LYCHEE, IN THE SOAPBERRY FAMILY

“As soon as the rain began to fall Thomas told me to stand up and take off my shirt; having perfectly decent underwear I did so for I could understand that the rain would run off my body and I would not get so cold,” recounts Sheila Collenette.  It’s 1960, and she’s on an expedition to find rare orchids in “British North Borneo”, among them a Dendrobium covered with black hairs that blooms big white flowers.  She’s been caught out by nightfall without shelter on a mountainside, and is on the verge of hypothermia.

I learned of the intrepid Sheila Collenette in an article forwarded by my friend Tom.  Even if we profess the gospel of eating local, the eyes of gardeners glitter when contemplating an expedition to hinterlands to see really hairy plants.  In fact, Tom and his wife Jeung-Hyeon are going to Borneo in October to do just that.

The 3 of us, along with Michele, another gardener friend, are on a plant expedition this very day, having trekked to the wilds of Watsonville to bag some booty.  At Monterey Bay Nursery, we run into Luen Miller, one of the nursery’s owners, who coincidentally has just returned from Mount Kinabalu.  “I stepped out of the car and right there was an Amherstia!” he says with wonder.  My wonder is, what is an Amherstia?  Jeong-Hyeon asks about the type of shoes he recommends, inaugurating a disquisition that inevitably leads to certain hazards.  Leeches, for instance, that can go up your nostrils, or under your eyelids or down your throat and engorge and choke you. There’s the tiger leech.  Worse even is the buffalo leech.  No, you don’t want to know.  “I hope I’m not scaring you,” he said.

No, of course not.  I have my GPS and Polartec and perfectly decent underwear.

Here’s Sheila Collenette with a last useful bit of advice:  “I also remembered reading somewhere that when more than one person is benighted the sensible thing to do is snuggle up for warmth.”

To repeat: when benighted, snuggle up.

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