Here it is, my personal Grail of orchids: Encyclia cordigera. It is not a rare orchid; it is not a particularly difficult one to grow. It is a species orchid, which means it hasn't been messed with or crossed with anything. Like the clumsy, bespectacled hotelier in This is Spinal Tap!, it's just as God made it, sir. And here it is, growing at a roadside rest stop in Guatemala, near Los AndesLos Andes Post.
(an exquisite place you should go to eat and rest and rejuvenate while watching orchids and hummingbirds and tanagers and resplendant quetzals). To experience a visit there, and see some of the fabulous birds you'll find on this plantation/cloud forest reserve, see Birdchick's excellent
Encyclia cordigera. It's poetry to me, that name. It has rhythm and style. And it is a name imbued with memories.
For me, it brings back Guatemala, March 2006, the last, best trip to Guatemala that I took with Bill. We hung out with our friends Marco and Hector and laughed our way through Tikal.
Near Los Andes, in the higher elevations, we stopped at a roadside restaurant. Wired to a tree trunk in the picnic area was an orchid the size of a bushel basket, all strappy green leaves and lavender blossoms. Drawing close, I put my nose to them, as I do to all flowers.
I remember closing my eyes and breathing deeply. I remember muguet, lily of the valley, but with a deeper, subtler, spicier undertone. I remember floating away on a belladonna cloud singing, "Euphoria." (Stampfel and Weber fans, unite!)In a freaky bit of Internet kismet, when I Googled an image of Stampfel and Weber, the third photo on the results page was of Bill and me playing a Stampfel and Weber tune called "O a Little Wishbone." Yahhhhh! The Google, she works in mysterious ways.
But back to my Grail.
I remember thinking, "I must have this orchid somehow." Then I remember saying it. I remember Bill saying some strongly admonitory things. I looked the plant over. Every pseudobulb, and there were dozens, had a bloom stalk with multiple flowers crowning it. It was at the peak of perfection. There was just one pseudobulb that didn't have a flower stalk coming out of it. All it had was a single leaf, and no rootlets.
Of course, having this specimen was impossible. The thing was huge. And I couldn't bring it through customs even if I'd wanted to. And ohhhh, I wanted to.
I leaned in close to the heavenly muguet perfume. Then I blacked out from ecstasy.
Well. I went home to Ohio and dreamt of Encyclia cordigera. Looked for it. Finally saw a cultivated one at a show, which was heavily awarded, albeit not quite as deeply colored as the Guatemalan specimen. Still, the same species, perfectly grown, showing what could be possible.
Bought one at the same show, even though it was E. cordigera var. alba, a white cultivar. I didn't really want a white one, but it was as close as I could get. I was hoping for the same fragrance, at least. And that plant has sat in my collection, barely growing, stolidly refusing to bloom, for three years now. Bad karma, maybe, to take something perfect and bleach it to white. It's sulking. Correction: I looked at it the other day, and there is a tiny flower spike starting. Here it is, with a ladybug on it, circa mid-January. The spike is all of an inch long at this point.
Perhaps it doesn't want to be shown up. But oh, it will...it will.
Four years have passed since I fell in love at a Guatemalan roadside restaurant. And in my east windowsill there is a plant with five pseudobulbs on it. It is big and shiny and bursting with health and vigor. Its leaves are three times longer than the cultivated E. cordigera var. alba right next to it. Clearly, it has a plan.
I have tended it lovingly for four years, repotting, watering, feeding, misting it, giving it the catbird seat for sun and humidity, closest to the bright east window. That's it, near left corner.
And in the crevice of the newest, fattest pseudobulb there is something that has been forming for four months. It started as the tiniest green tip, perhaps a new leaf. But then it started to swell, and by the turn of 2010 it was clear that this was no leaf. It was a flower bud.
I peek into the crevice of leaves at least three times a day--when I wake up, when I dress, when I go to bed. And note the subtle changes, as I would follow the changes in my body were I pregnant.
(Happy Mother's Day!)
But I AM pregnant with anticipation. And my camera is ready, over the span of months that this post encompasses, to capture the moments of its emergence. I'll serve that up in my next post.
I cannot resist adding this Mother's Day dispatch. I wish I had photos but alas! I was busy driving.
So this afternoon Phoebe and I are driving around town on Mother’s Day looking fruitlessly for a nice Peace rose for Bill's mom Elsa, and everything we see hits us as extremely funny. We see this woman brilliantly adorned in a tie-dye rainbow T-shirt and stretch pants, and I begin to sing, “I seen a RAINBOW, I seen a ANGEL a-walkin' down County Nine!” and Phoebe joins in and at the point at which Rainbow Woman runs lumpily across the street to beat the traffic we are doubled over in the car.
The next thing we see is a woman walking one of the most beautiful Boston terriers we’ve ever seen. So I screech to a halt and we yell out the window, “We have a Boston at home!” and badabing! we’re instant friends. “He’s gorgeous!” we yell and she yells “THANK YOU!” and we yell “How old is he?” and she yells “One!”
“What is he, about 23 pounds?” and she says “Yes, exactly! I’m trying to hold him there!” and I say “He’ll bulk up! Ours is 5 and 25 pounds now.”
So it goes on like that a little while and we thank her for stopping and letting us admire Riley. Just to test I yell “RILEY! How old are you?” out the car window and Riley’s head snaps around and he stares at us, which is supercute because he has a bad underbite so he looks like he’s spoiling for a fight. She tells us her vet calls him a Boston Terrorist. Phoebe does an imitation of Riley snapping to attention with his lower lip sticking out which is spot-on and we laugh about that for awhile. I yell RILEY and she snaps her head around to stare at me.
The next thing we see is a man walking an old dachshund, and he’s carrying the requisite white grocery bag full of old dachshund poop. So I pretend to roll down the window and yell, “HEY! We have a bag of dachshund poop, too!” at which Phoebe releases peals of laughter and adds, “We’re trying to keep it down, but it keeps bulking up!”
We roll on, still laughing our heads off, and the next thing we see is a man walking a huge Portuguese water dog lookin’ thing on a leash. And he’s not carrying a grocery bag; he’s rolling a giant TRASH CAN behind him. “Man! His dog must poop a whole lot!” I say, and Phoebe squawks with laughter and on we roll. It was the best Mother’s Day moment I can remember. It had nothing to do with cards or flowers or overcrowded restaurants. It was realizing I have a daughter I can hoot with.