My husband and I live in a cottage in the foothills of Los Angeles, where nature feels very close. Beyond our front door, an ancient flowering vine overhangs a brick porch. Tangled up within the vine is a whole world in miniature: abandoned birds’ nests, dangling spiderwebs, powdery organic deposits. For years, we marveled at the vine’s ecosphere—but we never grasped its intense biological power until one spring morning I will never forget.
“I’m going outside,” my husband said. “I feel like pruning.”
After finding his clippers, Patrick started to yank and trim the tangled greenery. Then I heard a loud, strangled cough. “Yech!” he exclaimed, violently stomping and shaking himself. “I feel like I just inhaled toxic waste—my lungs are on fire!”
Because Patrick has asthma, sudden fits of wheezing and shortness of breath are nothing new to him. This was different. Some dusty emanation from the vine had triggered a fierce pain from his trachea to the deepest culs-de-sac of his lungs. An hour after his noxious gulp of air, though, he felt better. I figured the worst was over.