A Change of Scenery

Plants are like people too

Paul Dorsey
Age of Empathy
4 min readMay 30, 2024

--

Foxtail fern reaching new heights after a change of scenery. Photo by author.

As I bid my mother goodbye from her front stoop on a Sunday afternoon, I noticed a potted plant tucked up against the brick wall off the side of her front steps.

“What’s going on with this guy?” I asked, lifting the sagging plant from under the hedge.

The cloudy sky hinted at the impending winter ready to strip away the autumn colors before freezing the world into hibernation.

“I can’t take care of all these plants anymore.” Her response echoed the conversation we had moments before about her desire to downsize. “It’s a foxtail fern. I’ve given up on it.”

As I spun the pot around, needles drizzled off a barren branch. The rest of the plant had browned at the base and around the edges. I shot a glance to question the plant’s future.

“It could be a beautiful plant,” she said. “Sometimes we need a change of scenery.”

Her words resonated with me. Later that evening, I freed the fern from its small container. Its pot-bound roots splayed wide with optimism above my workbench. I trimmed them back, giving proportion to the once-vivacious fern. Next, I cut away another dead stem, along with a few others that had given up hope.

After changing the soil, I set the old girl on a table in the corner of our bathroom. The surviving flumes seemed prouder with the droopy ones removed. Maybe shaded afternoon sunlight would provide it more inspiration.

Winter shortened the days, as it does, clouding the memory of a growing season long gone. Christmas came and went. All along, I tended to the foxtail in the window, watering it gently every few days.

On a mid-February business trip, I walked the perimeter of a Florida hotel after a day full of client meetings. Under the setting sun, I found umbrella trees, bromeliads and philodendron growing naturally. Up North, they’re considered house plants.

With a few more steps, I stumbled upon a foxtail fern exhibiting the same melancholy as the one I adopted. Even growing in the wild, its nubby branches offered little hope like the one I adopted.

With a few more steps, I spot another, but this foxtail seemed different. Its chubby plumes emanated a bright green hue, as if worshiping the sky. Its fine needles flourished, exhibiting strength and growth potential.

People can be the same. A positive attitude can lift us up, inspiring us to chase after new goals. Pessimism makes us want to crawl back under the covers to avoid catastrophe.

I stopped to compare the two plants.

Massive leaves from a mature philodendron shaded the lethargic foxtail. Like the one hidden behind the hedge, it lacked confidence. The foxtail bathing in the sun all day offered inspiration.

The landscaper probably planted both at the same time. If the poorer fern could move a few feet to the light, it would live so much stronger.

Upon returning home from the trip, winter kept its hold. Barren trees and brown grass patiently waited for the change of season. I noticed a daffodil poking through the old layer of mulch, as if testing the sky for sunlight. The earth’s position was changing, a promise that Spring would soon arrive.

When I unpacked my suitcase, I took notice of the foxtail warmed by the winter sun. A new shoot towered above the older flumes like a satellite taking advantage of the new location.

Complete transformation. Photo by author.
Complete transformation. Photo by author.

Within weeks, the plant had transformed into a vibrant specimen, that could compete with the one growing wild in Florida. Although it started like the lethargic fern in the shade, its new location inspired opportunity.

I think back to my mother’s words. “Sometimes we need a change of scenery.”

Taking the same route to work, stopping at the same bar on the way home, watching the same news at night. Routine makes us lethargic. Sometimes sunlight has to hit us from a different angle to renew our inspiration.

The only hope for the sad, little fern was for a kind soul to move it into the light.

We don’t have to wait for somebody. We can move ourselves.

By fighting our way out of the darkness, the light can inspire us.

But if we don’t realize how dark it is, we may need a helping hand to enlighten us. Somebody to drag us out from under the shade.

Regardless of how it happens, a change of scenery can inspire a positive change in trajectory.

Thank you for reading my story. Here’s a story about my grandmother and a book I wrote about a small town.

--

--

Paul Dorsey
Age of Empathy

When not working as a Financial Advisor, Paul writes about everyday people.