Off the Board, Opinion

Long live Herbert

Herbert came into my life sometime around 2018, a short, wilting thing from the reject corner at Home Depot. He led an unfortunate existence right from the start: About half of the people I told about him misheard me and thought I had named him “Pervert,” which… no. After some trial and error, I found him the perfect corner. I haphazardly installed a hook in my ceiling—which to my utter surprise has remained intact—and had a solid routine of watering and rotating him so all his leaves could photosynthesize. By the start of the pandemic, Herbert nearly reached the floor.

In January 2021, I came to Montreal after finally receiving my study permit, which, as many other international students know, was beleaguered by a toxic concoction of standard bureaucracy and the pandemic. Crossing the border in my parents’ car, Canadian officials peered into my many boxes—random mugs I had taken from home because I liked their weight, Birkenstocks that were deeply unnecessary in Canadian winter, books that I would probably never read, and a single struggling plant (hi, Herbert).

Full disclosure: Herbert had seen better days. The night before, I had mistakenly left him in the car in Upstate New York.  I was stressed about my move and forgot that below-freezing temperatures are not great conditions for a house plant used to a cushy life hanging above a radiator. By the time I discovered Herbert in the morning, most of his stems had frozen and turned a kind of limp, shit brown that was rather pathetic.

As it turns out, importing plants into Canada is subject to scrutiny. Upon inspecting my belongings, a rather dubious border guard asked, “Exactly why are you trying to bring a dead plant into Canada?” The clear implication was that I should surrender Herbert. I explained, somewhat embarrassed and to my mother’s great amusement, that the plant had been quite alive when my journey began two days prior and that I’d really like to keep him if at all possible, due to silly sentimental attachment. Upon interrogation, I assured her that the plant was, in fact, from Home Depot and not laden with any contaminated soil or invasive species

After about 45 minutes, Herbert was allowed into Canada. Once I entered my new apartment, he was placed on a window ledge and given a rather drastic haircut. Although nearly dead, there were about five small leaves that made the cut. 

This plant has seen a lot of my life—college applications, relationships, sick days, diagnoses, an ill-fated road trip, and now, my first apartment. Rather symbolically,  Herbert is like a cockroach: He refuses to die. I don’t say this lightly—I apparently lost my green thumb in the move and have systematically killed every plant I have bought since coming to Montreal (sorry, Linus II). Notably, Herbert never really regrew either; even after a repotting, much experimentation with light and water levels, and a consultation from my much more plant-trustworthy roommate, he totals about eight inches of foliage on a good day. 

You might be wondering what the point of this story is. So far, the takeaways have been that Lily gives her plants old man names and abuses them. While both things are true, it’s probably time to say something sappy. Herbert has taken on a comforting role in my life. I have always been someone who seeks constants in a world of unknowns, and his resilience has been unmatched. I take great pleasure in my routine of caring for Herbert and especially in getting to see a (now very) little green in the otherwise desolate Montreal winter.

God help me when this plant finally kicks the bucket.

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