Along the side of the house I grew up in, we had a row of ferns. They have so thoroughly ingrained in me my definition of “fern” that seeing the more common Christmas fern, with its gloss and its simple fronds, makes me recoil with the sense that something is subtly but definitely Not Right.
This is my fern, I think, after some searching: the marginal shield fern, Dryopteris marginalis, soft to the touch and not a stark, shining green.
They are not impossible to kill, but they are far from fragile, natives of my Appalachian forests and prone to becoming shin-high carpet between trees. They love the shelter of other plants and rocky ledges, happy in the shade and the damp soil.
They are not blooming plants, nor are they quick-lived plants. They are patient, hardy enough to outlast temporary extremities in temperature and moisture, able to survive even snow-dumping winters with aplomb.
From these ferns, as a child, I learned how to seek the shade for relief and how to unfurl all my many limbs into whatever shapes and strengths they could take. With these ferns, as a child, I rolled and played and dug and grew.
And from these ferns now, as an adult, I relearn the importance of patience, of hardiness, of receptivity to sun and shadow, to water and soil. With these ferns, as an adult, I am rooting and stretching, unfurling anew, and welcoming the slow nourishment freely given by the world.