A Millennial Guide to Succulents and Slow Afternoons

A Millennial Guide to Succulents and Slow Afternoons

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a millennial in possession of a dwelling, be it an apartment or house (because they bravely sacrificed avocado toast for a mortgage), a condo or loft or refurbished Volkswagen bus they bought on Craigslist because they read the first half of Into the Wild, must be the owner of at least one succulent.

Yeshiva University student Rebecca Kerzner wrote a column this February for her college newspaper, The Observer, titled “Millennial Passion for Succulents Explained”.

“They are everywhere now: clothing store displays, office desks, living rooms, even illustrated on greeting cards,” she writes. “This ‘succulent mania’ has swept our millennial nation by storm.”

She’s right.

In other news, the current U.S. President withdrew from the Paris Accord in June. That agreement, originally signed by 195 countries, meant a promise to fight climate change by enforcing policies that slow down global temperature increase.

I fell into a soul recession in the days preceding and subsequent to the President’s choice to abandon the rest of the modern world. I felt embarrassed and waded into fatalism. I sensed dread about the future of this world, about the paths my progeny would walk and air my descendants might breathe.

I’m not here to argue about global warming details, or here to convert climate change skeptics into believers.

I want to testify and propose: that we need to love the earth more, and this awareness might start with succulents. And creeks.

A couple of weeks ago I had a morning free with my two-and-a-half-year-old son.

“What do you want to do?” I asked him, expecting his zany reply du jour, something unlikely such as “Ride a fire truck.”

But his response wasn’t unfeasible.

“Go on a hike, dad?” he asked.

And so we did. We stuffed his tiny backpack full of fruit snacks and lovies and went to a park that serves as one of many trailheads on a densely wooded trail system concurrent to a creek in my city. We meandered down the path, stopping to inspect every ant and puddle he noticed. Eventually, we made our way down to a pebbled outcropping that allowed us to get next to the creek.

“Throw rocks, dad?” he asked, and of course we did.

He liked the “plop” sound they made as they hit the water, and he stared with amazement when I showed him a magic trick: skipping stones across the surface. Some ducks - gorgeous mallards with green head feathers - crash landed in our area, and they played amidst one another, taking off then falling with style again and again.

“I love that,” my boy said out of nowhere. He was commenting on the whole thing: the trees, dirt, water, and rocks. The ants and spiders and tadpoles and ducks.

I loved it too, and it struck me that it was the first time in a while I’d let myself rest in nature. I snapped a few photos but then put away my phone. I spent time just being in the green scene around me. I breathed slowly, listened to chirps closely, saw tiny creatures I normally wouldn’t slow down enough to perceive. I watched my son, wide-eyed, taking in sights of creation that flooded his senses.

On our walk back, I thought about the clamors of our world and my own vacillating sadness. The President’s decision to bail on the Paris Accord is just one note in the cacophonic orchestra of controversy and terror we’ve felt as humans lately, and like many, I’ve struggled to rise above the murk.

While succulents and creeks are mere speckles in the realm of nature, they can play a significant role in helping to heal.

Kerzner attributes “succulent mania” to the “beauty, intricacy, and symmetry” of the plants. That’s fair; they are pretty dope. But I think the craze points to something more -- perhaps a practical truth that digs through humus and topsoil and into the richer layers of what moves and salves us.

Succulents spring from the earth. And, while they might be among the simplest and easiest-to-care-for plants, they’re living creation, and people are stockpiling them like bottles of Evian circa December 1999. I think there’s hope in that: a trend being about something green that produces oxygen.

And the creek, too. Sanctums of creation, even small ones surrounded by the city, are there as a refuge when we need them. We’ve just got to go.

I’m under no illusion that buying a few succulents and taking a nature walk every now and then is going to save the world. We’ve got to do more to help steward what Pope Francis calls “our Common Home.”

But I think a more thorough, appreciative, and active relationship with our world is a good place to start.

And it could help save us.

So I’ll attempt to plant that herb garden I’ve been putting off, and I’ll toss a few plants in my cart next time I’m at Trader Joe’s. And when my son asks to go to the hospital (seriously, it’s kind of a weird thing that he asks to go to the hospital so much), I’ll suggest we take another hike, maybe find a pond somewhere.


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