Wednesday, Jan. 25, 9:30 a.m.: It had been a good four weeks since I last stepped foot in the Skinner Greenhouse office. It looked about as disheveled and dusty as it had four weeks prior, but there was one noticeable difference––a little green bird was no longer there. His cage was gone too. My boss found him at the bottom of the cage one day over break. He was 18 years old. As a journalist, I’ll admit I have pre-written obituaries for the eventual passing of Denzel Washington and the Philly Phanatic, but this particular loss of life came out of nowhere for me and I was in no means prepared for it.
For as long as I had been there, the greenhouse had two birds, one named Mel and the other named OB (Other Bird). Even during my interview process, those two were integral, as they were screeching during most of it. The truth is that after the first week working at the greenhouse I had completely forgotten the birds’ names––I eventually just thought of them as the one that could whistle back to me and the stupid one that unapologeticly wanted to bite my finger. The stupid one was Mel.
Now that Mel is gone, we just have Other Bird, now alone in a plant world. When I came in on that first day after break, Other Bird was sitting on top of his cage with the door open. They liked to let him out once in a while so Other Bird could look out across his small domain without any pesky bars getting in the way. I think they were treating Other Bird better than usual that day after the passing of his close friend and neighbor. He even got to sit on a shoulder for a bit. I guess you gotta treat a bird right while it’s mourning.
Jan. 28: Once in a while, the greenhouse gives me a task that I have absolutely no frame of reference on how to do. This was one of those days. That morning, I was handed a few gym towels and a bucket of soapy water and was told to clean two large plants in the library. Apparently, some of them have parasitic bugs that you can remove with about the same tools as an amateur car wash. So, as requested, I walked into the library and started scraping a wet towel over the potted palm by the infodesk. I learned that day that cleaning a plant is a task you can get paid to do and also that you can just walk into the library and start cleaning their plants, and nobody will question it. I have to admit, after a while, cleaning each of the individual fronds of the potted palm began to feel like an intimate experience between me and the plant, sort of like consoling your horse after she lost the county fair.
The second plant in the library I cleaned that day was the rubber tree by the window. It was a bit of a challenge because the plant was very much covered in scales––these little bugs that look like pencil dots and just kind of sit on the plant like barnacles. Cleaning them off felt a lot more like the work of a doctor curing a diseased patient. Maybe I can finally change my title to tree surgeon. I’d like to think this plant was quite thankful for my help, and if he could, he would send me a mid-range fountain pen with a handwritten note: “Thanks Doc.”
Lastly, I’d like to share that I have expanded my plant operation to two. I bought a bamboo plant and have named it Mambo. When I saw Mambo, I was hoping he would do the thing that feral bamboo does where it just grows really fast and then suddenly I’d have a beautiful centerpiece for the dorm, but it’s been two weeks and very little has happened. Mambo appears to be very well trained. My other plant, Lottie, did not take the trip back from home particularly well and lost some stems because of it, but she’s recovered just fine now. While I have lost a bird friend this past week, I have gained a pretty solid plant. Mel, I’ll see you down the road. I hope you’re biting every finger in the bird after life.