Serial Plant Killer Emerges from Isolation Hugging Trees by Pearl J. Park
I’ve killed nearly every houseplant I’ve ever tried to raise. Though I come from a lineage of farmers on my mother’s side, I was an urban dweller who knew little about tending to plants. For women of my Korean grandmother’s generation, gardening and foraging for wild edibles were a part of their daily lives. But I grew up in the American suburbs of manicured lawns and trimmed hedges. I rarely touched the soil. I bought vegetables from stores in plastic bags—the ones that will probably take 2,000 years to disintegrate.
I watched the skies clear over Busan. Photo Credit: Pearl J. Park
During the COVID-19 shutdown in South Korea, the second country to get hit with a critical mass of cases, I reflected on how I have been living so disconnected from nature as I watched the skies clear. I was a part of the problem. And surely, this virus was a call-to-action from Mother Earth.
From left to right, my great grandmother, my sister, my grandmother, me, and my brother. My great grandmother and grandmother raised me (bald and center), my brother, and sister in Korea. Photo Credit: Pearl J. Park
In Busan, the second largest city in Korea, where I currently live, I see women picking wild plants in the mountains—something my grandmother used to do. I am reminded how my current lifestyle, which usually involves being plugged into a phone or a laptop, is so far removed from my agrarian epigenetic roots. Ironically, it was my grandmother whose sacrifices brought my parents to the U.S. in the 1960’s and later, my family to a life in the upper middle class suburbs of Miami. For her, having material possessions and driving cars were marks of success. Living close to the earth—raising vegetables and picking herbs— in her lifetime was the definition of poverty.
In many ways, COVID-19 was showing us how much we have to lose if we are not mindful of what we take from nature without caring for it. I felt pressed to learn how to keep a plant alive and reconnect with nature. Putting flesh to trees and soil activates certain biomarkers in the body, I learned. The microbes in soil boost your immune system. I walked barefoot in the grasses of Geumnyeongsan.
Hugging trees releases happy hormones and neurotransmitters in the brain. I thanked the tree for sharing its energy. Photo Credit: Pearl J. Park
I even hugged a tree.
This was so exciting for me. It was a huge turning point for me! Photo Credit: Pearl J. Park
I found myself germinating the seeds of a persimmon, a common Korean fruit. My family used to have a persimmon tree in the yard of my childhood home in Seoul and I remember my 60-something great grandmother climbing it. So after three weeks when my seeds triumphantly sprouted green leaves, I immediately thought of her.