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While growing up, I would always visit my grandparents in Russia during summer. My grandparents lived on a dacha (a small farmhouse) in a small village in the middle of the forest, and I would help them manage the farm the couple months I was there for.
I would work with my grandpa in the fields everyday, acquiring his personality and outlook on nature and life. I soon began to notice all the minuscule things that I could not previously see. We would observe every leaf on each of our thousands of potato plants, searching for the Colorado potato beetle and its eggs; we didn’t use pesticides, so we would put the pests in a bottle by hand. At first, I hated this meticulous and dirty task. It grossed me out. But as I continued observing the plants and insects, I realized that there was this whole tiny world hiding in plain sight. With the striped yellow and black potato beetles, I saw intricate systems everywhere: the intertwining vines and jumbled roots, the flowers acting as houses for spiders, and the delicate spiderwebs shimmering in the rain. Being in the field everyday, I began to notice subtle changes too. The exponential rate of flowering amazed me. First, only one small white flower could be seen in the sea of green; a week or so later, the white outnumbered the green. The way that the flowers turned their heads throughout the day also amazed me. For the first time, I realized that everything was truly alive.
Living with my grandpa away from the city life I am used to, I developed a new perspective on living things. I never really thought about it, but subconsciously I believed in a hierarchy of living things: humans on top, cats and dogs right under, and all the other animals were somewhere below. Plants didn’t even make my pyramid. But living with my grandpa, that changed. My grandpa valued all life (except for those pesky potato beetles) and did his part to help. Once, we saw a bumblebee struggling in an open barrel of water, and my grandpa saved it by picking it up with his hands. He wasn’t even scared of being stung–almost as if he knew it wouldn’t sting him. My grandpa also took in a beaten-up rooster that wandered outside the farm and nursed it back to healthiness. He had a love for animals, and somehow, the animals sensed that love and came to him. Additionally, my grandpa could make any plant grow. I know the cliche saying “a plant needs love to grow,” but after seeing my grandpa farm, I believe it. While working in the fields, my grandpa would always hum and smile. He loved farming, and that love transfered to his plants. He was very gentle with plants and treated them with respect, as he did with all living things.
Unfortunately, life took a turn and my grandpa passed away in January 2014. Yet, he still lives in me. Spending so much time with him, I developed his passion for farming and his love for animals. People often tell me that I have a green thumb, for I can grow plants well. People also tell me that I must be an animal person when they see their pet come up to me for the first time; they claim that their pet usually barks or growls at strangers, so they must sense my love of animals. Whenever I hear this, I always think about my grandpa. While I don’t know if a green thumb or an animal’s sense of one’s love truly exists, I like to believe that I acquired these from my grandpa. Through his love and care, I learned to appreciate and love life, experiencing the same happiness and joy he did while doing what he loved.
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