The last photo I took of our cat Bo (aka Beau Bo or Bubby) is the one where he’s stretching to meet the new palm, Chamadorea plumosa, a thoughtful gift from my friend Tom who is now taking good care of the piano.
Cats are known for their curiosity, but this felt more like hospitality. Maybe Bo understood that the plant was a bit stressed after having recently moved from a large tropical nursery surrounded by hundreds of other plant friends, protected under a shade cloth, and lovingly tended. I’d like to think that Bo was reassuring the lacy palm that they’d landed in a good spot and would receive just what they needed here, from him and others.
Indoor plants have to adapt in creative ways for their survival. They must adjust to artificial light, unpredictable breezes (one day the window is wide open and the next it isn’t), odd vibrations and sound waves, aromas from the kitchen, odors from cleaning products, and a myriad of other inputs that they mostly avoid if planted deep in the Earth, say on a hillside next to a healthy creek with the perfect dose of natural light, air flow, and connections to all types of life via roots, branches, and tendrils. Maybe indoor plants benefit from more than human caretaking.
Nine years ago, my sister brought Bo to us after he’d shown up at her house uninvited with a broken tail, torn ear, and a wild demeanor. He was hungry and tired of living on the streets and heard from other strays that my sister’s home was a safe haven. At the time, she had too many cats so we were the next in line and happily took him in.
Bo was part Russian Blue and all outdoor cat. He was interminably tired, cuddly with the dogs, and conversational on topics concerning treats and truck maintenance taking place in “his” garage. We called him the foreman and sought his paw of approval when it came to painting, cooking (especially fish), and folding fresh-from-the-dryer laundry. We came to appreciate his direct approach and accepted that as far as cat manners go, he had none and wouldn’t adopt them anytime soon.
In his older years, Bo practiced plant communication and played an important role on the small piece of land that we tend here. I’d find him sleeping in the dappled light of the lavender jacaranda, next to golden yarrow, and near milkweed where monarch butterflies laid their eggs. But the majority of his time outside was spent face to face, eyes closed in deep meditation, with Nepeta cataria or catnip. This was a special relationship. He was in love and felt love and seemed happy and devoted in their presence. Total bliss.
The fact that he returned to these same plants again and again leads me to believe that he’d nurtured a deep relationship with them and was downloading their messages and then translating them into his own language, which honestly sounded a lot like ancient throat singing composed of sustained meows and thoughtful silences. When he sauntered inside, whatever goodness and messages he had, he would share it with whomever was open to receive it, including the indoor plants. What if he was connecting them to the soil and elements through his unique vocalizations? What if he was their roots, tendrils, sun, and breeze?
Beau Bo’s absence is like losing an essential part of what makes up our family, and yet, the healthy catnip plant is there and with it, the memory of him. I take a sprig and inhale its sweetness and feel a sense of calm. Bo knew exactly how to be in the world. He practiced deep listening to the plants and then shared those teachings with those who needed it, including the indoor plant kin. Today, I open every window and door to let the breeze and birdsong stream through in gratitude for the gift of Bo’s presence in our lives and his teaching to spend time learning from plants and sharing with others.