Category Archives: Coping

Resilience in Many Forms

As the California drought deepens, I am exploring the world of succulents.  It seems these plants are wired to adapt and survive, no matter what.  Knocked to the ground? No problem.  Separated from the rest of the plant?  Keep on growing.  Hanging upside down?  Sprout roots anyway.  Succulents are resilient in the face of drought.  They propagate easily.  They adapt to adverse environments, not only surviving but growing.

My first steps in transforming my gardens to be less water dependent were to ask questions and read.  I learned that a branch broken off a succulent will root without extra attention.  Just put it in soil and watch it grow.  I learned that an agave leaf, if left alone on slightly damp soil out of direct sunlight sends roots into the soil, drawing its sustenance from the mother leaf.   “All that is required for a succulent to root is viable growth tissue,” writes Debra Lee Baldwin in Succulent Container Gardens (p. 234).

Succulent CuttingsNext comes experimentation.   On a friend’s advice, I am putting cuttings from succulents I already own into pots that I’ll sprinkle among my other plants.  I discovered our dogs had knocked some branches off our plants.  Some had fallen to the ground and were starting to grow roots.  Another was hanging upside down with its broken end pointing to the sky.  It had grown roots eight inches long that dangled from its end.

I added these to cuttings from my favorite succulents, set them on a tray for a week to become calloused at the cut, then stuck them in pots filled with cactus soil.  As they grow, I’ll transplant them to bigger pots and put them in the front gardens.

DSC00736My new plants are doing well after just one week in their new soil.  When I feel blocked, frustrated, or limited by circumstances or people, my succulents inspire me.  I consider the aeonium branch growing roots while dangling three feet from the ground an example of tenacious, creative adaptation.

If my plants can adapt like this to new or adverse situations, so can we humans.   All we need is our own version of “viable growth tissue” and a will to keep growing.

L.A. Snow Day

imagesUKL5P5N9Yeah, yeah, I know:  we don’t have snow days in Los Angeles.  Except for me.  I had a snow day this week right here in Pasadena, California.  Of course, with roses blooming in my garden and a lime tree covered in fruit it required a bit of imagination.

I missed snow days when I moved from the land of freezing winters to the land of sunshine and palm trees. Snow days often bring power outages and travel delays, but they also give a guilt-free reason to cancel everything and slow down the pace of life. Who can argue when the governor or school superintendent tells everyone to stay home?

When smog made me cancel my calendar for two days this week and stay inside my house, I had a brainstorm.  I said, “Self, these are snow days. You love snow days. Pretend you’re in Upstate New York again and this is a snow day.”

Every time I felt frustrated at where I couldn’t go and what I couldn’t do, I filled myself with remembered feelings of coziness, leisurely reading on the sofa, comforting smells from the kitchen, and relaxed puttering around the house.

It worked.  For two days I kept frustration at bay with the wackiness of my imagination.  Then the weather changed and cleared the air, which is good because even actual snow days give me cabin fever after 48 hours and I don’t think I could have sustained my willing suspension of disbelief much longer.

My snow day/smog day framework improved my attitude by changing how I reacted to the smog.  I consciously chose how to perceive my limitations, chose how to act, and chose my attitude.

Life is all about choices, after all, some writ large and others known only to us. I chose to have a snow day in L.A. and it made all the difference.

Theodore Roosevelt and MacGyver

Theodore Roosevelt has been my inspiration this month.  I have been frustratingly limited by new health issues since October, which has provided ample time for reading.  In Doris Kearns Goodwin’s new biography of Teddy Roosevelt and William Howard Taft I found this gem:

“If you are cast on a desert island with only a screwdriver, a hatchet, and a chisel to make a boat with, why, go make the best one you can. It would be better if you had a saw, but you haven’t.”*

Teddy Roosevelt said this was one of the most important lessons he learned during his years serving in the New York Assembly.  When first elected, he wanted to work only with men like himself and considered everyone from a lower social station boorish, illiterate, and repulsive.  After a series of legislative debacles, he adapted, learning to work with people of all stripes and circumstances with whom he found common purpose.  Politics is not the art of the perfect but of the possible.

So is life.  We take what we have and with it make something better, needful, or beautiful.  In our work and personal life, we are like Teddy Roosevelt at the turn of the 20th century. If you’re a T.V. buff you might say we are like MacGyver, the good-looking guy who solves crime, saves the innocent, and escapes danger with stuff like twine, an emery board and a light bulb. In less than ideal circumstances McGuyver solves every problem in fewer than 60 minutes.

Part of the joy of life is to look at what is and see what can be.  I know it’s hard and frustrating, and sometimes downright depressing.  We can wish for more money, “better” colleagues, a less frustrating boss, more time, better health, a less dysfunctional family, or the presence of  loved ones who have died.  It would be better if we had a saw, but we don’t.  So we build the best boat we can with what we have.

That’s an outlook worth celebrating and the basis of a life worth living.

Every one of us can be a Teddy Roosevelt or MacGyver.  The basic question is whether we want to stay on the desert island or not.  If we want to get on the water, we set aside our frustration, negativity, paralysis, and limited thinking.  We look in new ways at what we have to work with. Remember, boats don’t have to be perfect or match our original plans to be sea worthy. You may not have every tool you want, but go ahead and make the best boat you can.

*The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism, by Doris Kearns Goodwin, Simon & Schuster, 2013, p.85.
**Photo by Lori Waselchuk for the New York Times