Behold the Flower

Behold the Flower

I love nature and I love flowers. Wild orchids are among my most favorite. I have grown a small collection of orchids since high school.

Over the past several weeks I have been watching a flower bud grow on my Stanhopea orchid. I find Stanhopeas to be very unusual flowers for many reasons. They must be grown in hanging baskets rather than pots because the bloom stalk grows downward under the plant. The flowers are large (as big as my fist) with strangely shaped petals that are thick and heavy, like they were freshly molded from shiny plastic or slippery wax. The complex flower is multi-dimensional and designed to attract and guide insects inside to insure pollination. They have nectar glands in an upper structure that drip copious nectar into a “bucket” formed by a lower part of the flower. The first time I saw it bloom, I thought it was bizarre—not my idea of a pretty flower, but the engineering of it was spectacular! And it has a strangely heavy, sweet fragrance that is almost overpowering, and yet still pleasantly attractive to me (and certain insects).

Over the 35 years that I have grown this particular plant, it has bloomed only three or four times (more likely my fault than the plant’s). So all things considered, when it blooms it’s a big event to me.

For the past few mornings when I took Molly out, the first thing I did was check on the progress of the bud. Today was the morning it opened!

Unlike many orchids that have long-lasting flowers, Stanhopea typically has short-lived blooms, lasting only a few days. As a photographer with considerable experience in missing many flower shots because of various calamities (grasshoppers, squirrels and other animals eating flowers, birds and people picking them, etc.), I decided to photograph it this morning before I left for work, even though it wasn’t fully open.

As I experimented with various angles and lighting, I took a few test shots. I tried hanging the basket from several different tree branches. I took a few more test shots. Nothing satisfied my tastes. As I moved on toward another tree, the wire hanger broke and SPLAT!!! the basket fell onto the gravel driveway, with the blossom crushed beneath it. One of the petals and part of the center of the flower broke off. End of photo session.

What I had anticipated as being a fun experience ended in serious disappointment.

stanhopeaBefore I went to work, I uploaded the six test shots to my computer. I did not expect any of them to be usable, but I was able to salvage one of them [posted here to the right].

When I came home from work, I checked the flower. I was surprised that it was still alive and had continued to open and develop through the day. It was too dark to try to photograph it then, but as I looked up into it, its translucent petals glowed warmly with the remnants of light from the sky behind it. Even in its brokenness, it was spectacular! Triumphant!

Today I had been seeking a perfect flower and expected to enjoy it over a period of days. I wanted time to capture it on camera, to really make a study of it, to really do it justice.

Nothing went quite the way I wanted.

I am trying to learn to be present, in the moment. To open up to beauty and love. To let go of expectations. To give up perfection. To surrender to life.

Today, I did have some fleeting glimpses of beauty. Even in loss and brokenness.

Hours later, somewhere inside my nose, a faint, sweet fragrance lingers.

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