In the beginning, it was incomprehensible to me to use what little window-sill-real-estate I had on orchids, especially those without flowers. Not known for their foliage, the naked plants look like floppy green tongues. Now I covet every shape and size, like an ever-changing puzzle, and spend a few minutes each morning rotating pots to insure symmetry, charting the growth of a new leaf, and inspecting crevices for a new bloom stalk. Even a dreadful day of personal or global despair can be salvaged by these simple rituals of hope.
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.