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From 5 December 2004 Issue

Rastus
By Michelle Rivera - MichelleRivera1@aol.com 

Miracles are all around us but we just don't see them because they start out so small and we hardly ever get around to noticing them. We're busy, we are on the move, and we almost never have time to stop and smell the roses, look up at the night sky in wonder or ponder the morphology of the clouds.

I became a grandmother recently and someone told me to plant a tree to commemorate the birth of my grandson. That way, goes the rationale, you can watch the child and the tree grow over the years together. A beautiful sentiment and one that helps the earth and the creatures who make their, homes in trees. "Yes" I decided, "I will plant a tree."

Thus having decided to follow the sage advice, I made plans to purchase a tree and plant it on or about the day Alexander Michael Rivera burst onto the scene. However, fate played a hand in this sweet little story, and the tree that I planted was not a young tree eager to enter the world, but a clever tree reborn.

Almost twenty years ago I bought my mother a small potted "corn palm" plant for Mothers Day, or her birthday, or some occasion that has long ago been forgotten. My mother vigilantly raised this little plant, carefully repotting it when it grew too large for it's pots and bestowed upon this little plant a great deal of tender loving care. Indeed, she used to say that it was very hard for her to keep a plant alive but for some reason, this little corn plant thrived under her care.

Mom died in 1992 and I was left to the sad task of taking her meager belongings and finding new homes for all of them. I sat down with the corn plant and considered it thoughtfully, decided to call him Rastus and brought him home to live with me.
Rastus lived in a large pot in my town home and was eventually moved to the outdoors in a huge pot so it could enjoy the sun, humidity and Florida's sweet breezes and sun showers. When my beautiful angel fish died, she was buried in the soil at Rastus' feet. This was a very hearty, healthy plant.

When I moved to my home and finally had a yard big enough to accommodate more than a potted plant, I made the decision to plant Rastus in the ground, knowing that I would watch him reach high towards the sky and blossom to a beautiful, strong and brave little corn plant.

And he did. He grew over twelve feet tall, branch off into two separate stalks and grew leaves that were broad, shiny and beautifully marked with bright yellow stripes. It was the kind of yellow that was my mother's favorite. Not lemon, (too wimpy), not lime, (too greeny), but brilliant, vivid yellow, like the kind of yellow you see on the bumblebee who frequents the tiny white flowers Rastus graced me with in the spring.

And those flowers smelled so sweet, and like a melody the fragrance drifted through the air and formed a bouquet around anyone, human and non-human alike, who came into it's presence. This delicate scent only graced once a year, and lasted only a week, and so the scarcity of it made it all the more special, something to revel in, enjoy and look forward to.

And the bees loved those flowers too, and the hummingbirds. And the squirrels loved to climb the strong, slender stalks from which the big, flat leaves burst forth, leaves that served as hammocks for small lizards to laze upon while sunning themselves in the hot Florida sun.

I enjoyed watching Rastus grow in the corner of my yard. My mother had said, upon her deathbed, that when she got to heaven, she would send me white flowers so that I would know she had arrived. Every spring, with the advent of those tiny white flowers on Rastus' sweet face, I knew she was reminding me that she, indeed, had arrived in heaven.

There are forces of nature that are so vehement, so intense, so extreme, that it is impossible to exaggerate their ferocity. This was the case when Hurricane Frances visited upon us such cruelty that we were hard pressed to find any redemption. With deep sadness I watched while she tore the leaves off of Rastus and left naught but two bare stalks reaching helplessly to the sky. My poor little corn plant looked for all the world like a starving victim, left in the desert to perish and reaching heavenward in a gesture of pleading, begging to be snatched home.

Two weeks later, Hurricane Jeanne finished Rastus off, breaking the stalks and leaving shards and shreds.

We took a saw and cut through the tattered remains, and waited to see what would happen.

Enter Alexander Michael Rivera. A cute little baby boy born during Hurricane Frances. Our first grandchild, a grandson. He came into the world at a time when our world was being torn asunder. His arrival was much-anticipated, lauded and heralded a new generation of gentle souls who will be carefully counseled to care deeply about the earth and her inhabitants, all of them.

I was thinking about what kind of tree to buy to plant in commemoration of Alexander's birth when a little miracle took place. Buds began to form on Rastus' crippled stalks. Tiny ones at first, covered with little parasites that threatened to kill this little living thing before it could be strong enough to survive. But I gently sprayed the buds with a little bubbly water (nematodes hate soapy water) and the buds began to thrive. They are numerous and strong and it's clear that Rastus will come back stronger and bigger and braver and more beautiful than ever before.

I will watch it grow, and I will watch Alex grow, and I will pray that both of them will be a source of food, shelter and comfort for all manner of wildlife who come into their presence. Like Rastus, it is my hope that Alex will grace the world with wonderful auras and beautiful flowers and that together, they will prove that nothing, not even the forces of nature, can destroy a spirit.

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