Friday, January 11, 2019

My Year of Orchids: It is possible to focus

Oh the noise out there! The places to go! The errands. They are endless. Even the many corners of the garden, each with its appeal, tear us from the inner landscape. My inner landscape, the landscape of my focus is each orchid I plant. I watch them in the trees and twigs I feel their leaves thicken. I sense the advance of their roots.

This is a game of patience and it’s played every day. I’m watching for the signals that are sent out hourly. Very small responses to the environment. Very subtle impulses of form and growth. What a surprise to find myself alone in the garden with these mute beasts clinging to twigs and branches, drinking the dappled light and dripping dew.

Focus is on the verge of obsession but I look at it as a creative act, a movement away from the noisy outside shells that surround my jungle garden. A movement away from “me” toward the inner world of the orchids.

The curve of a leaf, its hardening over weeks, the appearance of a bud, the sneaky extending of a root of Cattleya labiata groping its way out of the tree crotch into a new exposed position. The slow push outward, full of risk and promise. The gradual enveloping and increasing agency the plant exerts over its environment.

Did you ever see the way orchid roots make a kind of tent? They enclose a space between the wood and plant and create a chamber where moisture persists. I saw this in Broughtonia domingensis, the first orchid I just stuck in place with no string to attach it. I saw it in Bulbophyllum fascinator, whose roots literally pushed the plant up to form their own little scaffolding beneath. Do you see this magic when you pot your orchids?

When you water with focus you see the roots swell and change as water sticks to them through adhesion and drips so slowly down the surface. Or stands still. Or the root turns green. Or the root gets rubbery. Or the root seems barely to respond at all. Like Angraecum sesquipedale. Until one day you see the leaves are not only longer but twisting and becoming wider. You reach out to touch and they are heavy, leathery to the touch not soft like when they first came out of the wrapping a few months ago. Then you notice a millimeter of root that has attached itself to the wood. After months of supposed inaction. You’ve read the Angraecum roots are slow growing. But something is happening.

Some roots seem to be made of segments. More a series of connected knots and balls than a smooth or supple fiber. This is how my Oncidium phymatochilum seems to grow. Its roots stretching from a miniature mass of popcorn-like growth. This orchid jumped out of its basket one day. I took it to my orchid grotto and stuck it on a twig. Its brownish leathery growth holds promise as it does more than cling. It seems to climb.

Climbing, stretching, twisting, covering. A singular focus toward growth and mastery of the environment. Here orchids excel, supple, expanding, hardening, primed for their bold emergence out of the shadows.

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