulbs I ordered came in the mail. They were tied tenderly into bags full of loose, moist soil. When I went out in the cold and wet to bury them, I thought about what it means to be dormant; after nutrients are recovered and stored, after the aerial parts have withered, the plant’s metabolism slows. It performs minor renewals and maintains its cell walls. It waits, quiescent, for the return of adequate light and favorable temperatures.
Dormancy seems to be less about sleeping than about a kind of timely introversion; all inessential things are pared away, needs are reduced, and purpose is focused. It is less about retreat than it is about varieties of gathering in preparation for a coming emergence. I note some valuable intimations for the practice of writing.
Setting out roots is an emphasis in distinction. It’s important that the root make good contact with the soil in order to start taking up nutrients and maybe developing mycorrhizae, but no matter how well I pack the soil around the root with my palms, or how closely the afternoon rain fits the soil to the root’s skin (a plant’s outer protective covering is called its epidermis), the root remains distinct. It performs endless exchanges with the substances and organisms that surround it, but it is always engaged primarily with its own growth, its own becoming. Correspondingly, if it is uprooted, the microstructures of the soil will reform, and soon the earth won’t remember its shape.
Maybe prolonged proximity has a blurring effect on boundaries; when I come in from my garden to my bookshelves I see a very similar ground. Some of the words we use to talk about reading suggest implantation, embedding.
I can’t help having the sensation that between the closed covers of books and inside my own skin there is radical activity that goes on unseen. In my imaginings this activity resembles a churn. Every time I reopen a book I am faced with something that has undergone some sort of mysterious rearrangement whereby, even though I read the same words, I experience something other and cohere to unfamiliar surfaces.
Book and reader meet like two active processes working in tandem. There is the presentation, as between the earth and the root, of a collaboration in growth.
What kind of a form will I elaborate when I am ‘into’ the book? Correspondingly, where and in what shape does a book exist when it isn’t being read?
Reading an essay by Mary Ruefle I came across a moment where she considers the book-reader relationship in terms of breastfeeding: “Of course, it is we who are being nursed by the books, and then I think of the reader asleep, the open book on his or her chest.” There is something about the relationship between book and reader that is slippery and metaphor resistant. Who is the breast and who is the suckling is the same question as who is the root and who is the earth or who is the woman and who is the apple. None of these questions have meaningful answers.
What is important is the number and sort of exchanges that are made, the sense of reciprocal nourishment, and the feeling of expansion through participation with the other. What’s important, in other words, is a kind of tending.
Roots from the lovely people at Strictly Medicinal Seeds
Ruefle, Mary. “Someone Reading a Book is a Sign of Order in the World.” Madness, Rack, and Honey: Collected Lectures. Seattle: Wave Books, 2012. 183-99. Print.