I have a friend who often reminds me that sometimes one thing has to die in order for something beautiful to grow up in its place.
I’m thinking about that now, as I watch the blooms on my orchid wane. What once was two healthy stalks teeming with lively white and purple flowers, touched just slightly with yellow, is down to one stalk – cut back after it dropped its blooms and turned brown. The remaining stalk has one healthy bloom left; the other remaining three are wilting and dropping and will soon fall away, followed shortly by the last remaining hold out flower.
When I received this flower as a gift in January, I thought I’d likely kill this plant from neglect or ignorance. I don’t know much about orchids, though I’ve always found them to be a fascinating plant. But since it was a gift, I wanted to at least try to keep it alive, and in bloom for a decent amount of time. I’ve done better than I expected I would. It’s been almost four months and it’s at last giving up its flowers. I’m not sure what species of orchid I have, but the internet tells me the blooms typically last 30-45 days. I even re-potted it without apparent trauma, an accomplishment I’m far too proud of.
I’ve been relying on a variety of web sites for information about caring for orchids, but this isn’t really about orchids. It’s about death, growth, and our relationship with nature.
So I’m a little sad that blooms are about to fall off after seeing them every day for so long. Each day I looked at them, I was reminded that there was something pretty to look at in my house, and that I had managed to not kill it. But I knew this was coming; those blooms can’t last forever. It has to happen to make room for whatever comes next. And it seems that whatever comes next for this orchid is a new shoot of growth, emerging from the center of the leaf grouping. So these blooms dying off really isn’t a death, it’s more of a reallocation of resources. For the past four months, this plant put much of its resources, I suspect, toward maintaining the blooms. Now that energy will go somewhere else – the the roots, the leaves, the spikes that hold the flowers, and hopefully, another time this year, the blooms.
None of that can happen if this plant tries to hold on the blooms that have had their time. And what’s true for plants is quite often the same that’s right for people.
I’ve thought of this a lot in my life, but more it seems lately. I’ve always been of the mind that we humans are natural beings, of the natural world, and that most of the answers to how we might live and function can be found through some deliberate observation of the world. The way in which animals shelter themselves, the way plants react to their environment, or the social structures that are set up to protect the pack, hive, colony. Yet, I suppose that a person will find validation in what he or she thinks. A survival of the fittest sort will find validation in the alpha male violently taking the lead of a pack of wolves, while a more communal sort will look to ants or bees and see a structure that protects and feeds the entire group. But I guess that also tells us that wolves make terrible bees, and vice versa. Each has its place and it’s no good trying to be an animal that you’re not.
Plants, like my orchid, all run through a cycle. We all see this outside every year. This time of year, spring, is filled with life and new growth. We emerge from the winter, the season of prolonged death, and the sounds of birds and the little upstarts of grass and plants quickens our pulse a bit. Maybe something put into us from long ago ancestors, who felt relief and renewed life with the changing of the season. The next months will be full of that growth, well into the hot summer months and even into fall. Then, green will fade to brown. The wind will chill again. The singing of birds will slow, then stop. And the blooms will fade and fall away.
But it must happen so there can be another spring, another season in which the energy that has been spent elsewhere during those flowerless months can emerge again, later, to show its beauty.