Invisible Vines

When I bought a hanging pot of pansies last October, it was to replace a broken bird feeder that squirrels kept raiding. We moved the bird feeder to a more rodent-proof spot but were left with an empty porch hook—a spot for hanging flowers, I decided. 

The pansies were dark purple and glorious. Their pot overflowed in happy green vines, so heavy that it took both hands for me to hang it. We could see the plant from our dining area window, and I was pleased with my purchase. The tag attached to the pot said, “Cold weather friendly,” and cooler days approached. The pansies announced their royal splendor daily as the trees behind them, along our creek, turned tired and lost their withering leaves. 

When we had unusually cold November nights below freezing, I remembered to carry the pansies inside. They slept on the mat by our back door. I kept the pansies thriving until sometime in early December when I forgot to carry them in one freezing night. The flowers were thoroughly wilted the next morning, the vines like washed-out, green spaghetti hanging limp from the pot. A day later, the vines were brown. Some vital, pansy lifeline had been frozen. We enjoyed them for a few weeks, I consoled myself. 

Freezing weather came again, this time for a multi-day cold snap. I left the pansies outside because, of course, it didn’t matter. They remained dead and hanging, a monument to the last days of fall. One evening at dinner, my husband and I talked about how the pansies were “done” and we might as well toss them. I put that chore on my mental to-do list . . . but not near the top. 

Several days later, much warmer weather came. It rained. Despite the dip into winter temperatures, it was still technically fall, and we live in Tennessee, where cold doesn’t stay long. After looking quite dead for over a week, the pansies decided to amaze us. Green stalks popped out of the dirt—a bright, healthy green that laughed at calendar and solstice. It turns out pansies can surprise you. 

Over the next few days, more green appeared, soon followed by new purple blossoms. I had no idea pansies could behave like this. Hilarious purple attitude erupted. Each morning I’d look out the window, eager to see what trick these blossoms would pull next. More swirls of petal unfurled. The pansies were defiant. They were jubilant. They were pleased with their own magic trick. They said, “Not dead yet!” like the knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. 

Now the pansies have a new look: vibrant green and purple on top, surrounded by a hoop skirt of dead brown vines. My husband made the gentle suggestion, “The pansies would look nice again if that old part was cut off.” I agreed, but I haven’t done anything about his mild complaint. Why haven’t I walked out there with the scissors?

I realized that I like the stark contrast of life and death in that hanging pot. Resurrection is right there, a living metaphor of nature bringing new life to a creature that had frozen—dead to all signs of health and growth. I love that my pansy plant is back. I especially love that ring of brown, brittle decay that hangs below all the new growth. The pansies show their story, wear their pain like an upside-down crown of thorns. The plant is botanical art, a living surprise. Its parts don’t match—incredibly grim next to incredibly alive. The two-tone vines are beautiful when dripping with fresh rain. “I have been all these things,” the pansies say. 

I see the juxtaposition of suffering and beauty in that hanging pot, and I see myself. 

Several times I have felt “done”—sure that I would never find that person to marry, that I would never be able to have a child, that my depression had overshadowed any future usefulness for my life. I felt sure that my anger would swallow me whole. My pain would be too great. I feared that dead vines would inhibit, or entirely prevent, my future growth. 

But repeatedly, new life has surprised me: a new relationship, a new calling, a literal new life in my body that grew into my daughter. “Not dead yet” is sometimes what growth feels like. Healing can begin with the smallest indication of something new, a small green hope. 

Even if others can’t see rings of dead brown vines around my feet, I know they’re still there. I carry a visceral record of time and experience past. I look at that plant and realize that invisible vines form a miraculous contrast that makes continued life on the surface even more beautiful. The pansies keep growing.

Amy Ziegler has a Ph.D. in English and taught composition and literature for 14 years. She also served as an editor for a research center in Washington, DC. More recently, Amy has been published in The Well and Motherwell. Amy currently lives with her husband and eight-year-old daughter in the suburbs of Chattanooga, Tennessee.