Researching history on orchids this morning, I learned a number of facts, including the Greek word for testicle: Orkhis. By some accounts, the name of the plant came from the reminiscent shape of the bulbous root. By others it’s from the myth of Orchis, the son of a nymph and a satyr. True to his namesake, the lad went to a celebratory feast for Bacchus, the God of Wine, and in his drunken state, attempted to rape a priestess. This sacrilege resulted in being torn apart by wild beasts. His next incarnation was as a plant, the orchid.
Due to the graphically erotic male and female parts that make up a single orchid blossom, the Victorian, John Ruskin, called them ‘prurient apparitions,’ almost as if they alone could lead men like Orchis astray. It’s true that orchids have been used in fertility treatments and aphrodisiacs, and they certainly have tricky methods for insuring pollination. But not one is known to have raped, pillaged, to have been violent, judgmental, poisonous, or even to have had any bad imaginings. All those activities are left up to the humans.
The number eighteen is smack in the center of Marissa’s series of an orchid’s blooms. Yet, instead of looking middle-aged, these sibling beauties are more like young teenagers going on their first dates. Each will witness the other’s effort and shocking velocity, the triumphs and tragedies. As humans going through their own version, the comfort is in seeking nature’s wisdom on cycles, embodying joy like a full tilt blossom, even in troubled times, and continuing to go out on the town of life.
The first orchids that ever floated into my consciousness were in the corsages of high school dances. I can still feel the belly sickness over a very real possibility of being overlooked, uninvited. And if someone did ask me, I worried, my date would not give me an orchid. Or it wouldn’t be as perfect as what the other girls received. Sad to say, when young, orchids equaled anxiety. Thankfully, I’ve outgrown most disquietudes, with the exception of the state of our world, and not having enough time to sit and think, to ponder, to write.
Orchids now fill a fair amount of my consciousness. Along with this series of writings for Marissa Bridge’s orchid paintings, visiting exhibits for a glimpse of the best specimens, a vital variety lines my window sills. Most miraculously flower in the deepest breath of winter, yet some bloom their heads off all year round.
Not a single young girl anticipating a broken heart was mentioned in reading about the symbols of orchids. There is plenty to be found on their beauty, their perfection, their portrayal of love, and because they originally grew only in remote and exotic places, their association with luxury. They also represent innocence and femininity, and full blown virility, the whole monty, the hermaphrodite. Most importantly, they serve as potent reminders, in spite of these anxious times, this is still a beautiful world.
This morning, listening to a friend’s lament about her brother’s last few years in his relatively short life, I ended up talking about my sister, Gretchen. Eleven years ago, she died in an apartment fire. Sharing in the name of solidarity, my friend had no idea, and was shocked to hear it. But in telling her, I hoped she’d recognize my understanding, and possibly feel less alone.
Within the multi-faceted canvas of adversity, poetry and music reside. These two orchid flowers in Marissa Bridge’s painting perform as a pair of sisters: flouncy young girls, yet survivors. In spite of just losing the third bud in their family, their blossoms take to the stage and sing the triumphant song of life.
By today’s standards, my mother was a frequesnt, yet mild, cusser. Six feet tall with the countenance of a queen, whatever she said, including many, mostly risqué sayings, came off as imperious truth. For instance, if she were looking at the dying bud in this painting by Marissa Bridge, her comment would be, ‘That one shot his wad.’
Without questioning how appropriate or not they might be in polite company, I adopted her colorful cliches. Once, after an exhausting day of gardening, in front of a chaste friend who entertained fantasies about the nasty demands and virtues of purity, my long-gone mother spilled from my lips. I flopped into a cushy chair and said, ‘I shot my wad.’
As if he swallowed rotten meat, horror struck the muscles of my friend’s mouth. The phallic interpretation had never entered my mind. Thereafter, my inherited mother’s raucous voice remains mostly in check. And today, I would express the demise of this short-lived orchid bud as ‘Going gently into the night.’
Marissa and I were on the phone a day after I published last week’s #13 Gender Fluidity, and she asked how I came up with that particular subject.
“The dying bud looks like a scrotum, and I started thinking about the sex life of plants,” I said. Since it was published a few hours before the tragic massacre in Orlando, its timing was purely accidental.
I am never sure how the composition and tone of one of her paintings will turn into a little piece of writing. It always starts with innocence, or experience, maybe a memory, or a little story that relates, and finally, trust in the process. But this week, there is no such luxury for gentle musings.
Our culture is no longer sane. The tragedy in Orlando represents a combination of many components, including the hell of hatred, and our gun politics. At some point, the powers that be (NRA, are you listening?) and the collective population, must arrive at a crisis of consciousness. One must wonder how much more information we need. Our laws support the creation of monsters who might otherwise just be angry or troubled souls living out their natural lives in obscurity, without the ability for war against innocent people.
Upon checking out a slim volume in the 1970’s from the local library on the sex life of plants, my two passions of growing things and reading collided. In thoroughly investigating the reproductive parts of blossoms, what really got me at the time was the female parts looked similar to the ovary of a human female, and the stamen is undoubtedly phallic.
But the thing most fascinating to me now is the different combinations of male and female in plants. There are the flowers that contain both sexes, able to fertilize without the birds or the bees, or the whims of the wind. They are referred to as ‘perfect flowers,’ or ‘hermaphroditic,’ meaning one bed, and tend to be big showy blossoms like the lily, the rose, and of course, the orchid. Other plants contain a mix of male or female individual flowers, as in the zucchini, and are referred to as monoecious meaning one household. Some plants do sex switiching, starting out male and as they mature, they may be asexual for a time, and then become female. And there are species, the Ginko for one, in which the male and female trees are totally separate. Even though there are many species of plants, and scientifically only one species of human beings, all those floral variants, and there are more than listed above, serve to open my eyes even wider to gender fluidity.