Just over a year ago, I moved to Vancouver, British Columbia, for the MPub program. Much hair-pulling and stress happened over the few days leading up to the move, but all my immigration documents were assembled, the moving truck was packed, and I was on my way.
As part of the usual process at the border, the Canadian border agent asked me if I had anything to declare: tobacco, firearms, plants.
It just so happened that I had a plant with me. The only plant of fifteen, in fact, that I hadn’t given away before leaving town. An Oxalis triangularis, or purple shamrock plant. My favorite plant. A special plant. The leaves folded under at night. It had been propagated in 1997 from a plant that was purchased at the New York Botanical Garden’s annual plant sale. Until a few years before this I had never seen another Oxalis triangularis, and I still don’t see them often.
Assuming they were concerned with people bringing pot plants into the country or something, I declared my plant to the agent. Honesty is the best policy, right?
Big mistake! After waiting inside the border agency building for my visa to be issued, an agent came outside to inspect the plant. I told her that this was the only plant I had kept of fifteen. That it was special. The agent said the problem was the foreign soil, and the possibility of bad microbes or fungi being brought into the country. I proposed a solution: Oxalis plants have rhizomes—if I removed one of the rhizomes and washed the dirt off, could I still take it with me?
After explaining a second time, I had failed to convince her. Nor do I think she wished to deal with me anymore. She claimed there was no choice because I had already declared the plant (implying I should have lied). She asked me to throw the whole thing into the designated trash can. Even the pot. The pot! The beautiful cobalt pot that the plant had been in for over ten years. It seemed there was no option though, so into the rubbish bin it went.
That hurt a lot, to be forced to throw away something that meant so much to me. But really, there was a lot of sacrifice involved in my getting to Canada. Both intentional and not.
For the first time in over a decade, I didn’t have any plants that needed minding. My apartment was missing something—yet, buying a new plant wasn’t an option, as it wouldn’t be able to come home with me either.
At the end of a rough school year, I moved back to the US. I’d be in Missoula, Montana, for the summer, performing my required MPub internship at Adventure Cycling Association. When my supervisor was taking me on a tour of the building the first day, I saw it. I saw them: two different employees had an Oxalis triangularis on their desk! I made note to ask them about taking a rhizome or two.
Some weeks later one of the coworkers gave me a few rhizomes, which I soon grew into a new plant (above). Near the end of my internship, the other coworker gave me her entire plant, pot and all!
Here I am, having gone from no Oxalis to two, thanks to the incredible kindness of my awesome Missoulian coworkers. I didn’t think the Oxalis could be any more special to me, and now I’ve got a great story that starts with tragedy and ends with generosity and kindness.
After a year away from my lifelong home of Portland, Oregon, I am preparing to go back. Things have certainly changed during this period, and I’ve spent a lot of the summer thinking about what I’d like to see in the next chapter—and more important, how I am going to write it.
As with the Oxalis plant, I hope for a delightful conclusion to the story.