what were your roots before you were born

You’ll have to tell me if there’s a theme building through this week.  Oh by the way, it’s so nice to be back writing every day.  Thank you for being so patient with my wild absences.

This is the Norfolk Pine.  It began one Christmas as a desktop tree.  You know, the kind you see on the counters of banks and drugstores, plunked in a red foil diaper and pinned with a plastic bow that would make even a shih tzu die of shame.  I think we bought it because it was the year my father died and none of us had the energy to put up the usual tree.  It likely sat on our dining table – back in days when we had a dining room and not a zendo – decorated tastefully with an ornament or two.

It started to fail over time and I had enough vitality myself to just get it to the outer room.  We call this euphemistically the “sunroom” perhaps meaning only that it faces south and gets a lot of sun.  It is insulated but has no source of heat so in the winter everything freezes.  The tree in its little pot sat on the shelf in the window from about March to the following May or June.  I recall I was desperate to clean up the “sunroom” so I could use it as a potting shed.  That meant everything had to go!  I picked up the pot with the now-dessicated and dead tree – which came as no surprise being left for over a year in a room alternately hot and freezing cold with no water or nourishment.  As I started to pull the little tree out, a flash of colour slipped out of view: there in a wedge between the main trunk and a branch was a little spot of green.

Over the years, the Norfolk has grown to about three feet.  One Christmas, when I ran out of energy again, it served as the Seasonal Tree, happily reincarnating to its role before it was born.

There is surely a theme here, building defiantly to some conclusion.

right looking away

Following up the theme of quiet persistence from last week, it was lovely to see this little fellow sprouting.  (Oh yes, Zen Master Sprout is doing well, thriving on generous amounts of tolerance and occasionally being put in his place by our Matriarch Cat, Desireé.)  This is an orchid.  I got one several years ago in full bloom but was never able to encourage more blossoms.  Being the lazy sort, I would from time to time do a bit of hortigoogling but the suggestions all seemed to require too much effort.  So I watered the dear thing haphazardly as I do with most of my plants and it lumbered along in much the manner of most pot-bound beings, that is to say it sat contented not to shrivel up and die.  One might say that orchid showed some quiet persistence but I suspect plants are generally resilient and thankfully robust to our neglect and ignorance.  

Last Fall, I came across a type of orchid called a “Just Add Ice” which is not a species but a technique.  About the same time I read about a blogger pal who had received an orchid as a gift.  He worried about caring for it and whether he was up to the ministrations such a rare and delicate plant would need.  I felt a bit guilty at first glancing over at my orchid which was languishing in a pool of murky water; then I felt competitive.  Could I get mine to bloom before his?  I also recalled during one samu or work period at Upaya, the resident gardener came into the dokusan room where I was cleaning up.  Using a damp cloth, she gently wiped down the each of the leaves of the lusciously blooming orchid.  I asked her how to make these things bloom and she looked at me with that “oh you still don’t get it, do you?” look.  

With a caretaker so attached to outcomes and desirous of sensual pleasures, no wonder my orchid remained resolutely barren.

So I formed a clear intention to put some effort into caring for my orchid in a more conscious and attentive manner.  I even bought two more to keep it company on the shelf where they get indirect sunlight all day and cool temperatures at night.  I logged onto the Just Add Ice website and read (quickly and somewhat impatiently – but hey… transformation takes time!) about the care and feeding of orchids.  I even got a measuring cup to mix up the right amount of nourishing broth to feed them.  

Over the winter, the two I bought struggled to recover from the severe neglect they had endured in a cavernous hardware/homeware center.  When I tried to repot them, my heart dropped at the sight of rotted roots.  But, remembering to hold that intention to care close, I repotted all three and set up a reminder to fertilize them once a month on the first Sunday and to water them with 3 ice cubes on the other Sundays.

The instructions had said a new bloom should show in a month.  And this was the test: to read that but not become invested in it.  To look at the three orchid plants and see them as unique systems that had their own time-table of recovery, nourishment, and expression.  To step back each Sunday from the pots and not want to make it different from what it was.  And to welcome the anticipation and the deflation when that shoot with a mitten offshoot heralding a blossoming spike didn’t manifest.

This is a practice of Right Looking Away, Wise Disregard.

And then one day… one day…