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Kelly Eisenbrand

Creative Nonfiction
April 16, 2015
Exploratory Writing
Succulent is a tender word.
But fleshy offshoots of Dudleya edulis are tender only when the plant’s health is poor.
The Royal Garden Society describes the pointed, cylindrical limbs of Dudleya edulis as
“fingers.” When overwatered, under-watered or diseased, the pinked points of each fingertip
turn brown, shrivel and fall off. What’s left is a perfect circular callus. It is as if the first “joint”
had been cut off and then cauterized. Furthermore, a healthy specimen should feel firm and
waxy—this creates a humid microhabitat around the plant by reducing exposure to air moment
(and thus evaporation). A succulent lives in a lush sub-world of its own amid the harshest
environments in the world. When hardship rots Dudleya edulis from the inside, it gives up and
submits to the barren landscape: its fingers go limp, which is obvious. How else can you ever let
A healthy Dudleya edulis dies every year. We don’t tell our children about Hans
Christian Anderson’s red shoes anymore, because the story is too depressing. As a warning to all
the lazy, silly, vain girls, God made the girl in the red shoes dance forever. She could not enter a
home or a church, and when thorns “tore at her skin,” a soldier took pity and cut off her feet. The
nubs healed, and though the girl was left with two blunt stalks where her ankles once were, she
was grateful. Still the shoes would not let her enter the dwelling of any loving being. In reward
for her earnest prayers, the girl was taken to Heaven, “where the shoes were never spoken of

This is the quintessential story of the perennial: life is no remedy to real hardship. Life is
just time to spend, and time is exposure to conditions. The closest modern adaptation of The Red
Shoes parallels just one part of the story: we try to get home again; we click our heels and pray; it
is a journey that ends in transcending between worlds (in escape, back into sleeping). The
perennial Dudleya edulis is unembarrassed about taking refuge in death. It cannot be shamed for
rubbing its red tips together and taking its place under the soil. It does not differentiate between
release and relief—maybe the horrors of mortals are the fairytale endings for perennials, which
will be born again in the winter.
Maybe the only comfort is rebirth, or the consciousness reawakening in transformed
In its natural environment, Dudleya edulis grows on the underside of sheet rocks. It has
shallow roots (deep soil is too wet), and if water sits on the skin too long, the plant bloats, which
causes soft rot. Alternaria is a fungal pestilence, and when succulents are overwatered, the roots
fall prey to this fungus, which feeds on the waterlogged, festering tubers. Too much water
induces early decay, in succulents. Dudleya edulis grows in such a way that excess water runs
off. This month, 760 people have died of heatstroke in the UK so far; this more or less happens
every year. People learn to live in the cold and rain so long that they die in the sun. Adaptation
locks a creature to context.
Tenderness is proneness. We are full of juice, and we turn our faces to the light. We
inhabit out sub-worlds, which insulate us from the harshness. The truth is, we are ill-adapted
outside of ourselves, in the end.