Serapias

Let me talk to you for a moment about orchids.

Did you know there’s a kind of orchid that grows only in caves underground and never sees the sun? That they can migrate slowly along the highway of a mossy branch in creeping luminosity in search of the right amount of airflow? That they even *need* that? ‘They are creatures’, is what the orchid specialist from Kyrgyzstan tells me. ‘Beautiful parasites, capricious’. The wrong humidity, the wrong angle of sunlight, a strong breeze, no breeze, too little water, too much water, the conditions in which they are allowed to grow (noisy environments are detrimental to their consciousness) and what they can see (place an orchid facing something plain and it will get bored and die) are all considerations when tending to their delicate upbringing, so fragile it can be stalled by the air.

You do not grow orchids, she tells me. Anymore than you can grow a bird or some other animal…You can only observe them. We unwrap sandwiches under stained glass windows and she shifts into the sun, skin translucent as one of her favourite petals. I think about the way dogs sometimes look like their humans and wonder if she has already begun the inevitable transformation into graceful alien flora. Soon she will only sip water from her sustainable glass bottle and refuse to eat with the rest of us; she will stay outside slowly following the vegetative cracks between the flagstones to look for somewhere with the right amount of moisture to sink her feet, head crowned in purple moth markings gently nodding to the woodwind of the atmosphere.

She tells me they reproduce with microscopic seeds that must enter into symbiotic nutritional relationships with fungi if they are to survive, but the chance to meet the right fungus is slim, so only a fraction of a billion orchid seeds germinate and bloom. She says that secret armies of ants can live in the hollow pseudobulbs of a species that feeds on the colony’s decay. She says a keiki is a child-plant produced asexually by an orchid, an exact and perfect clone of the verdant jewel of its Mother. She tells me that if you’re quiet enough in their presence you begin to hear them, raised hairs like roots knocking against your skin (and did you know that when an orchid’s roots are green it means they are satiated?) She says they keep things hidden.

We know on some level they are like constellations, like fairy princesses or fickle foreign gods. We have tried to give them beautiful names in homage; Lycaste, Diadenium, Masdevallia, Thelymitra, Serapias. They say that in the Philippines, some of them *are* worshipped. They say that when British naturalist William John Swainson used orchids that hadn’t bloomed as packing material and they erupted into their opulent splendour upon arrival in Victorian London, the populace swooned under their power, pursuing them into their lethal green temples even unto death. They are older than anyone first believed – 85 million years perhaps – thanks to the perfect grains of pollen pressed in amber on the wings of a stingless bee and yes, I think they are strange spirits with taboos and dances and criminals and priests. Yes, they keep Mesozoic secrets in glowing silence.

Why, you may ask, am I using a first post of this resurrected journal to talk to you about orchids? Because this is a blog about how to use time now that time has changed. Listening to Yulia was one of the most brilliant and fascinating hours of my life, a magic thing that struck my mind like a bell. There are supple roots there now, stretching into the unknown, not yet green. Who knows, after my stint as an accidental bookseller I may vanish into the jungle seeking just the right amount of sun and air. Curiosity, at least, will keep me creeping along the branches of the New World.

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