A recent warble, LIVE FROM LOTUSLAND, elicited a “Yeah, but where’s the picture?” response from three dear readers. So here it is. Get scadoxicated.
Notice how when you say “I hate…” you can hear the bratty pre-teenager speak from inside you. “I hate looking at pictures of flowers,” I said to Deb to tease her. She’d threatened to show me five hundred pictures of flowers from her trip to Wales, pictures she took, she said, because of my interest in flowers. We were at that moment entering the conservatory of plants where we had gone to see Big Flower, the Amorphophallus (I get a kick out of typing that) in bloom. Okay, not really a flower, an inflorescence. Ask me the difference later.
There was a little truth in it although I don’t hate pictures of flowers. Faithful readers of this warble can attest to that. But there is an undeniable limit to my excitement. It’s not that the pictures aren’t beautiful; they are, every one of them and that’s the trouble. It’s expected. Beauty needs to bowl you over.
Still, who cares? It’s a flower, and what a flower does, whether it knows it or not, is suggest paradise. This is what you wear, it says, when you get there.
Three weeks ago I was at the nursery and saw some 4-inch lily stalks with the name tag, ‘Jennifer Pearl’. I bought two for my accordion teacher, a Jennifer, and two for myself. “My grandmother’s name was Pearl,” she said, delighted at the gift.
Here is what Jennifer Pearl has got herself up in.
I do my quarterly pass by Marie’s side garden and find the bamboo and the camellia in big pots looking dead from lack of water. Everything else along that side is droopy but reviveable. I check the system. The gizmo is dead. Nothing sparks it back into life. I water all the pots with a hose. Why when plants are dying in front of your eyes don’t you see something is amiss? I have come to the limit and will give up on this garden.
It’s a beautiful day. The corpse flower is in bloom and there’s a line outside the conservatory. Ordinarily Moi-Meme would not wait in such a long line but I told Anita I’d meet her here for a viewing. The line moves at a leisurely pace but it moves, and there are Anita and Deb with Anita’s friend Judy, a docent who gives us an enthusiast’s tour of the place. The place is full of gorgeous plants but the the star, the object of the pilgrimage, is at the end of the wing. Amorphophallus titanum. Roughly translated that means “humongous dick-looking thing.” It’s in full magnificent bloom, although coyly half-closed. At the moment this magnificence looks more feminine than the name implies. Eye of the beholder, I suppose. I do love those lilac pleats. As for the smell, the thing that gives it an over-the-top notoriety, a death smell that attracts pollinating flies, there isn’t any. Deb said her refrigerator smells worse. The Big Dipper will stink it up when it’s ready. Maybe tonight.
One day a decade ago I came outside into my garden and was filled with dread, knowing I was about to find the rotting corpse of Cindy, the semi-feral cat whose chaotic life suited mine. Soon I realized the stench came from the Amorphophallus that Tom had given me, in bloom. A smaller variety that I planted and forgot it. There it was with a hooded bloom, bruise violet. Living its life.
This morning I worked in Karen’s garden uprooting the six foot tall stands of hemlock. I wore a mask and a long-sleeved shirt and gloves. I don’t know if I was being overly cautious or completely foolhardy. I cut up the maculate stalks and put them in brown bags for green recycling.
Know thyself. That was one of the maxims inscribed at the temple of Apollo in Delphi, and it is a unifying philosophic concept in Socratic dialogues. Of course nobody can say for sure what knowing yourself means. It is understood as a directive, a pointer toward self-reflection. Phaedrus asks Socrates his opinion of the truth of the myth of Boreas and Orithunia, an abduction of the latter by the former that supposedly happened near where they strolled, and Socrates says, (I paraphrase) “Why bother with irrelevant things when I still don’t know myself.”
Know thyself. The Greek inscription is sometimes used as a memento mori, inscribed under the figure of a skeleton. Remember. Where this all leads.
Eight hours later, I’m still on the top side of the dirt line, that much I’m pretty sure of.
Two summers ago my friend Jim visited Santa Barbara and brought me a plant from Lotus Land. An unknown. Exciting. A scadoxus. Part shade. I planted it where I could keep an eye on it. Good luck, poor orphan.
For a year it mulled. It let itself be meals for microscopic mouths. It lived. It seemed to.
This spring it shook itself awake. Now it sports a shaft with a bud like an amaryllis and fat, glossy leaves. The bud is slowly making it’s skyward trek. It better be smashing.
I’m working on this song on the accordion. It’s one in the repertoire of our 94110 Protest Marching Band, which includes eleven or so altogether. By the time I learn all eleven, I will have to be wheeled down the street, me and my wheeze box. Long live the revolution.
Sitting here in limbo, I’m thinking of the nights we danced drunk to Jimmy Cliff until the sun came up.
Three gallons of mulberries, flour, salt, sticks of butter and some mysterious spices et voilá, three pies, two tartlets. We have entered the age of mulberry, the era of violet.