Archive for the ‘environment’ Category

But what does she look like?   1 comment

Our guests had ever seen a night-bloomer before.  A priest, a musician, a landscape architect, an arborist, a young writer and more all crowded around and were amazed. “I’d never be able to draw this,” said David. I’ve had difficulty trying to describe this  flower. Think of the Hindu goddess Shakti with multiple arms curving from her supple torso.  Think of a long slender arm, a foot long, but curved like a saxophone, wearing a skin-tight white glove. The hand opens to many tapered fingers of white silk. Where the palm would be, a smooth white tunnel recedes to infinity. It’s fringed with 16 silken threads , harp strings strung fiber to fiber and curved in semi-circle. Within the arc of stamens a most unusual stigma, the snout of a sea creature? A spider-like figure with legs at odd angles. This is the world her pollinator might enter, crawl around in, becoming enmeshed.  A hummingbird, if it flew at night, could get entirely lost within.  We bystanders were certainly ensnared. Sally brought a lovely bottle of wine, the palest of roses that matched the shade of that indefinable area where Blanca’s bud transforms into blossom. Where does the bud leave off and the flower begin? Which part is neck , and which is face?

But none of this works. To bring Blanca’s beauty before your eyes I would have to take it further,  and avoid anthropomorphism altogether. In Mark Doty’s recent prose work The Art of Description, he reads closely four poems about sunflowers by William Blake, Alan Shapiro, Allen Ginsberg, and Tracy Jo Barnwell. Each takes the commonly recognizable image and transforms it into something entirely new.  Doty writes, “They’re self-portraits, at least in the sense of portraying some aspect of the speaker’s psyche, and they manage to be true to sunflowers, too…” Here at this latitude, I’m not so sure my description is true to the night bloomer, if I would even dare link my meager efforts here with those of a finish poem.  Sure most of us could easily call to mind an image of a sunflower, but not so with the night-bloomer.  What’s more, my mid-Atlantic vantage point may see her differently from those who grew up with Epiphylum oxypetalum  right in their own backyard.

Finally, think of a lotus blossom floating not on a pad in pool of water, but through darkest night.  Better yet, what do you think she looks like?

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Posted September 18, 2010 by Canio's in botany, environment, on writing

On Smell   Leave a comment

One of the unusual, if minor, aspects of Dorothy Day’s autobiography The Long Loneliness is that she includes early on, scent memories.  It may seem like a small detail in light of the book’s main subject —  her coming to consciousness as a Catholic and social activist. Still the fact that she mentions  smells at all  signals to me an extraordinary individual, one acutely aware of her surroundings.  Perhaps it is through her heightened sense of perception that she came to conversion.  Dorothy Day remembers the odor of a friend’s house in Oakland that smelled of fresh shingles, an odd scent for a child to remember.  Later, after the great earthquake, the family moved into an apartment in Chicago. Young Dorothy was eager for some contact with nature. She remembers the scent of the sweet clover that fringed the cement-paved yard that was her playground. She gathered bunches of it to dry and stuff in pillows.  She remembers the smell of fresh popped popcorn watching from behind a window a sidewalk vendor pour butter and shake salt over the hot kernels. When her father’s job improved and the family could afford to move into  a house, Day describes it thus: “To draw the curtains at night on a street where people bent against the wind, and where a steady whirl of snowflakes blurred the outlines of trees and shrubs, and made the trees black against the heavy gray sky, and to turn to a room where a fire glowed in the basket grate and a smell of fresh bread filled the house–this was comfort, security, peace, community.”

For most, our sense of smell is the weakest way we perceive the world. Friends react differently to the power of the odor Blanca emits in her late night effort to attract whatever it is that will pollinate her. Some can’t smell it at all. Others choke on the heavy pollen dust they inhale. If I noted that the fragrance she issues into dark night  is comprised of  benzyl salicylate, would that bring you any closer to enjoying that musky sweetness? To say it smells like a combination of gardenia, jasmine and Casablanca lilies is only  a rough approximation.  It’s a heavy scent that lingers in the nose even after I’ve walked away from her. Sometimes I can almost taste it. Once I  thought I smelled it the next day, long after her blossoms had closed and she sat quietly, flowers hanging like curtain tassels, bedraggled. The memory of a party stirred up by the sight of your dress hung limp over a bedroom chair?
Carol saw some  cereus-scented products for sale on line. Bath salts. Perfumes.  Candles. Would we really want to be doused in such a fragrance? Perhaps  if your name were Cleopatra, or Aphrodite. But for the rest of us, it might be a bit much. Turned out these products were fashioned after another type of blooming cactus native to the hot deserts of Arizona. The fragrance creator had “memorized” the scent of the flower. Astounding! He could reproduce the scent without using the actual flower.

An unexpected bonus this season: the tropical rains that showered us, remnants of Hurricane Earl brought a late season drink to the many parched plants in the garden. One result, a hosta I’d wanted to do away with but didn’t, sprouted a long-stemmed lovely white blossom. When I bent near it to retrieve a pot that had blown off the deck railing, I was stunned by her elegant fragrance, one I’d never noticed before. Oh no!! How to describe this one? Lighter, younger than Blanca’s; a girl to her womanly ways. Something like lily-of-the-valley, fresh and watery. And I don’t even know her name. Fragrant hostas, anyone?

Posted September 14, 2010 by Canio's in environment, gardening, Uncategorized

Pachamamas Preserving Blanca’s home   Leave a comment

With a little piece of the rain forest, Blanca, a resident of the tropics, currently living in my backyard here in the temperate zone of the mid-Atlantic states, eastern end of Long Island, I feel called to consider what it means that this particular plant, one small tendril on a long and curvaceous inter-connected ecosystem has been plucked and transported so far north. What’s it like back home?What is my broader responsibility in nurturing Blanca?

We know the rain forests are in jeopardy. Considering the rampant environmental destruction taking place worldwide, I want to do one small thing to help protect Blanca’s home. There’s an upcoming symposium at the U.U. congregation in Bridgehampton: Awakening the Dreamer/Changing the Dream. It’s an afternoon’s presentation, Sunday, October 3,  about how to live a more sustainable, spiritual and equitable life. The symposium is a program of the Pachamama Alliance, a group dedicated to preserving tropical rain forests around the world by empowering indigenous people and to creating a new global vision of equity and sustainability for all . I want to support them, and I will attend the symposium.  For the privilege of having a small piece of that rain forest right here in Sag Harbor. For the sake of my dear nieces and nephew. And because it’s a moral obligation to do so. Learn more at these links: http://pachamama.org/  and http://awakeningthedreamer.org/symposium/1870/

Posted September 10, 2010 by Canio's in environment, Uncategorized

Tropical   1 comment

You can take the girl out of the tropics, but can you really take the tropics out of the girl? Today, the tropics, via Hurricane Earl have arrived in Sag Harbor and have showered Blanca, her lovely tassels swaying in the still gentle winds, with soaking rains. Perhaps she feels right at home. After blooming magnificently earlier this week (eight eye-popping flowers on Monday night; one more, the post-script on Tuesday, singularly gorgeous), Blanca is at rest. What perfect timing for this long soaking rain to bathe her, slake what must be a long deep thirst after three blooming cycles this hot, dry summer.

Posted September 3, 2010 by Canio's in environment, Uncategorized