The persistence of life




Back in the early 1990s, two apartments ago, I ordered a Pereskia aculeata from an exotic-plant catalog. The catalog picture showed lavish green leaves and big exotic-looking flowers. According to the listing, Pereskia was a primitive cactus, with normal-looking leaves, but with spines, and with the same water-hoarding habits as other members of the Cactaceae family. And then there were those big beautiful white flowers.



My order arrived in the mail. The Pereskia was –



A stick. With maybe three leaves on it.



I stuck it in a pot, with some fertilizer and lots of good wishes.



It lost one leaf, then two. It just sat there for a very long time – a couple of months, actually. I nearly threw it away several times.



Then it showed some activity.



That was twenty years ago, and much activity has occurred in the meantime. There are now potted descendants of that damned twig all over New England and the Northeast.



The original still lives here at home with me. It’s a weed! The catalog didn’t tell me that. It’s a nasty twining thorny nuisance in the Caribbean and elsewhere. I’ve never yet had it bloom, anywhere. It sprouts, and flourishes, and spins long ropelike spiny nooses that ruin the curtains and growl at me when I get too close. One in a while my original Pereskia leaps at me from the windowsill and tries to kill me with its spines. It did that just the other day, in fact.



But just look what it did it my office.



I brought a small inoffensive-looking shoot into the office, and I set it on my windowsill, and watered it weekly. It blinked at me shyly, and took one look at the nearby cord for the Venetian blinds, and it jumped.



Two years ago I noticed it was actually climbing the cord. Fine, I thought. That’s a fool’s errand. See how high you get. The ceilings in my office are ten or eleven feet high, or more.



To my utter disbelief, the vine made it all the way up the cord.



And now – as you can see in the photo above – it’s on my ceiling, making itself at home.



Some scientists believe that life doesn’t need an especially friendly climate to survive. All it needs is something to cling to.



Well, scientists: I think I have some data for you.



Life (at least in my neighborhood) does whatever it has to do to survive.



Life finds a way.



(Next question: is it going to work its way back down again?)




About Loren Williams
Gay, partnered, living in Providence, working at a local university. Loves: books, movies, TV. Comments and recriminations can be sent to

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