Both Are Main

I finished reading Michiko Aoyama’s What You Are Looking For Is In the Library (2020) a couple of weeks ago, just as we in SW Virginia were crossing over into regreening season. The book was a rewarding digression at the end of an otherwise steeply-stepped semester, steep due in part to a heavy reading load for an awards committee I agreed to serve on, and due in part to the added-on role of interim PhD program director, a ‘yes’ whose reassigned time pays forward in Fall 2024. Structurally, What You Are…Library is a lightly interstitched episodic, with each of the chapters following a character from their life’s path maze to a local library where an aloof but intuitive librarian abides serendipity as a finding aid for recommending books. The recommendations are usually a combination of the patron’s at-directed line of inquiry and the around-explored one-off, which, in each case, turns out to deliver greater meaning than expected. WYALFIITL was an enjoyable read, and I appreciated especially the hodology of it, in that it is a pathfinding book whose characters are on mundane journey’s, negotiating the small uncertainties that come with career paths and life’s choices. She also felts small gifts, handing them off as pin-crafted tokens; each of these elicits added meaning, as the wayfinding plays out.

I don’t have an immediate, obvious connection in mind bridging this passage to anything I am working on, but in this excerpt, Aoyama captures the interwined character—for plants—of the aboveground and belowground. I was reminded of it while at Compost Fest a couple of weeks ago. While on the native plants tour, the guide said something like, “Trees are people, too.” It wasn’t such an outlandish or unexpected humanistic refrain, and yet with this passage from Aoyama in mind, we have what we need to fathom trees as more-than-human:

The third chapter is entitled “Below the Ground,” with subsections such as How do worms work? Where do roots grow? How much of a plant is in its roots? I find this chapter deeply fascinating. As I gaze at an illustration of a tree and its root system, with the earth the dividing line between what is above and what lies below, I am struck by a thought: most of the time we humans only look at the flowers or fruit of a plant, because we live aboveground. We switch our attention to belowground only when the roots have a particular interest for us, as in the case of sweet potatoes or carrots. Yet from a plant’s perspective, aboveground and belowground are equally important and in perfect balance.

Humans only see what suits them most, and make that their main focus, but for plants…

Both are main.

Michiko Aoyama, What You Are Looking For Is In the Library (2020), p. 95-96