What Humanity Can Learn From Plants

On trees, moss, and feeling at a distance

Janice Lee
13 min readMay 24, 2018


Art by Maya Erdelyi

Recently, on a plane, I remembered the moment when the plane began to descend beneath the clouds. One moment, I could see the brightly lit and expanding city unfolding out below me, a brilliant landscape of lights and systemized movement. Then the plane began to dip below the clouds, and in that stretched-out moment of time, it felt as if everything slowed down and expanded around me, crushing me with the expanded density, the suffocating largeness of it all, the claustrophobic realization of space and height and my place on that plane, with all the other people sitting in their seats around me. My eyes locked only with the dismal and thick, thick white outside the window, looming and full; the momentary lapse in sight that was, in its own way, a kind of opening of vision, a revelation. When the apocalyptic moment passed and the city burst forth again beneath the clouds and the familiar brightness reminded me that no time had passed at all, not really, but also knowing that I had lived an eternal purgatory in that moment, as if alone and shivering and quivering in the corner of a tiled shower, the water pouring down and myself a body that could only shake and absorb the water through the skin as the tears rolled out my eyes. And when my feet were finally on the ground again, I thought only of the immensity and magnificence of the sky.

In these strange and sensitive moments when my anxiety flaunts itself as a determined and reverential haunting of sorts, I remember what it was that I really learned from my mother, what I really know through her, because of her, and after her.

I think about a particular individual, perhaps a rare bird, one who has been exiled for documenting facts and archiving flight patterns and creating maps and observing different species of trees, this bird who sees value in concretizing memory to outlast one’s own life and trajectory. This bird is also capable of being homesick, of longing for a home that exists or could one day exist, because language, diagrammed and phantomized and stricken, is also capable of forging a threshold between this world and the dream world, and so that in-betweenness might be construed as a concrete space, and there might be new language vociferated to articulate all that does not yet fit into…