This past fall, as the nights got colder, I took from the greenhouse a tiny Lantana camara plant, sniffing its sweet single umbel, and placed it in front of the narrow window in my dorm room. There it sat in its miniature flower pot, and for a while we were happy. But the days were becoming short. The sun’s rays shone down at a pathetic angle. The nights passed, petals fell, and I cursed the draft I couldn’t keep from creeping in. Soon the plant had withered completely, and I hung my head as, in my second failure as a botany major (the first one was worse, as the victim was a supposedly-indestructible cactus and left me with no excuses), I tossed the whole plastic deathbed into the trash.
So, on that first bright morning here, I stood wondering if Lantana had come back to haunt me. But it was there only to remind me that I was in the tropics, on the equator, where flowers bloom year round and where this sweet-smelling species could thrive with no help at all from me. I woke up.
It’s true that this city is so vastly different from home that it’s nearly impossibly to forget how far I’ve come while walking down its streets. Light-headedness and hot, dry skin remind me that I’m just below the sun, 9,300ft above sea level, in the highest capital city in the world. I look to the mountains on either side of me, and to the perfect, snow-covered peak that is Cotopaxi, and I know that I sit in the valley between the eastern and western ranges of the volcanically-active Ecuadorian Andes. But, sometimes, I forget. It doesn’t take much time sitting in a sterile classroom or staring at a screen to trick me, to whisk me back to the familiar. It’s a frightening thing, and it often feels like a waste of time in a strange and beautiful country, but luckily the condition is reversed just as quickly as it comes on. All it takes is a blooming hibiscus bush, or an iridescent-green hummingbird sipping from a morning glory, or a cluster of Lantana camara flowers, to remind me where I am.
For the next months, I want to remember that I’m here (I’m in Ecuador!), and so I will be outside every second I can. I will know the air and the flowers and the birds and the strange, new tropical trees, so that as long as I have them to look at, I never forget where I am.
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<p><span style="color: rgb(29, 29, 29); font-family: Arial, Verdana, sans-serif; font-size: 12px; line-height: normal; background-color: rgb(237, 237, 237);">Grace is a junior at Connecticut College with a major in botany. She grew up on the coast of Maine and looks forward to leaving its harsh winter for the equatorial Galapagos Islands. Grace’s interests include paleontology, backpacking, folk music, and fermented foods. Join her as she heads to Ecuador for the semester!</span></p>