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

In the midst   4 comments

Sometime in the midst of that torrential downpour mid-last week, short-lived, but intense, we lost the three-inch bud on the cutting. It wasn’t likely to last, but the effort of that portion of the plant, cut too early, to reproduce, is impressive. It’s something like the reverse of remembered limb syndrome…Here the amputated part may “remember” the whole body of the plant. Or the cutting is so full of the life-force regardless of its connection to the mother plant that it stretches forward, no matter what.

Blanca blooms in the midst of whatever’s going on in our life. Last week I estimated she’d bloom tonight, Thursday, and I considered transporting her to a friend’s dinner in Noyac, or of inviting that dinner party to transplant itself around Blanca in Bay Point.  But the bud was lengthening more rapidly. I thought she might bloom on Wednesday when the kids would be visiting. How lovely, I thought, for them to see it. But it’s a late night kind of affair, and these are little ones, ages 4, 7 and 9…Would she captivate them? What appears like rapid blooming to adults may be just a slow, boring expanse of white to a child up too late past her bedtime. Those questions weren’t to be answered as the bud was growing at slightly more than one inch per day. She would bloom not on Thursday for the dinner party, nor on Wednesday for the nieces and nephew’s visit, but she would bloom on Tuesday, for the writing students.

This summer’s writing workshop is titled “The Single Effect”, what Edgar Allen Poe meant by calling for every element of a short story to contribute to the “single effect” of the work on the reader. Here was Blanca, pouring her heart out into this one single flower that remained on the plant just now. Every effort of her soaking up water and nutrients would spread into that glorious flower that would open on the night of our third class meeting.  So a last minute pizza- and- wine supper was hastily arranged. “It’s like a birth,” said one.  We sat around the table with our slices chatting excitedly, then we’d step outside, wine glasses in hand, where Blanca would be quietly dilating. It was a cool evening, the moon a waning gibbous, one singular white orb in the sky pulling at one white flower on the deck, in singular harmony, and the students like petals around the center.

Posted July 29, 2010 by Canio's in on writing

Blanca persists   Leave a comment

Just a few days after her triple blooming in a sudden summer downpour, we noticed something sprouting once again. The rain was brief, but very much needed, and left tiny pearls on her petals. It was a hot and steamy evening, and the flower’s late night fragrance hung in the close air. Lines from a supermarket romance? Perhaps. The elements are all there. Add a flute of champagne; some strawberries in a bowl.  Friends were enthralled. We were fulfilled. This singular plant beguiling.

And she continues. The mother plant has issued a post script, perhaps. A bud now measuring three inches and swollen at the tip is healthy, full of promise, the plant expressing itself. Buds are sprouting once again on cuttings severed too soon. We’ve been through this before, but this time, one bud has persisted to three inches looking quite sturdy and also rounding at the tip. Other cuttings have again produced a series of budlets tiny just now, but with the advantage of weeks, and more developed root systems, we have hope. Once again.

Posted July 19, 2010 by Canio's in bud watch