A Reflection on Vegetating
all this rhetoric about wanderlust and the free will of mobility, I ask you to
take a step back and reflect on the meaning of vegetation. The Oxford dictionary
defines life as “the condition that distinguishes active animals and
plants from inorganic matter, including the capacity for growth, functional
activity, and continual change preceding death.” Like reigning monarchs in a
democracy of checks and balances, our kingdom as we know it is divided into
flora and fauna. Who are these living plants that we share the world with, and
why don’t they get any respect?
share this experience of life with our green-leafed and immobile friends in a
lopsided symbiotic relationship. We consume plants to derive energy for our
activities of self-gratification. We chop down forests to make way for roads.
Even if you are a vegetarian, all the nourishment you consume inevitably comes
from plants. We exploit plants as stepping-stones of energy from the sun so we
can indulge in the fruits of life, and what do we give in return? They only ask
us to breathe.
we respond with degrading metaphors. The term “vegetable” as applied to a
person means they are complete invalids with no brain inactivity or basic
response to stimuli. When we “vegetate” it means that we sit around like
“couch potatoes” and lead uneventful and monotonous lives. We presume that
trees don’t exist when we philosophize, “if a tree falls in a forest and no
one is there to hear it …” But what about the trees themselves? Don’t they
experience it? Mind you, this Lorax-speak is all at the risk of sounding
an existence to sit rooted your whole life with no sense organs, no power of
voluntary movement and no capacity for self-reflection or free will. Bodhisattva
sat under the Bodhi tree and achieved enlightenment and the subsequent worship
by millions of others, but what did the Bodhi tree get out of it?
are not alone in their patient and sedentary behavior. Besides the sizeable
segment of the American population who could be considered clinically
non-reflective, brain-dead and immobile, there are a few animal species that
willingly take the Emily Dickinson approach to life and just sit around rooted
in one place, filtering nutrients out of the air or sea. I have been told that
barnacles spend their early years as free-swimming polyps until they eventually
tire of riding the currents and attach themselves to a rock or the underside of
a boat. Once they are secured in place, they have no need for their brains so
they digest it for nourishment. Talk about Zen.
would a rooted plant need a brain anyway? There are no conscious decisions to
make, no freedom of choice. If they had a brain, they would probably go crazy
with log cabin fever. Instead they sacrifice themselves for our sins. We
distill their fruits of labor into our wine. We chop down trees for our bridges
and paper. We carve our names on their trunks. We bleed rubber trees for our
shoes and tires so we may be mobile.
vital difference between plants and animals is that plants do not have
specialized sense organs and nervous systems, and they don’t have the ability
to respond rapidly to stimuli. There are a few anomalies such as the
Venus Flytrap that are the bit of yin in the yang (whereas, barnacles are the
bit of yang in the yin). But for the most part, the only movement of plants is
embedded in their growth. They are not able to transplant themselves, but is
this a handicap?
the next time you are hacking a swath through virgin rainforest with your
machete for the sake of adventure or manifest destiny, stop and think about the
experience of planting yourself, of taking root. Perhaps it is we that suffer
the incurable desire to constantly relocate ourselves to where the grass is
always greener? To constantly seek greener pastures?
(c) 2003 by Derek White