— by Susan Eirich, Ph.D. —
I saw it on a dark counter at a camping store. There were a couple of dozen little cactuses in tiny painted pots with a magnet attached. They were being sold as curiosities, to be placed on a refrigerator. They had been forced in a greenhouse (climate conditions manipulated to time their blooming) , and brought for sale just as they were starting to bloom. Life, raised for human’s frivolous and momentary pleasure. The chances of survival were slim, as their destiny was to be placed as a magnet on some appliance. It made me mad and sad and I bought one as a plant “rescue.” I didn’t know if it would survive a dark Idaho winter but at least I was giving it a chance and if it didn’t make it, it would die having been seen and valued rather than cast away as an object. The miracle of blooming; of continuing life, turned into a casual conversation piece.
It bloomed and bloomed, then went dormant. Over the next 11 months I watered it and put it in a southern window but I didn’t know if it had mummified or if it was alive. Then the first week in April I saw tiny little buds. It was alive! It had made it through the winter! It was blooming on its own, without being forced! It gave me great joy and I showed it to everyone who came into the office. Some people understood; others humored me politely. It may seem silly to care about a tiny cactus but every life form and every individual is precious. The mere fact of life is a miracle. We may need to use a life form for our own life’s sustenance or protection but that doesn’t make it any less precious or remarkable. When we lose wonder we have lost a deep connection that satisfies; nourishes and sustains us through thick and thin; a connection to something eternal and meaningful.
Our own human brains are another miracle. Such immense complexity with such astounding potential. With our brains connected to our hearts we humans can lead, in consultation with all living things, to work towards enlarging our sense of community, taking all living beings into respectful consideration when we make decisions. We humans have the capacity to become increasingly conscious rather than increasingly unconscious but for that we have to connect with something larger than ourselves. The little cactus is a reminder. Loving it is not silly or trivial. It is part of a larger way of seeing life and being in the world.
Dr. Susan Eirich is the Founder and Executive Director of Earthfire Institute Wildlife Sanctuary and Retreat Center. A licensed psychologist, biologist and educator, her goal is to widen the circle of conversation about conservation to include the voices of all living beings.