The February sun was streaming in through the window, slicing through the circle of cut crystal that I twisted gently, waiting for the warm water to fill the sink. As rainbow diamonds of cracked fire swam crazily around the kitchen, I could feel the apprehension tightening the muscles into a cross in my back. How much I was dreading this task. But I was determined to follow through.
I turned off the water and stood staring out the window. My thoughts drifted back through a golden haze as I recalled my generous-hearted orchid that had been blooming ever since I bought it when I moved into my house four years ago. I had never repotted the plant. I didn’t know it then, but this lemony lady would capture my heart with her loyalty and lead me down the path to becoming an orchid lover.
At first my relationship with her was quite casual. We visited daily in the bathroom where she sat on the bottom shelf of my plant window that looked out over the mountains. After a time I couldn’t help noticing that each of her buttery freckled faces seem to seek out my own as she perched there in the east window whenever I entered the bathroom. I watered her in a sloppy sort of way, pouring water through her and then letting it stand in the bowl beneath her pot until the sun would evaporate the rest, wondering when the yellow saw–like spikes would cease their bloom. I knew nothing about orchids, but because the soil mixture was so porous, I figured her roots couldn’t possibly be hurt by this kind of attention. A few months later, another yellow orchid joined her, and then another, and I treated them all the same way. Soon there were four. All of them bloomed predictably, but my yellow spotted lady never ceased to amaze me; she bloomed all the time. She didn’t seem to mind the passionflower that curled its tendrils around her spikes, or the cold drafts in winter. Sometimes, it seemed to me, she took a little rest in the summer. Her waxy yellow flowers would diminish in number during the hottest months.
I’m ashamed to say that after a while I took her for granted, paying closer attention to the bi-annual citrus fruit scented blossoms of the Cattleya that burst like winter sunsets out of thick green leaves in spring and fall. I began to experiment with a few more supermarket orchids, most of which rapidly expired. I finally bought a book on orchid culture, discovered a nearby orchid greenhouse, bought more books, more orchids, and began throwing out all my other plants. Orchid fever is like nothing I have ever known, and I’ve lived with plants all my life!
Armed with newly acquired knowledge, I began to feel uncomfortable around my loyal friend. Guilt rose unbidden. I would wince whenever I watered my Yellow Lady. How was it that she still lived? I was no longer taking her for granted. Now I was feeling paralyzed by the thought of doing her more harm. Still, I kept watering her in the same way believing that changing the routine after four years might kill her even though everything I’d read indicated that I must repot her because she was so root- bound. Worse, it seemed to me that each time I looked at the wizened old roots that wound their way into the air that she was gasping for breath. Wasn’t she begging me for help? I recoiled from repotting. It looked so hard. But one Sunday I finally I gave in. I had to risk losing her, even though I felt I didn’t have the experience I needed to repot her without more trauma. I was after all a novice with orchids. Maybe I felt that I didn’t deserve her because I had treated her so badly&nhellip;.
Turning away from the sink, I reluctantly made my way to the bathroom window. My back ached. I held my breath as I cut one of her spikes in order to remove her from the window. That spike had grown up through the shelf above her a couple of years earlier. I winced as I made the cut and pulled my lady out of her spot for the first time in four years. My heart thundered. I felt such misery as I murmured words of apology to her on my way to the kitchen table, where I planned to remove her from the pot. I sat down still talking to her as I braced us both for the task ahead.
I first cut off the dry brown roots that protruded into the air. I feared the inevitable tangle of black rotting roots still hidden in the pot. I had poured through every book I owned in preparation for this moment, and picture after picture of desiccated roots flashed through my mind. Gingerly, I started to cut away the pot, being careful not to break the four remaining flower spikes. When the first firm white roots appeared I was stunned. How was it possible that these healthy roots were growing in an orchid that had been treated with such ignorance and disregard? As I carefully cut away the old debris, relief flooded me. My yellow lady wasn’t dying, after all! I felt my body heave and sigh as I relaxed my vigil and thoroughly enjoyed the remainder of our task. When I was finished cleaning her up, I set her back in the pot, testing it for size. Then grasping her plant body in one hand I stood up. I planned to bathe my orchid in the sink before re-potting her in new bark.
I think I was gazing out the window as I lowered her into the still warm water, because I felt some kind of subtle tingling through my hands that caused me to look down at the plant. When I did, I was momentarily dazzled by the eerie glow of emerald green roots pulsing intensely, as if some sort of information was being passed, flashing between the plant and me through color and touch. All I can say is that I saw the varying shades of green roots deepen to emerald and fade as I stood there in a trance. When the thoughts came, they were sharp, clear and carried authority. My Lady is thanking me, her roots glowing to let me know she feels gratitude, too. I almost let go of her then, the shock of conscious thought was so great. I peered even more intently at the roots that even now were returning to a healthy pale green. A green I recognized. Did I imagine that emerald? “Trust your senses,” I heard her say. Breathing into the miracle of my body, I let all the love I felt for her and her kindred flow through me.
Blessings to you, too, My Yellow Lady.
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About the Author
Sara Wright is a naturalist and a writer. She lives in a little log cabin in the woods by a brook with two small dogs and two doves. She writes stories about the animals and plants that live here on her property in the western mountains of Maine and publishes them regularly in local paper’s nature column. She is also an independent black bear researcher who uses “trust- based” research to study the bears that have visited there. Since 2000, she has been exploring interspecies communication in collaboration with Rupert Sheldrake. She has Passamaquoddy roots, which may or may not be why she has dedicated her life to speaking out on behalf of the slaughtered trees, dying plants and disappearing animals. This is the only work that matters to her.