On persistence: inspiration from the garden

“Man is a bundle of relations, a knot of roots…”

I was thinking of this line from Ralph Waldo Emerson as I pulled up morning glory from my vegetable garden today. Insidious stuff, morning glory: it was winding through a patch of chard that I’m cultivating for summer salads and side dishes, stealing water, soil and nutrients, choking off my dinner supply.  So I summoned my own evolutionary advantages, and used my opposable thumbs to rip out as much of the vine as I could.

I give it credit, though: morning glory is persistent. “Where there’s a will, there’s a way” could be its motto. It sends runners underground to seek out new sources of enrichment, like scouts sent to infiltrate and quietly plunder enemy territory. ISIS has nothing on morning glory. It can sneak in undetected and send up offshoots of itself anywhere, before you even know it’s there.

Looking at the knot of roots in my satchel, I am impressed by the strength, reach, and complexity of the network this plant has created. We humans marvel at our own creations – the aqueducts of Rome, for example – but one look here reveals the truth: nature did it first, and better.

The knot has another resonance for me. This line by Emerson — “Man is a bundle of relations, a knot of roots…” was used by my great grandmother, Ruth Beard McDowell, on the opening page of her book about our family history. In a chapter titled, “Our Branch Takes Root in California,” she describes how her grandfather Elihu Burritt Beard, decided to come west from his native Indiana in 1849. That fateful decision set the course for my life, certainly. And it’s that kind of decision that comes up again and again in turning point stories.

A turning point almost always involves some sort of decision. In interviews, people say things like, “From that point on, things changed,” or “I decided that this time was going to be different.” It’s the decision that makes the difference, that sets the turning point apart from say, a daydream or a half-hearted attempt at change.  It’s when the “someday” in “someday I will…” arrives. It’s the point where it no longer matters what came before, or even what’s coming. The decision has been made: to reach out, to branch out, to grow, to seek new territory.

After that it takes persistence, a willingness to keep reaching, keep growing, and keep going no matter what obstacles may be in our path. For this, perhaps we can take a lesson and some inspiration from morning glory.  Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

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