Orchids produce millions of dust-fine seeds and they can live a hundred years. The idea that they might be around as long as an exceptionally aged person insures their position as substantial life form. Their flowers last for an extended periods of time compared to most plants, they generally bloom during the peak of winter, and fade by summer. But there is still one miraculous holdout on my window sill: the late, long bloomer.
Imagining myself the same way, late to bloom and capable of holding on to an extended hurrah, the other day in Woodstock with my newish beau, I was silently thinking of our life’s seasons. Even though we’re experiencing childlike joy, we are not young. There is no mystery to where we are headed.
In my reverie, I cuddled against him. Instead of expressing the fear of loss I was feeling, all I could get out was, “You know, one of us is going to die.”
And he said, “Well, from the latest evidence, I’m pretty sure we both are.”
Last year I was forced to rely on the kindness of strangers, loved ones, agencies of care. Today, long out of recovery from broken bones, I have heard that while suspended in ten weeks of non weight bearing life, I didn’t complain once. It’s true. Thanks to everyone, I had what I needed, and feeling sorry for myself would have only served to make a bad situation worse.
Plus, next to the bed, all my potted orchids were in bloom, an elegant line of different sizes, colors, and scents. Arriving both seasonally and spiritually in the dead of winter, their presence was like a band of goodwill ambassadors. Without fuss or worry, every day their confidence wordlessly spoke, ‘This is life and it really does go on.’
I once gave a very large Amaryllis bulb from Holland to a friend who placed it on the corner of her desk facing west and the Promenade in Brooklyn Heights. With pedestrians close by, horns blasting from ships on the river, cars below hitting potholes on the Belt Parkway, and the Brooklyn Bridge vibrating above, it was not the quietest setting. But it was the brightest light in her apartment and the best view on her outside world.
The bulb quickly sprouted. On the third day, from morning until evening, not only did she measure six inches of stalk growth, she noticed a constant sound, like shshshshshsh. Home alone and familiar with the whir of her refrigerator, the heater, the noise from her upstairs neighbors, to no avail, she sluethed around from room to toom and faucet to faucet trying to identify the sound. This went on for hours, until she put her ear to the Amaryllis. The source of the mystery: a rapidly growing bulb.
Scientists recognize trees that communicate through chemicals released by roots. There is a relatively young study of auditory impressions from plants, but the researchers have not proven their findings in an acceptable scientific model. Farmers believe they hear their fields of corn growing, and there is folklore around plants responding to the vibrations of music, voices, even thoughts.
It’s just a matter of time before beliefs turn into respectable data, because there definitely exists a traceable phenomenon: the one that caused my friend to place her ear next to the shoot of the Amaryllis. Water hydraulically pumped through roots, stems and leaves is a dynamic that produces sounds according to rate, pressure, the design of a specimen, and the ability to hear. I believe I can see a difference from one day to the next in the size of a fast growing leaf. But to have the ability to detect the quiet choir of my very active apartment orchids would be an ultimate for a plant lover like me. Shshshshshsh
While consciously embracing modern ways, I live with an underlying lament: the loss of the natural world. Anyone who has been here long enough and is paying attention is witnessing these changes in our landscape. They are brought on not only by necessity, but by our unthinking drive for technological advancement over the well-being of humanity and the earth. Our salvation lies first in the recognition that as individuals seeking the latest, the best, we are only as healthy and happy as our communities, the planet, the whole.
Thinking about all this last week, I went up to Lake Huron in Canada to spend time with my dear friend, Sally Heflin. I was instantly transformed to the childhood feeling of running wild in nature. To that end, we spent an evening contemplating the intense number of stars, and the magnificence of the Milky Way across the night sky. In awe, our necks ached from the position required to take it all in.
Even without the many hours of joy and laughter we experienced, seeing so clearly the million or billion points of light, mostly invisible in my New York life, I was reminded that Mother Nature is still out there, and we are her children. She remains a constant, always in charge, and it behooves us to treat her well.