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  • Pearl J. Park

Serial Plant Killer Emerges From Isolation Hugging Trees

Reposted from A-Doc

I’ve killed nearly every house plant I’ve ever tried to raise. Though I come from a lineage of farmers on my mother’s side, I was an urban dweller who knew little about tending to plants. For women of my Korean grandmother’s generation, gardening and foraging for wild edibles were a part of their daily lives. But I grew up in the American suburbs of manicured lawns and trimmed hedges. I rarely touched the soil. I bought vegetables from stores in plastic bags—the ones that will probably take 2,000 years to disintegrate.

I watched the skies clear over Busan. Photo credit: Pearl J. Park

During the COVID-19 shutdown in South Korea, the second country to get hit with a critical mass of cases, I reflected on how I have been living so disconnected from nature as I watched the skies clear. I was a part of the problem. And surely, this virus was a call-to-action from Mother Earth.

From left to right, my great grandmother, my sister, my grandmother, me, and my brother. My great grandmother and grandmother raised me (bald and center), my brother, and sister in Korea. Photo credit: Pearl J. Park

In Busan, the second largest city in Korea, where I currently live, I see women picking wild plants in the mountains—something my grandmother used to do. I am reminded how my current lifestyle, which usually involves being plugged into a phone or a laptop, is so far removed from my agrarian epigenetic roots. Ironically, it was my grandmother whose sacrifices brought my parents to the U.S. in the 1960s and later, my family to a life in the upper middle class suburbs of Miami. For her, having material possessions and driving cars were marks of success. Living close to the earth—raising vegetables and picking herbs— in her lifetime was the definition of poverty.

Going barefoot in the grass is one of the easiest ways of getting connected to the earth’s grounding energy. Photo credit: Pearl J. Park

In many ways, COVID-19 was showing us how much we have to lose if we are not mindful of what we take from nature without caring for it. I felt pressed to learn how to keep a plant alive and reconnect with nature. Putting flesh to trees and soil activates certain biomarkers in the body, I learned. The microbes in soil boost your immune system. I walked barefoot in the grasses of Geumnyeongsan.

Hugging trees releases happy hormones and neurotransmitters in the brain. I thanked the tree for sharing its energy. Photo credit: Pearl J. Park

I even hugged a tree.

This was so exciting for me. It was a huge turning point for me! Photo credit: Pearl J. Park

I found myself germinating the seeds of a persimmon, a common Korean fruit. My family used to have a persimmon tree in the yard of my childhood home in Seoul and I remember my 60-something great grandmother climbing it. So after three weeks when my seeds triumphantly sprouted green leaves, I immediately thought of her.

This pandemic is nature’s way of telling humans that we are out of sync with nature and that each of us at a spiritual level must commit to living more harmoniously with nature. I believe we as humans, particularly those of us who live in First World countries, have a moral obligation to reflect upon and to address how our individual behaviors are affecting planetary issues, like global warming, the widespread extinction of animal species, and the chemical pollution of the oceans. This pandemic carved out the time for us to reflect and change. When one person on one part of the globe gets infected with a virus, that infection changes the world. Can we reverse that? If one person in the world commits to changing their individual behavior, can that commitment change the entire world? We are all connected, whether you want to believe it or not.


Pearl J. Park is an award-winning documentary filmmaker based in Busan, South Korea. In particular, she is passionate about telling the untold stories of the disempowered. Her interest is in harnessing the power of film to highlight important civil and human rights issues. Her first feature documentary was among the first to portray the experience of mental illness from an Asian American perspective. Currently, she is working on a short film about her great uncle, a former activist and political prisoner Noh Wontae, who participated in pivotal student protests during a dictatorship in the 1960s, which then paved the way for the democratization of Korea. She is a member of the New Jersey State Advisory Committee to the United States Commission on Civil Rights and is a former adjunct instructor at the Fashion Institute of Technology (SUNY) in New York City.


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