the birth of an orchid

I was given this orchid plant last October, as an anniversary present from my wonderful partner in crime. It had a number of exquisite blooms on it at the time, which started thinning and getting ready to fall right around Christmas. The last of them hung on until mid/late-January. I derived much joy from them in that time.

After the last flower fell, the flower spike itself soon began to wither. That, I concluded with fond regret, was apparently that.

But…

The leaves of the plant still looked so shiny and deeply, vibrantly green. While the plant was brought into our home in order to provide a view of the orchid flowers which I love so much, I do also love leaves on their own merit. And these quite obviously still had some life in them. It seemed a shame to give up on them.

So I cut back the dead flower spike and continued to water the plant as normal through the winter.

In the spring, I noticed that while the plant was still chugging along, it was looking a little droopy. I’m basically an utter novice where it comes to plants, coming as I do from the desert where nothing grows unless it wants to, but it seemed to me that maybe it was overwatered? I cut down to two ice cubes a week from the recommended three. The plant rallied.

But then I noticed it was suffering another ailment: the leaves were drying and cracking. It was getting too much direct sun in the spot I’d been keeping it in. Oops. I wiped the leaves down with a wet towel and moved it again.

In the early days of summer, I made an observation that gave me a tiny thrill of satisfaction: new leaves! There were new leaves coming in! I was managing not only to not kill the plant, but to give it enough love to let it grow!

That satisfaction turned to giddy excitement one day when I saw something else happening to the orchid plant. A small green tendril of some kind was poking out from between the leaves. Never in my wildest dreams had I ever imagined that the plant might flower again under my care, so I thought this was probably a new bit of root. Still exciting, because it would mean life. But to be sure, I asked the internet. The internet told me that I would be able to tell a root from a flower spike by the shape on the end. The end of an orchid flower spike, apparently, has sort of a mitten-y shape.

WELL GUESS WHAT!

I dug out a stake and began coaxing that bad boy into an upward trajectory. As a complete and total flower novice I was surprised that apparently orchids try to grow straight out sideways, but I rolled with it. Every day, I would check its progress like a proud parent marking her child’s growth on the wall. It was a big day when I noticed what looked like the first bud forming. We eventually got six.

The house next door to mine has been empty for the last two years and something of a jungle has grown up on the property, swallowing the crumbling structure whole. I didn’t mind because it blocked the view and also, some wild Rose of Sharon hibiscus sprang up in the space between that property and mine. Lovely. The overgrowth was so intense that it actually blocked the morning light from coming directly in the northeast windows in my dining room, instead giving us nice diffuse sunlight on the dining table.

Because time and perfect lighting stand still for no man, the bank finally sent someone around to chop down the jungle and try to get that house ready for sale. Suddenly the orchid plant was getting blasted with direct sunlight first thing in the morning and the new buds started to sag. I had to scramble to find a new home for it where it was getting light, but not too much. Now it’s hanging out on the other side of the house in the living room, with all of the books.

I was a little worried about those sagging buds that had gotten the full sun blast, but they kept getting bigger and looking more and more like they were about to burst.

And then, yesterday,

We have separation!

How long would it take to see that turn into a flower, I wondered? I have no idea what I’m doing here. This has all just been a happy failure into success. But look what I woke up to this morning.

Maybe it seems silly to you that I would go on and on about one little orchid plant that has sprouted a single flower a year after it was given to me. And maybe it is silly. But maybe, also, this is about more than a plant. Maybe this is also about all of those years I spent dying in the desert where nothing grows unless it wants to, and how I don’t live there anymore because I escaped through epic struggle that didn’t end even after I made it to Pennsylvania.

Maybe it’s about salvaging life when it looks like that life is over. Maybe it’s about perseverance even where there’s no reason to think anything will come of it. Maybe it’s about changing the narratives we’ve come to accept about ourselves — “Oh, I can’t grow anything. I have a black thumb. Ha ha.” — and understanding that sometimes it’s personal growth and sometimes it’s about the environment we’re trying to survive in. Sometimes we just need to leave the desert.

In any case, here’s a pretty flower that I grew.