Life and Basil

First published in March 9, 2018

Life and Basil

Today I feel completely exhausted and discouraged. That is normal, I am a person, people feel that way from times to times, it’s in our nature. It happens in the same way in which we might wake up in the morning and have a feeling of intense well-being in which bad things motivate us to pursue good ones: the yin and yang of living.

There is no reason and a million reasons. But I am not going to go into the reasons and non-reasons.—Guess what? I am going to do exactly what I said I was not doing 2.334 seconds ago. How do I know this precise measure of time? Of course I don’t, I am just messing with you, in a playful way, I like the concept of precise numbers.—Reasons, reasons, non-reasons. I always try to explain, I always try to understand because if I understand then I can do something about it, and that is tremendously empowering. As you know, the twenty-first century is all about the empowering the individual, at least in Madonna’s songs. Oh, wait! That was a concept from the twentieth century, the twenty-first is more about surviving a nuclear holocaust—yet again—and global warming, and trade wars.

Anyway, back to the two reasons for my exhaustion and discouragement. Only two main reasons; reason number 1: life is like that. Like a sinusoidal wave, it has its ups and downs; happiness, unhappiness and everything in between is dictated by frequency rather than by anything else. And at this precise moment, the instant that is the present but in some indeterminably short while will be the past before anybody can figure out that it is indeed in a different realm of time, my wave is in a trough. Or something like that. Every day I wonder if things have true objective reality or depend solely on what deranged evil monkey is leading the news cycle or how much solar irradiance my patch of earth receives in the first thirty-five minutes since dawn.—If you wondered, I am channeling Proust with the long sentences. Don’t read him; he is much worse. His sentences can run for half a page until you don’t know what the long sentence was about.

Reason number 2: the ten plagues of Egypt. Actually, just two plagues, and not of Egypt but of basil. Or the seven plagues of evil Joseph? Or the seventy-two plagues of a Deranged Evil Monkey? No, no, no, just three. But I’ll get to those a little later because they need context; they would still be plagues, but people would not understand the truly plaguefull nature of these objects-subjects. No, nope, not, nothing external, and nothing you can extract from your newsfeed. The reason number 2 is the two, or possibly three plagues that my basil plants contracted during the last couple of weeks. But for that to make sense, I have to tell you about my elephant basil that how it lives its precarious existence close to the windows in my dining room.

It all started with a packet of seeds. Appropriate, the beginning, and not poetically, but quite literally, the seeds of this story. A packet of seeds that has been opened, tried and failed, and then passed months in the darkness of a multipurpose storage room. AwHus thought that they would not germinate and I felt challenged, so I prepared the dirt, fed the dirt, poked the dirt, wet the dirt, and finally spilled upon it a cascade of all the old seeds that I had been saving since we had been living in Qatar. There! Something ought to grow. After all, terrestrial microorganisms can survive in space for a while, I don’t see why a seed cannot survive in an open packet. I put the seeded vessel outside to benefit from the abundant energy we receive from the sun and waited.

Every day I stepped outside to water that dirt, to look for signs of life. Before the week was over, I could see the first seedling sprouting to prove me right. Ha-ha! My life had meaning, I was the mother or a least the proud nursemaid of a plant! Not long after that, seedlings were sprouting on every corner of the planter, seeming to sing of new beginnings, stretching their little leaves. Sun! Sun! Life! Life! I thought about them as creatures awakening from hibernation or radiant souls returning from death, shaking their green heads, contorting their flexible stems this way and that as they grew taller. I felt a thrill of pleasure; each unfolding leave had been so many molecules of CO2 in the atmosphere, but now they were a fragrant oval full of tastiness and chlorophyll.—Take that global climate change!—Whenever I watered them, there was this sweet and slightly bitter fragrance; if I shook the planter to dislodge some fruit flies, it was like aromatherapy. We took to calling them “the babies,” and every evening when coming back from work, AwHus would stop to contemplate them and breath in their appetizing scent. Like Chronos, he was looking forward to the time of the harvest. Me too; not much of a Rhea, am I?

“The babies” looked so happy and vigorous outside that I left them there, enjoying the milder weather of late winter in the Arabian peninsula. I was vigilant, but I didn’t see anything unusual with my plants, they just grew bigger, greener, more fragrant until the middle of week three. Then, during the night, we had a small dust storm and things began to change. Leaves were covered in dust, dust washed away leaving strange and tortuous silver veins, while flies swarmed and small holes started appearing. In the beginning, it was somewhat mild, and we thought we had a chemical attack from the products the gardeners used on our lawn, perhaps time would take care of it? In a few days, it became much worse, so I decided to consult the source of most wisdom—not Google, there are other search engines out there—and horror and shame! We had symptoms for at least three of the most common pests that affect basil: caterpillars from owlet moths, leafminers, and whiteflies. Good job, me. My plants were doomed.

Incongruous as it might sound, I started to feel sorry for myself; I couldn’t remember a time in which I had not done something good that had not ultimately gone to waste. The infestation on the basil seemed another confirmation, a cosmic message: “Woman, thou shall flop belly up and die, we have cursed you, and before our power, you shall remain forever helpless.” Can you believe I cried about that? I did. But it was not about that, it was about so many life changes, about the general injustice of the world and other sad things that are not worth remembering now.

Then again, it is just basil; I can buy another seed packet for $0.99. The next time I am keeping it indoors.

UPDATE: Fast foward to 2020 and I am happy to say that I have succesfully raised many generations of elephant basil and now I know to keep it indoors to deprive the evil pests of their feast.

Triumph after adversity!