Archive for August 2010

Dress Rehersal   Leave a comment

Blanca looked ready to bloom, the first and largest bud had indeed reached the 12-inch benchmark…but as we later realized, she needs not only length but mass. Hey, ain’t it the truth? All buds remained closed this evening, skirts twirled tightly around legs, so to speak. Maybe tomorrow. Likely tomorrow, she will fling her skirts open and dance. Some tepals have begun to unfurl. Still the buds must engorge, swell like a tiny balloon  filling with air, hope, expectation. Preparing a place. “Who will come to my party?” she asks.

Posted August 28, 2010 by Canio's in bud watch

First candle   Leave a comment

One of the derivations of “cereus,” from the Latin  is said to be “candle (from its shape), from cera, wax,” according to my beloved American Heritage Dictionary. So then, we may have the first candle lighting up tonight, a cool night when the sweet fragrance of Blanca may be most enjoyable. It appears the point-guard bud, the largest of the nine is nearing twelve inches, that magic length at which point, after dark, that bud will open for all.

Posted August 27, 2010 by Canio's in Uncategorized

Jean Follain’s Birthday   Leave a comment

In another nod to coincidence, simultaneity, anniversaries, Sunday, August 29 is the birthday of French prose poet Jean Follian. He would have been107. Follain was born in Canisy, in Normandy in 1903; he died in Paris on March 10, 1971. A powerful influence in my early days of poetry study, Follain’s work was brought back to me while musing about Blanca, one of those quirks of association. What a beautiful birthday present her blooming would make for Monsieur Follain, her flowers  full of the promise of poetry.

Here is a prose poem I opened to at random from his collection, A World Rich in Anniversaries with translations by Mary Feeney and William Matthews

“This plant, so exceptional since its flower never lasts more than a few hours, broke into blossom on a morning the garden’s owners weren’t at home.  With its speckled petals, it bends in the breeze like so many other more common flowers.  There’s a terrible sweetness to everything.  A colony of armored insects, old gold, has moved into a shaded corner.  Nearby, people hurry up and down steps.  A hand stops on the rail of an oaken stairway; every minute falls.  At six in the evening, the flower will be withered, the horizon will begin to grow pale, a group of girls will start to sing with no weakness or shame. “

Posted August 23, 2010 by Canio's in on writing

Stop Time   Leave a comment

Robert’s watch has always run a bit fast, about five minutes. Lately it’s been expediting, running twelve hours, 24 ahead of where we are in this time zone, Eastern, daylight saving. I pull the stem out and stop its relentless race forward. I set the watch, a Perry Ellis with Roman numerals, black leather strap in a ceramic dish and wait a day until the time and date catch up, meridians matched. We recalibrate. That’s how Robert lived, worried there wasn’t enough time, running too fast, moving too far ahead of himself. So he died too soon, five minutes before midnight.

Blanca is another kind of time clock. The white face of her blooms mark a kind of midnight or noon of her day when meridians line up and the elaborate flowers punctuate a kind of urgency. Procreate. Pollinate. Propagate.

“The creative process is overcoming the doubt,” one young novelist recently said. Robert worked against the clock, rising early before his day job to write chapters of DeKooning’s Bicycle. A year after it was published, he died.  Yet it’s one way he’s still around. His words on the page. His voice still audible.

I’ve not yet seen the fruits of the night-bloomer. Apparently they are edible but take almost a year to ripen! Such a rare fruit must taste very sweet, yet I read they can sometimes taste bitter. All that waiting.  They are said to be reddish or yellow, or even green. Elusive flesh.

Still Blanca keeps trying. Perhaps one day a seed will set,  an “egg” will take within her ovary. And once that fruit begins to swell, she will begin to die. Her work completed.

Posted August 23, 2010 by Canio's in about time, on writing, Uncategorized

Prioritizing   Leave a comment

The weaklings have been let go. Their color changed suddenly, losing  that vital deep green seemingly overnight. Then they stopped growing. What’s happening within the plant at the vascular level? Why is sustenance no longer being drawn up that particular vein?

Ten buds remain, but further prioritizing is taking place as we move toward “birthday.” One of a pair of twin buds hanging from the same side of a single leaf has lost its green. It’s slipping.  We know this happens often in the womb. Fertilized eggs don’t always take, are sloughed off. Nature’s own design.

Meanwhile, those  showing promise continue toward the future. The healthy twin sharing a leaf continues on verdant, elongating.  Some buds now measure over five inches. One even reached six. We’re looking ahead, always looking ahead.

First summer’s rains this afternoon have cooled temperatures and may slow bud growth.  Our birthday count may be off. So many variables. Nights are shorter now. We sense September around the corner.

Posted August 23, 2010 by Canio's in bud watch

Who gets in the boat?   1 comment

In high school English classes we spent time working out what I thought were torturous  ethical questions which I later learned came from a book called Values Clarification. It was the late ’70s and Murphy was a progressive teacher who helped many kids find their talents. But the ethical problems seemed impossible to me then. If there were ten survivors, but the life boat could hold only seven, who would earn a place of safety? Who would be left behind?

Blanca uses her own economy to determine how many buds she can sustain. This morning it looks like at least three may be let go. Three of thirteen are not thriving. The others have progressed to four inches, while these appear stalled, yellowing and a bit limp. I suspect they will be jettisoned. Nature creates, abundantly, and also destroys indifferently.  Remarkably, one of the recent cuttings boasts a 4-inch bud. Last bloom cycle we lost the cutting buds at 3″. We’re going for a record. But it’s it all ready an achievement, a flourishing, no matter what happens tomorrow? We’ve come this far.

Posted August 20, 2010 by Canio's in bud watch

An August Advent   2 comments

Blanca is laden,  a lady awaiting, full with buds. Thirteen now hale and hardy measure three inches long. We count them daily, wishing  each one will succeed,  reach fruition. We’ve begun to speculate about her due date.  Nine more days,  guessing the rate-of-growth per day, which brings us to the 27th, an old friend’s birthday, a date that still resonates after all these years.  Anniversaries. See more at Jean Follain’s poetry collection: A World Rich in Anniversaries, something I read in grad school, too long ago.

So we are engaged, watching the weather, fussing around her, planning again. This could be a momentous inflorescence.  There’s a sense of gathering forces, Blanca’s third effort this season to reproduce. Where are the creatures, moths, bats, that would pollinate her flowers? Is this why she keeps producing?

Already the tentacles of circumstance are stretching. Which are the events, the people who will be drawn together with this blooming? We have a busy schedule of events at the bookshop next weekend. We’re making the most of the end of  summer season. Is Blanca doing the same? Is this her last pregnancy before Dormition? We count the days, and wait.

“The fineness of things gives the universe nobility.” ~ Jean Follain

Posted August 18, 2010 by Canio's in bud watch, on writing

More from Blithewold Poet-in-Residence   Leave a comment

More about the McKees to add to “Marvelous Cereus History,” and with thanks for Martha.

The McKees of  Blithewold were indeed affected by the Depression, Martha explained.  They did suffer reversals of a sort.  William Leander McKee  a “manufacturer” of leather, was forced to sell their Boston residence  when business declined.  The McKees then moved permanently to Blithewold, a not too shabby address, to be sure, but still a change in circumstances. Further, the McKees had to sell some 35 acres of their beautiful estate. Nevertheless, the parties continued.  As they should!

How long that enormous cereus survived, and how many parties it inspired, we do not know. Whether chopped chicken liver was later served instead of caviar, well, that we’ll leave to the archivists to uncover. What lingers in the imagination is the fragrance of 200 blooming cereus blossoms wafting out the greenhouse doors as guests came and went on a warm summer night in 1937,  having raised a glass to an exotic plant. A touch of the tropics in prim New England.

Posted August 14, 2010 by Canio's in history

Some marvelous Cereus history   Leave a comment

Dear friend Martha sent a clipping from the archives of the lovely Blithewold Estate. “Bristol’s Cereus Puts on Show” shouts the headline. An eye-popping photograph shows the trailing leaders of  a huge plant with about 29 flowers in bloom. The caption explains they are only a portion of the 200 or so that opened on a night-blooming Cereus in a greenhouse on the estate of a certain William L. McKee. This from the Providence Sunday Journal, August 8, 1937.

The article notes an “enthralled audience” gathered to enjoy the spectacle. It is reported that at about 8 p.m. the “gorgeous white blossoms began to expand from their green pods.” This corresponds to the time when our Blanca begins to move, give or take 20 to 30 minutes. A certain W.H. Owen, superintendent of the property had been caring for the plant over the previous 12 years and had become thoroughly acquainted with its habits. “He said he expected it to blossom several nights ago but it didn’t probably because it was bearing more blooms than ever before.”

By 8:30 p.m., it is reported, “fully 150 blooms, six inches in diameter and containing a circle of creamy yellow stamens within were exposed to view.”

“The flower bears some resemblance to a huge white tulip and exudes a powerful, sweet fragrance, completely permeating the atmosphere of the hothouse.”  This particular specimen, Mr. Owen explained, had been developed from a cutting brought from Peru 30 years previous.   The plant had spread the entire breadth of the building, some 14 feet.

I’ve had the pleasure of visiting Blithewold, the former estate of Mr. McKee. I strolled the beautiful grounds and visited its greenhouses with Martha, poet-in-residence there. No traces of the enormous Cereus were in evidence, yet the property boasts an impressive collection of trees and views of Narragansett Bay that make it a popular setting for wedding photographs.

It wasn’t hard to image this elaborate and romantic plant luring in late night visitors with its spectacular flowers and fragrance. Guests of Mr. and Mrs. McKee likely dressed for the occasion, perhaps in white, and perhaps sipped cocktails, maybe champagne. Bessie, the hostess and heiress and her husband were known for their gracious hospitality and carefully orchestrated parties for family and friends, according to Blithewold history. It would have been an elegant party, at which glasses may have tinkled, and ladies’ refined laughter mixed with the heady fragrance of 200 hundred exotic flowers, guests  insulated for a time from the Depression which those outside the gates might have been suffering under.  Such is the allure of the night-blooming Cereus.  She calls us like a Siren and we can do nothing but follow the sound of her beautiful voice wherever it may lead us.

Posted August 13, 2010 by Canio's in history

13 buds, August 13   Leave a comment

We missed the peak of the Pleiades’s meteor shower last night due to cloud cover, but we may have clearer viewing tonight. Meanwhile, Blanca has begun her third cycle of budding and is creating a little meteor shower of her own right here on the back deck.  This morning’s count includes 13 buds of at least one-inch on this prolific plant. Abundanza! Even her off-spring, this summer’s propagated plants sport buds, again. Five in all measure at least one inch. What wonders await!  We realize that as the buds lengthen some may drop off. Still we anticipate a late great summer extravaganza. Last year’s mid-October blooming showed off eight elaborate blossoms. Will this blooming cycle be a record breaker? Stay tuned!

Posted August 13, 2010 by Canio's in bud watch