The trees know when to let go.

Their last leaves wave to me in the breeze. Shivering in the icy rain, flapping and fanning the streetlight’s cold, white burn. The new air turns brittle, squeezes in through the crevices in my zipper, swirls up my sleeves and hugs my body, but the leaves hold tight. Their day has not yet come.

When work is through, I peer nervously down the street toward the trees that line the walk to my office, worried their leaves have been blown free from dark, spindly branches. But even as the cool air rushes past…

These days the hard asphalt feels miles thick. Solid. Impenetrable. The endless sidewalk unrolls for blocks, dirtied bubblegum dotting the peeling curb, crumbling and worn by the hot summer sun.

My eyes, magnets for green, spot the plants squeezing through cracks in the street. Many like to call these plants weeds. Nuisances, pests. So-called invasive or foreign species, identified as outsiders. Aggressors gobbling up space and resources. Taking hold in soil never meant for them.

There’s a tightness in my chest.

Where do people go when the life is pushed out of their bodies? Where do they go? The beauty and infinite complexity of a human life, snuffed in an instant. Held hostage, tortured, trapped, and then killed. What kind of person looks another person right in the eyes, acknowledges the life and soul and spirit in front of them, and still pulls the trigger? What kind of person? The victim’s ragged breath and rapid blinking, nervous sweat, terror and adrenaline, and then nothing. Silence surrounded by the screams of the living.

I rode the…

At first viewing, I couldn’t help but see myself in Beyonce’s Lemonade — I’m a black woman with Southern roots who’s loved and lost and thrived and failed and found a way back. I saw myself in the words and the visuals, in the settings, both real and imagined. But what I didn’t expect to see was the proliferation of nature and botanical imagery, especially the vigorous depiction of black people, especially black women, living with, gaining power from, and healing in the outdoors.

Black people have historically had complex and widely varied relationships with the land, but our artistic…

Simone Martin-Newberry

Chicago-based nature lover, urban gardener, black woman, plant person. Writer and photographer at

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