I lost some beloved young tomato plants this summer and I want to honor their life in a way that will remind me of them and make me smile each time I remember.
I’ve always adored Japanese prayer slips,”ofuda”, for their spiritual function, and notable aesthetic. I also dig the concept of Chinese wish-trees, the bows of which are adorned with majestic clusters of fabric strips, each containing the written hopes and dreams of an individual who chose to add a piece of themselves to the branches. Both are sometimes found dancing within nature, just as all things in life swirl about and yield to the currents of circumstance. Like our wishes and prayers, these slips surf on the whim of chaos like ghosts.
I see ofuda and talismans all the time in the media I consume, from movies to games (the gifs above were snagged from Monster Hunter Rise, a popular game with stylistic notes of feudal Japan as well as Chinese culture). As they always make me feel a specific delight and wonder, I decided to make some slips of my own to honor the life and ghosts of my tomato babies.
In this context, my slips function much like grave markers. They bare the names of the plants (I named most of the sproutlings) and hang directly above where they once grew. Even once the withered bodies are reclaimed by the soil, the slips will be a reminder of what life once grew in that space.
Making the Slips
There is nothing sexy or intricate about how I made my slips. This was more about the idea and the process of doing so for me. I wanted to create something that would hold meaning in my greenhouse space in a particular way. Again, this ritual is about mortality and death, but I don’t wish for it to lend itself to solemn or negative feelings.
The slips are made from an old discolored bed sheet which I happen to have on hand from another project this summer. I cut them into strips that are 4-6 centimeters thick, and roughly a foot long (I know I just mixed imperial and metric and I’m sorry).
The edge of the slips are finished with a line of black seam to help keep them from fraying too much while existing within the elements. Though I expect them to weather over time, I don’t want them to disintegrate immediately in our harsh desert wind.
The seal or emblem on each is two rows of red embroidered Xs underscored by a line of blue-green vine. It is embroidered using some of my sewing machine’s built-in presets. The design is meant to symbolize a vine of cherry tomatoes, the species of the heirloom chocolate sprinkles plants themselves.
The top of each slip is finished with a loop of macrame rope for hanging, attached with a heavy duty… back and forth stitch (another preset my machine offers).
It takes me a few hours to create a stack of 30 or so slips, but the process is simple and repetitive enough that I can allow my mind to wander a little while doing each step.
My favorite thing about creating these is that even though they are all made to look the same, each one is unique and notable for its subtle production quirks.
The final step of the ritual has involved pouring myself a big mug of iced green tea, and writing the names of the plants on the slips while sitting out in the greenhouse amongst their spirits.
My slips have been hanging outside over the soil bags for about a week now. It is currently monsoon season, so the end of July this year was particularly stormy and wet. It was a perfect condition to enact this ritual for the first time.
I’ll likely repeat this whole process again next year in the same part of the year. The rainy Las Vegas monsoon season will now be our sprouting period, as well as the time to honor the spirits of those leaf-babies which are no longer living.
I think it’s important to say that while many of the chocolate sprinkle plants didn’t survive into the summer, quite a few did. A dozen or so are thriving now that the temperature is in a downward trend. There is a lot of life to celebrate (and I’m finding new/different ways to do that as well)!
I’m working on another project that honors all of the tomato plants, both the ghosts and the ones that are living. It’s tech related, but a lot more involved. I’ll make a post when the time is right and I have more to show for it (an image to tease below). Until then, keep forging the world you wish to live in, and thanks for being here :f