Like a butterfly in reverse, the blossom folds into its cocoon.
I once visited a small pine forest in Mexico where Monarchs gather and suspend their lives for the winter. It was early morning, before all the tour buses arrived. John Gibson and I hired a guide who walked up a mountain path beside the horses we rode. Closer to the hooves than our lofty positions, he coughed from the dusty trail.
Even though the guide spoke no English and our little Spanish did not include insect breeding, he conveyed the difference between the genders: the dot on the lower wings of the males. About a dozen tall straight pine trees stood bright orange from millions of Monarchs lining the trunks and branches. Not only was the sight more brilliant than any Fall I’ve seen, all around us, we heard the soft flap from their flying wings, and felt the air move on our cheeks as they flitted by: our own private Butterfly Effect. Sublime.
After months of being close to home with mending bones, in early June last year, Marissa drove me out to Sag Harbor to see the exhibit of all thirty-six paintings in her Silent Journey. On crutches and still trembling from the effort of reinhabiting my legs, I was repeatedly drawn toward the end of the series to look at this piece once more.
Marissa explained that it’s effect was from painting on handmade Wallis paper which has a fine sand surface. As if looking at a butterfly’s final flutter, movement is what I see. Even though the blossom is going down, and at the time, I was rising up, it was the grief and joy in this painting that exquisitely called my name.
Signed, Proud Owner of #32.
When Marissa Bridge and I came up with the weekly concept of combining her thirty-six paintings of one orchid’s bloomstalk, with my thoughts on life as I experience it, our first post, by chance, was March 21st, the Spring Equinox. As we near the end, the blossom’s color fades, and outside trees burn bright.
The same as many posts, today I was unsure of what I wanted to say. In trying to come up with something, I realized that thirty-six weeks is a nine month endeavor. The comfort in nearing the close of this commitment is the fact that both Marissa and I, together again, or alone, have new projects coming down the canal.
At thirty years old, I encountered a local writer and singer who belonged to a rock band of national fame. Since there are no innocents in this story, names and places have been purposely avoided. But naturally, a tale that has to do with orchids must be told.
After an hour of glimpses at each other in a downtown gathering establishment, the writer with floppy hair and lanky limbs sauntered up and sat beside me. In one penetrating look from piercing blue eyes, my Virgoan philosophy was about to be tested.
I was a professional horticulturist, recently separated from a marriage, first time living alone, and a wanna-be wordsmith, none of which he knew. My ex unwittingly had starved me of communication and certainly poetry, and the rock star spoke directly to the center of my needs and vanity.
“You’re an orchid, aren’t you,” he said. “A Brazilian orchid.” After another beat of observation, he added, “Cultivated, not wild.”
There are orchid plants in the forests of Peru measuring forty-four feet from the ground to their highest leaves. In other parts of the world, they have found specimens that weigh a ton. Orchid flowers can be as tiny as dimes, or as heavy as two hundred twenty-five pounds.
No matter how large or small, the orchid has captured the imagination. For growers, the first signs of a new leaf or a bloom stalk peeking out from the center crevice, all the way to the end of a flower’s days, are mesmerizing. Like human faces, each and every flower in the vast Orchidaceae family has bilateral symmetry. I wonder if our passion for them is partially because they remind us of our loveliest selves.
The gloaming comes, the day is spent,
The sun goes out of sight.
And painted is the Occident
With purple sanguine bright.
We’re in the gloaming of this series, ‘tween light and night, when physical prime meets spiritual wisdom, and fire fades into moon. It’s the joy of aliveness and the grief in loss. It’s twilight.
So, let us gather our orchids while we may, paint every chapter as if it’s first stroke in an inspired exploration. ‘Tis another season and all are full of beauty.
Although it took me a lot of livin’ to embrace the concept of beauty at every stage, artists have depicted it since the beginning of time. In this series, Marissa Bridge takes on the subject through the life cycle of petals, stamens, pistils, and we are privy to their rise and fall, sans vanity. The orchid begins to age and loveliness abounds.
With many artists and photographers in my orbit, years ago I fancied myself a model. It was an instant identity and an edifying chapter. I was asked by a painter to sit for him, and my world was shaken the first and only time I was in his studio. He said, “I’d rather paint you in your fifties, with more lines in your face.”
If life is like being swallowed by quicksand, I lived as if youth were the offered rescue twig. But this artist was looking for experience, not even lines: etched emotions that inform bone and muscular structure as the years accumulate. With no real history or choices, I sat there without nobility or tragedy, countenance or shame, nothing of my humanity to reveal.
I came back from Venice yesterday, and while trying to catch up, I am high from a renewed way of looking at what is before me. Since there is little time for writing this post, I’d like to suggest that my dear readers take a moment to compare this painting and the one before, #25: Art and Orchids. Notice they were made in the same period of time from opposite directions and te backsides are as just lovely as the face-on flowers. Talk about clever: without going thousands of miles, both Marissa and the grand designer of the world remind us to open our eyes. The beauty is here, there, and everywhere.
Blossoms are about pollination, and sometimes that’s a tricky business. Through color and design, orchids can imitate insects or bees. Fooled into thinking they’re mating with their own ilk instead of a flower, unsuspecting feet and bodies pick up the dusty pollen. In the process of seeking satiation with other recipients of their attraction, after the death of an individual flower, and without much thought, the critters manage to insure new life.
Because dystopia is part of our present reality, I seek reminders of the miraculous nature of life, and find them in, among other things, art and orchids.
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.”