Thursday, November 13, 2014

ballad of the border-crossing bonsai

5 AM: only Melvin is awake
Somewhere along Highway 85, north toward Mountain View, he began life as a hippo that was shaped like a giraffe. Despite this, his parents kept him, raising him with doubled dinner portions. Melvin lived for a meaningful forty-five minutes, then perished into memory.

Until he died and came alive, as a bonsai.

On his last day in Saratoga, my mother and I raced up 85 North toward Yamagami's Nursery with twelve minutes until closing time; we drove for ten. In a flurry, we purchased a potted bonsai and a hefty squirt-bottle of seaweed extract. I chose the only plant that could endure Cambridge winters: a tall, floppy, gangly creature with bulging joints, somewhat reminiscent of a giraffe.

I knew that he couldn't bring the bonsai on his flight, so I brought it to his house for a brief meet-and-greet. It was then that Melvin inhabited the bonsai in a startling, invigorating infusion of spirit and stem. He left before me, and thus Melvin came to be.

Melvie, airborne
In preparation for our far-east movement, I bathed him in an inky emulsion of seaweed-extract and filtered water. With quilted paper towels and gentle strokes, I polished his pot, which was ochre with swirls. (Did I polish with swirling motions, or were there swirls on his pot? See how a non-comma between "ochre" and "with" makes all the difference!) Soon, Melvin was in ship-shape for his voyage from SFO to BOS.

He spent a lot of time perched on my luggage, and after check-in time, in my lap. What stares we received on the plane, in the shuttle, and in line at Hertz Car Rental. Little Melvin looked bruised and parched from journey, so I doused him with my airplane tea.

That evening, Melvin took up residence in Matthews Hall, where he proceeded to become the star of Hashtag The Plant Channel, aired in daily installments on Instagram for a time in September. Melvin, toasted by Toaster to orangey perfection (again, a nod to his ungulate roots), became the face of acting-like-one-has-had-pot-without-having-had-pot.

From then on, Melvin's story switched tellers. When I last met him in October, he was healthier than ever, scattering small, oval patches of shade on a plaid pillow.

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