Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Amaryllis, unfolding

When it arrived, I wasn’t sure what to do with it.

Strangely, there were no instructions attached. Just a medium-sized square cardboard box in our mailbox a week before Christmas.

It was a bulb, I could tell that much, in a festive if frangible gold-colored gilt flowerpot. And with it in the box was a dark chocolate torte, as well as a packing slip and a computer-generated card saying the gift was from my two Colorado aunts. I wondered whether that particular combination packaged together – a bulb in a gold flowerpot and a chocolate torte – was a regular catalog item or if my aunts had chosen to combine the two. Either way, it was a generous Christmas present.

I know a lot more about chocolate tortes than bulbs. And as it happened, we were having guests midweek. So I refrigerated the tightly wrapped cake for a few days and then sliced it into thin wedges and served it on our holiday dessert plates with a spoonful of whipped cream. Our guests loved it; I admitted regretfully that I hadn’t made it.

I told myself I’d do a little bit of online searching to find out how to take care of the bulb, which the packing slip informed me was an amaryllis. I’m not very skilled with plants under the best of circumstances, and bulbs, with their onion-y appearance and tendrils barely emerging from the dirt, are even more mysterious than ordinary house plants. I put it on the windowsill and gave it a small amount of water, after asking both my mother and my aunt how to care for it and having both of them tell me, “You’re either supposed to water bulbs or not water them, but I can never remember which.”

Though it was right on the kitchen windowsill facing toward the sunny back yard, I didn’t think much about the bulb. I gave it a little water every few days, with no idea as to whether I was hurting it or helping it. I neglected my resolution to do some online research and find out how to take care of it.

And then in late January, the stem started to grow: a strong, pale green stalk extending straight up from the peculiar orb in the dirt. A bud formed on the end. And this morning, I noticed the bud was starting to open a tiny bit, revealing dark pink petals within.

The sight of this bud so very slowly flowering reminds me of when my children were born. First, the incredulity that anything was actually gestating at all, physical evidence to the contrary not withstanding. In the hospital while in labor for the first time, I saw the bassinet that the nurse had placed in the room and had a pang of surprise that she was so confident a baby was actually going to occupy that tiny crib by the time we were done. But sure enough, a baby did arrive soon enough, in both cases, and throughout the years ever since, I’ve been watching with wonder and curiosity as the bud slowly opens and the brilliantly colored petals of my children’s personalities emerge.

And of course then, as with the bulb, they arrived without printed instructions. I had to do my own research, and ask for advice, and figure it out by trial and error.

In a few days, we’ll have a fully flowering amaryllis on the windowsill, and it will remind me of mid-December and the arrival of a bulb that I really wasn’t sure how to take care of. Wondrous beings emerge from the plainest of containers. From this dull and oddly shaped brown bulb came a beautiful flower. Opening fully as it will just in time for Valentine’s Day, it will be our first hint of spring.

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