On a day like this, I find hope in the tumbleweed – more specifically the Rose of Jericho. Much of the following is taken from some writing I did for a chapter in the book, Incomplete Streets, where I imagined how ideas and resistance might persist and spread under oppressive conditions.
The Rose of Jericho is a tumbleweed located in regions of harsh dry conditions in North Africa and the Middle East. When there is water, this plant grows into a bush with the height of six inches. When the water dries up, the plant curls up into a tight, brittle, dry ball with seeds laden in the sheltered interior and then, the tumbleweed lets go of the earth. At this point, the tumbleweed appears for all intents and purposes to be dead – a dried up shriveled ball of nothing alive. This tumbleweed gets blown by the desert winds in random directions and travels without a predetermined destination until the tumbleweed happens upon the life-supporting conditions of water. Upon discovery of water, the Rose of Jericho suddenly springs back into life and as the seemingly dead plant quickly soaks in the water to unfurl itself with lush green arms and scatters its seeds. These seeds blossom into new Roses of Jericho that then get blown into unknown directions.
On a day like this, I understand what it means for our nation to elect a demagogue who revels in the domination of others and promises to eradicate the positive aspects of our nation’s first black president. That almost certainly, the next four years will be filled with heartache and hostile conditions for many of the values I cherish.
In this way, I think of the tumbleweed. To survive hostile conditions and to hold onto our values based on love and justice in resistance to domination, I find hope in the tumbleweed. This hope is not based on a naiveté that there won’t be consequences at the national level – whether it’s social justice, health care reform, voter rights, the Supreme Court, action on climate change, militarization of the police, gaping wealth inequalities… To think of the tumbleweed is to know that our values and hopes can be carried in the seemingly dead tumbleweeds in random directions where the seeds can blossom into new Roses of Jericho under welcoming conditions and subsequently, each reiteration of tumbleweed can spread again.
In one example, the first bike lane in New York City (and the United States) was constructed in 1896, but then harsh conditions ensued for bicycling with the rise of the car culture. Yet the seeds of bicycling persisted over time so that despite a lengthy journey without nourishment, the next bike lane blossomed in 1980, a gap of over 80 years. Not only can a Rose of Jericho persist and spread under harsh conditions, it can also survive long durations of time. What seemed to have died, can resurrect in the most unexpected spaces and times. This is what I hold onto, that the last eight years wasn’t just a waste. That the good (and bad) of the last eight years lives in us all and will persist even as there are substantial consequences from this election.
On a day like this, I remember when I received the Rose of Jericho in the mail a number of years ago from a German friend, Nadine, who had volunteered in the same city of Kazakhstan where I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Intrigued, my friends and I examined the dry, seemingly dead lump of tumbleweed. Then we added water and watched as minutes later, the tumbleweed began to envelope the room with a powerful aroma that transported me into a tree grove. Then, slowly but surely, the Rose of Jericho unwrapped its arms and came back to life with a vivid greenness that seemed impossible.