It is kind of hard to write something funny about getting a diagnosis of breast cancer, but it helps if you were signed up for G.I.S.H. (W.E.S) before even a hint of trouble arose on the horizon. GISH(WES) stands for The Greatest International Scavenger Hunt (the World has Ever Known.) It may not cure cancer…but it sure cured getting the diagnosis.
If this week had a sound track, it would be Cosmo Sheldrake’s “Come Along”:
If you ever wondered what it would look like if I went off the deep end, this one’s for you.
My week of GISH started with…
A Bull Named Fu Manchu
Item #14 – No Bull About It. Ride that bull like the zen master you are.
My next genius decision took me, my autistic son, and a cousin (who made the mistake of saying, “Sure, why not?” before reading the fine print) on a very long road trip to make music at Niagara Falls. Don’t worry; she got her revenge. She had to practice the recorder in the car all the way there. I may never get those high notes out of the crevices of my brain where they are lodged.
Trip to Niagara Falls, sort of
GISH Item #30. Perform the Kansas song, Wayward Son, at a natural world wonder.
I can’t take too much credit for the performance at the falls. All the kudos go to Anna. But, we did manage to drive almost all the way there and back again in a 24-hour period. If I could do anything different, it would be to stay at the falls and give us all a better morning. But, there was more GISHING to be done!
But, as we crossed the border home, it seemed a waste not to knock out Item #166 “Love has no borders, play a game at an international border crossing.”
This required playing a game like charades which would not require crossing of the boundary nor passing any item back and forth. We were pretty punch drunk by midnight, so take our giddiness with a grain of perseverance.
Too Perfect Not To:
Most of the GISH Items were beyond my skill set–requiring a team or the ability to wing walk a bi-plane while painting the landscape below–but others seemed like I had been training for them my whole life.
Item #91–A Cairn Terrier Named Rocky. (Hint: he won’t come when you call him.)
I’m fairly sure my family is starting to become concerned about my over enthusiasm for this scavenger hunt. But they gamely play along.
I beg on Facebook and an obliging family who barely know me offer up their basement and their children (but only in an advisory capacity) to accomplish the next hunt-worthy construction. Lego Shoes!
Gish Item #3 Sounded Sooo Easy
I have so much more respect now for the ‘play’ of little boys and girls (and their parents too!) I started by sorting my blocks into piles of color to best determine what color the shoes should be made of. (It is entirely possible a person with some sort of OCD disorder shouldn’t be handed LEGOS!) Despite the excellent instruction provided by Noah and Jonathon, it took me much longer than I thought to build a pair of shoes! Honestly, this project was time and labor intensive. I will never call what people do with LEGOs silly again.
After hours of building the stupid things, it turns out my foot is too big. My mother-in-law’s feet are tiny…but her balance is a bit iffy. She nearly fell trying to walk the required three steps. So, I sent a hail mary request on Facebook. And Mary answered. My mother, Mary, to be precise…
Bouncing back and forth in activities required a lot of energy. Fortunately, I always had a handy supply of sweet relief.
As I was making this dessert-worthy entry, I did wonder if I was sending my child the right message. But, since he ignores all my good advice anyway, I decided to tackle a little foundational feng shui. Candy Man Style!
Item #61: Funderwear!
This particular item seemed a no-brainer. What could be more fun? I worried that I might have picked too obvious a selection. So, I doubled-down on my craziness.
I made both a Life Saver brassiere as well as Twinkie, Ho-Ho, and Hostess Cupcake Spanx.
My breasts were minty fresh and I could honestly say, “Eat my shorts” and be perfectly appropriate.
I highly doubt anyone else made an outfit quite like mine. Mostly because nobody would be that crazy! I needed help getting into both items. I wore a shirt and shorts underneath because I wasn’t sure there wouldn’t be a wardrobe malfunction at some point. In fact, I had to hold the pants up for the entire photoshoot. The combined weight of that many baked goods was threatening my structural integrity. And my blood sugar levels.
GISH was surprisingly touching at times.
My mother-in-law chipped in where she could before heading home to California. When an item came up that called for someone over the age of eighty, she was my go-to-gal.
Item #49 – Diorama Digressions
I’m putting the long version of the video interview here. (Most entries had to be under 14 seconds, but this one had a whopping 30 second allowance.)
After Laura related the momentous facts surrounding her favorite memory/day, I had several days to create a diorama of the events. But I dithered trying to come up with the perfect idea for how to make her item unique and personal to her and not just reflect anybody’s wedding day. So, I went to my favorite antiques store to hunt for inspiration. And I found it:
I made a calculation error in timing. The little Hugo clothespin doll was achieved simply by painting the wooden peg with acrylic paint. Which dries in 20 minutes…if your house isn’t soggy with humidity. Guess what!??
The damned peg just wouldn’t dry. It’s Tuesday night, and the mom-in-law is scheduled to catch a flight out really early on Wednesday. So we end up fudging the reveal by handing Laura her still-tacky husband to juggle while she fumbles with her box. (Insert your own joke here. No, wait. I think I’ve just made a very crude and inadvertent reference to my mother-in-law’s box. Nevermind.)
Consummate performer that she is, Laura tackled the late-night recording of her reaction to her diorama with panache and grace. It was truly a labor of love…and it’s the piece I will remember when the years pass and other things fall away.
Item #127 – Moose Call
I think this was the easiest one, overall, but the pace of filling my many obligations was starting to show.
All we had to do for Item #127 was go to a Tim Horton’s, dressed as a moose. Moose costumes aren’t that simple to come by, but headgear was. Since I was dragging a moose-sized child around with me, I just slapped a pair of antlers on him and called it good.
You may be sensing a theme by now…
I generally tried to pick things that appealed to me, or that I could do in a reasonable amount of time with some accuracy. I can make a loaf of bread crisp…but can I make it do anything else?
As it turns out, I’m not a particularly exact entomologist.
Item #79 – Bug Nuts
When invited to “make icky bugs great” I grabbed my glutinous flour and ran with the instructions to “Create a realistic-looking, oversized detailed sculpture of an underappreciated arachnid or insect out of bread…”
Done and slightly over done!
Of note: if you decide to bake black-colored bread, put the dye in the bread machine. If you try to hand-knead it, like the far dung beetle pictured above, you get mottled results.
I tended to opt for a lot of kitchen based challenges. Thinking that I had a home court advantage. But some of my efforts fell flat.
One in particular was a most spectacular failure!
Item #23 – You have something on your…everything.
This video wouldn’t be possible without the help of a really good friend who stopped by to film. If you listen, you can hear her laughing in the background as well as making salient commentary. The Best British Bake-Off this ain’t! But, I dare any of those contestants to do better. The basic instruction: bake a cake without using your hands or any measuring tools. The only implement allowed? Your face!
Face Cake Fails: Parts I and II
I probably lost points on execution, but in intent? I nailed it. I was laughing so hard throughout this enterprise, I’m surprised I didn’t snort more flour than I did.
There are two videos because the longer one (below) filled up the SD card on the camera. The first video is high-speed reformatted (above.) The one that follows should include commentary. Really, you need to hear the snarky commentary.
The cake was inedible. But the instructions were very clear. It had to be eaten by you and a loving family member. Thank goodness Alexei is so very fond of Easy Bake Oven cakes. When they are cooked better than this:
Carrot cake is my favorite dessert…so this segue shouldn’t hurt too very much.
Item #97 – So very, very orange…
Food was a definite theme for me.
The only instruction given for this was the following: See Item #97 (pictured below) only said “8554J46H+FH. You, the Carrot God, have summoned them.” I couldn’t figure out what the code stood for, so I decided to get some grease paint and hair spray and do my best.
I was ridiculously proud of the results:
It wasn’t until I went to upload my most excellent Carrot God interpretation that I figured out what the code: 855 J 46H + FH stood for. Apparently it’s a way to write global coordinates and it is somewhere in the Newport Beach Civic Center in California. (California friends and relatives, you lucked out that I didn’t figure this out in time to corral your assistance, otherwise I might have asked you to paint yourself orange and dash about with fistfuls of carrots.)
From carrots we move to espionage with one simple leap of deduction.
SO, you want to be on a CIA watch list?
Item #50 – Write a letter to the director of the CIA. How could this possibly go wrong?
All I had to do was crypto-translate a sculpture that the finest minds at spy headquarters hadn’t managed to translate. No biggie.
…and post the letter to a social media account.
…tagging the CIA so they couldn’t miss it.
If I’m audited next year, this is why. #StillGladIMailedThatLetter
What Exactly is the Point of GISH again?
While all this is going on, I have been fielding calls from various doctors’ offices and doing my best to stay on top of feeding and watering the child. During one of the ABA sessions, the tech eyes me for a while doing various goofy tasks and finally asks me why I’m doing this. I briefly explain that the registration fees for participating are used to remove landmines from farms in Laos.
Her response, “What does dressing like a carrot have to with charity? Couldn’t the money you spent on this stuff go directly there?” #She’sNotWrong
I don’t think I gave her a very satisfactory answer. Up to that point, I was doing all the fun items. The crazy ones. The slightly quirky and downright ridiculous ones. But the main purpose of GISH is to raise funds for charitable goals. And I haven’t mentioned those once!
So, I took the list and checked it twice, to find out to whom I could be nice.
So, Saturday, on the last day of GISH, and with the help of my son, I:
Made up gift baskets and visit the elderly…
We also try to do a good deed in our neighborhood while also encouraging my child toward philanthropy–not an easy concept to get across for anyone, none less a teenager with autism.
Time was starting to fly, and I decide to teach my son the importance of sharing would do for a good, concrete lesson.
My last GISHY act was to buy a tree to be planted in Kenya. I wish I could say Kenya was my intended destination, but no, it was the default option when you went to the OneTreePlanted website. From what I could see, many people made the default donation. Kenya should be nice and leafy real soon.
Doing charitable acts to participate in a scavenger hunt might seem like a waste of time and money to most people. It also feels somewhat wrong to do nice things for credit. But, this week helped to make up for getting some pretty bad news. I had fun. No one was hurt…much. And maybe, just maybe, a little good was accomplished.
And, at the end of the day…and a very long week…that’s not a bad thing.
Kudos Go To…
To all the friends who helped me along the way, thank you. I couldn’t have done it without you. I’d stop to express my gratitude personally, but it is almost 2:00 a.m. and I’m falling over exhausted. I may just sleep the next week away.
Recently someone asked me how I managed to potty train my autistic child. I said something like, “I went through hell and back, that’s how.” Without blinking, they asked directions for the road map to hell. I finally found the notes I used back in 2010 on a back-up drive (whew), and in reviewing what I went through, I decided this might make a better post than my review of Men In Black: International. Though, with fewer references to poop. For all the autism parents out there, this one’s for you.
*I wouldn’t ordinarily have a footnote to my poetry. But I’ve never had this happen before. I don’t know what to call that little slice of word jumble at the top. I tried leaving it out and that felt wrong. I tried putting it in…even wronger. Is it a foreword? A prelude? A prequel? I’m not sure what to call it. So, I’m not calling it anything. It just is. And I hope that is enough.
While I was surviving the past six months, fun events still happened. They just were overshadowed by the dark cloud looming. Now that the storm has passed, everything is sunny skies…or should I say…bunny skies?
It was high noon in Bunny Town.
When trouble showed its floppy ears.
Some folks might say, he was itching for a hare-raising fight.
Others believe, the dastardly bunnies had it coming.
The lone bunny rider looked honest…honestly dangerous.
He dressed all in white…except for the mask.
Clemson Cadbury—Clem to his friends—rode into Bunny Town one fine day.
He was wanting to put up his lucky rabbit’s feet and ease his saddle sores at the only hopping joint in town:
The Rabbit Hare Saloon
The girls at the saloon were of the heart of gold variety.
They made a rabbit want to sit up and pay attention.
To push his fuzzy-tailed luck.
But Clem only had eyes for the sweet, sloe-eyed school marm who taught the A, B, C’s of being a bunny.*
His heart belonged to that fair damsel–Flory-Dory Flopsalot.
Clem would have happily laid his hat—or his heart—at Flory-Dory’s feet for her taking or stomping there upon.
But Flory-Dory’s uncle was the local sheriff and he put no faith in lone rabbits who just moseyed on through his town.
So Clem spent his lonely hours, pining for his true love, and sipping dandelion sarsaparillas at the Bunny Bar Saloon.
Until the day he tangled with the Black Bunny Banditos!
Clem didn’t know, when he entered that bar that fateful day, that a gang of hardened thugs were also looking to play.
They were bad bunnies with bad attitudes.
And they didn’t care what kind of mask a bunny hid behind.
Clem was nursing a carrot-infused herbal tonic and the saloon honey-bunnies were taking his orders—hopping to get whatever he wanted.
The three black-hearted bunny banditos entered the saloon.
Their tail spurs jingled as they hopped.
Bippity tried to snag his favorite coquette–Odette.
But Odette was batting her lashes at Clem.
Boppity yelled for his bunnymondaine—but Desbegonia had no time for the ruff-necked, lop-eared cur.
No, Desbegonia was dancing to and fro, making Clem watch her as she’d go.
Then Beauregard stepped through the door and stood there watching a minute or more.
He waited. He wanted. But his flowery filly—Daffydilly—was not to be found.
Except, wherever Clem was around!
Daffydilly sang sweet serenades to woo her beau…
(But not the rabbit by that name, no!)
Beauregard spit out his cheroot and hollered at his boys to scoot!
“No interloping jackalope claims our pieces of fluff!” Said he.
And off behind the saloon went the three…
Clem had no clue when he stepped outside
An ambush awaited his white-tailed hide.
But Flory-Dory knew!
From her chair near the window, she’d watch and sigh, whenever the handsome buck went by.
So, when the school marm saw her rabbit in trouble, she called for the sheriff on the double!
Sheriff “Lefty” Cottontail.**
Sheriff Cottontail was none to keen to confront the three rapscallions—despite their lawless ways.
He was a laid-back lawman who let other people’s bullets do the talking.
But Flory-Dory wasn’t letting her lily-livered uncle get away with that!
“I’ll take on those ne’er-do-wells myself, iffn I have to!” Said Flory-Dory.
If she’dve had a spittoon nearby, she’dve spat in it for emphasis.
With this incentive, Sheriff Cottontail, decides it’s better to fight like a rabbit, than to be shown up as all fluff and no tail.
He hops to Clem’s side in the nick of time.
Sheriff Lefty (pictured right) and Clem
The dastardly Coney Brothers had trussed Clem up in baling wire and dangled him by his stubby tail over a vat of sugar syrup.
“We’re gonna dunk you neck-deep in this here sassafras barrel.” Piebald Beau promised Clem. “When they find your sorry sack of fur, all will think that you fell in to get a drink.”
Then in flopped the Sheriff, long and fat, and squashed those Coney brothers flat!
It warn’t no time at all before the bad bunny brothers were rounded up and thrown into the hoosegow.***
But Sheriff Cottontail knew, it wouldn’t be long before those bunnies were back bearing a grudge.
The Black-Hearted Bunny Banditos
So the sheriff hired his niece to be his stalwart deputy!
Flory-Dory rescued her hero from a sticky fate and cut him free.
Clem caught Flory-Dory up in his fuzzy embrace and they nuzzled noses.
It was quite the scandal.
And into the sunset, as he rode away, Clemson swore that he’d come back and marry that gal someday!
Asterisk Bedazzled Bunnynotes:
*The bunny head mistress taught the children their A.B.C’s: Always. Bring. Carrots.
**Sheriff Lefty was so named because, if you weren’t careful, he’d let himself get left behind in a gunfight.
***Hoosegow—to all you city slickers out there—is the clink, the slammer, the yard, the pen or, as it is otherwise known, jail.
_____________You read this far bonus____________________
Honestly, I’ve never had so much fun as writing this post.
Here’s a few oddities I discovered while looking for bunny-related miscellany:
Bunny Cowboy Soundtrack performed by Neptune Bunny here:
I won’t even try to explain this. You just have to watch it to believe it.
Walking the public pier along the Holland State Beach allows one to appreciate both an exercise in free speech and the quasi-felonious joys of graffiti expressionism.
I have never been so brave or confident in what I had to say that I was willing to risk a $250 fine and possible jail time to tag a public edifice in order to say it.*
Vandalism is, at the very least, a misdemeanor offense, but what I want to know is…is it art?
And if it is art, what is it saying?
Based on my hour spent cataloging this year’s liberal art tributes on the rusting canvas of the masses, the message depends on the viewer:
If you look hard enough, you can find answers.
Although….you may also be left wondering what the question was.
Thoughts from Danny Duncan!
Danny thinks “It’s fine!”
But, he scrawled his sentiments in a tucked away place on an overhead pipe, so I suspect he’s playing it cool.
Some people put themselves out there, courting ridicule…possibly unaware that a Tinder Date may be using a pseudonym.
Everyone has an opinion…whether that opinion is worth scrawling on a pier support is in the eye of the beholder.
Dreams are apparently dictated with impermanent ink scrawled on a blue-green background and will melt with time and the coming rains.
Lacking the words to express their deeper emotions, some fall back on a classic:
Friends slap high fives (or low ones) wherever they can.
Some HIGH FIVES bury the headline:
OTHER HIGH FIVES come with best wishes from ON HIGH!
Emotions run high…leaving some confused…knotting their hair with suspense.
Will Jeffrey or Won’t Jeffrey?
Perhaps the message echoes an earlier time—a plea forPeace, Loveand Hope symbolized by a badly divided pie chart?
The VEGANS were a bit demanding and psychedelically so:
Some pier polluters promote poignant pleas:
Perhaps what you take from the message boardwalk is only that which you brought with you?***
FORSOOTH, FIE, ALAS
One word scrawled among the masses stood out. I was astounded that classics such as Shakespearean language describing a two-week time frame have made it to modern vernacular (even if the spelling hadn’t):
Then, later, during a rare session of live tv watching, I was bombarded by a commercial which dispelled my illusions. (And possibly also my allusions.)
I almost despaired to have lost a belabored delusion of the persistence of language.
But then, after watching King Lear drop bodies at Grand Valley State University, I decided that Fortnite actually is a modern variant of Shakespearean storytelling—if only Shakespeare had lived in the age of the rocket launcher.
For anyone not neck-deep in the hat-phantasmic hoopla surrounding the royal wedding, allow me to present a less drama-soaked alternative: watching plants grow!
It occurs to me, that I have watched too many episodes of Midsomer Murders–a British television show on air since 1997 that refuses to die no matter how many casting changes occur.*
If you know the genre, there typically is a picturesque village holding a Medieval Faire with costumed residents oozing quaintness and exhibiting occasional homicidal tendencies.
If you are unfamiliar, I recommend a movie by Simon Pegg called “Hot Fuzz” that crystallizes the best and worst bits about the deceptively serene English countryside:
The thing that captures my attention more than the body count, is the number of community fêtes thrown. There’s like, what, one every episode? It makes me wonder if it is a national British pastime to dress in Ye Olde itchy togs and con people into playing cheesy parlor games for the sake of the church roof fund!
This brings me to today’s topic: American Block Parties.
Most block parties are an organized potluck gathering on barricaded side streets with no other function than to bring a community together to eat. Saturday gives me the opportunity to attend one that is equal parts British Fête Fundraiser and old-fashioned American street festival.
Wellhouse is a community program that buys local houses, renovates dilapidated neighborhoods, and provides housing and skills training for formerly homeless residents. They also promote a ‘growing’ community with an emphasis on sustainable practices and energy conservation along with farm gardening.**
Wellhouse hosts a plant sale each year. You go for the plants. You stay for that little something extra you won’t find at your local greenhouse: community!
At first, I beeline to pick up the greenery I want to fill out the barren landscape choked with crabgrass and despair that is my backyard.
Per usual, my teenage son has a trajectory of his own.
I keep dragging the man-child away from one table in particular. (I need to ogle flowers with exotic names like ‘Clemson’ and ‘Hyssop’, don’tcha know.)
I promise my child a specialty cupcake just so I can plant shop. (Twist my arm.)
I don’t know how good the chocolate cupcake with chocolate whipped frosting was, I just know it took my son less time to inhale said cupcake than it took to remove the wrapper.
I pick the one with the raspberry garnish.
I have no regrets.
If you want more rib-sticking eats, you might hit up the royalty-hued catering provided by Purple Blaze, a hybrid of Southern and Ethiopian cooking.
Sadly, I have no time to sample their fare, mostly because the boy-child is pushing me to go, however, even I as a non-meat eater have to say the wafting odor of barbecue is positively mouth watering.
You wouldn’t think there is be more in store at the festivities, but you’d be wrong. The gray, overcast sky can’t put a damper on the upbeat spirits.
There are white-tented tables with various arts for sale. My arms are mostly full of greenery, but I stop to admire the selections.
And fabulous arts of the crafted clay variety provided by WMCAT or the West Michigan Center for Arts & Technology.
Here’s CC showing off her colorful floral-designed Pot:
Before long, my son is dragging me toward our Prius in a desperate bid for freedom, but I chat and take pictures as if this isn’t killing him slowly.
Moving between lazy droplets of rain, it is possible to find your smile while listening to The Fabulous Vans.
As I am packing up my car to go, I chat with the guitarist who is setting up for a performance. We exchange brief biographies, the way strangers do.***
I point to my kid who is slumping, hang-dog, in the car since mommy isn’t hopping to like he hopes. Timmy points to his daughter, Sierra, still polishing off some ribs at a nearby picnic table. He brags about her musicality and involvement in local choirs.
“You wouldn’t be biased about her talents at AlL?”I joke.
Her dad laughs and denies partiality, “Of course not.”
We talk about kids and music for a bit.
I bemoan my teenager’s rebellion against piano and ask whether he has to badger her to follow in her father’s footsteps? He assures me that she’s the one who wants sing.
He can’t say enough great things about her. Apparently, she’s even influenced the music they play.
“We usually play classic rock covers–like Led Zepplin’s “A Whole Lot of Love” but Sierra sings from some of her favorites: Twenty-One Pilots or One Republic.”
“I’m sorry,” I interrupt him. “Did you say Twenty-one Republics?”
He corrects me without laughing, much. By now, the rest of the band has loped over, and agrees to stage a picture for me. I hear them play as I drive away. Their enthusiasm isn’t in the least dampened by the drizzly venue.
I spent the rest of the day trying to plant things while simultaneously killing as many weeds as I can.
In the spirit that embodies fine British murder mystery programming, there’s been a summer fête, someone has to die!
Asterisk Bedazzled Footnotes:
*Regarding Midsomer’s Suspicious Death Rate: I do wonder how a fictional hamlet apparently no bigger than Rhode Island can survive quadruple homicides on a weekly basis without running out of people?
**I totally stole the Wellhouse information from a flyer available at the front table.
***Even though we all know about serial killers, no one expects them. They are like the Spanish Inquisition this way.
Thank you for joining me for a retrospective of the Mother’s Day bonsai bonanza at Meijer Gardens. I highly recommend you attend the special exhibits like these, or, failing that, stopping by to enjoy my obsessive photography habit.
I was reminded today that being human takes practice and it is, thankfully, not as hard as propagating orchids. I did not know, when I headed to the Meijer Gardens Orchid Show, that I would learn that flowers grow in forms of glass, peat moss dreams, and human bonding–both casual and eternal.
Sleepless after ill-conceived, late-night revels with the Princess Bride and Futurama, I staggered to Meijer Gardens Saturday towing a camera with a mostly-dead battery.*
Thank goodness for iPhones.**
My son dragged me to a corner and refused to budge while we both waited for salvation in the form of a fearless babysitter incentivized by college debt and the promise of at least a Benjamin to keep the orchid’s safe from harm.
The minute my child disappeared with his sitter, I was off. My goal—to photograph as many blooms as possible before my teenager got bored and came back. So, basically, like the count down timer on a nuclear device–I was set to go!
iPhone camera in hand, I stalked exotically named flora.
I hadn’t hit my stride when I ran into a mother and her 26-year-old son. We were fighting to capture the same bloom without flashing each other to blindness.
The mom struck up a conversation as I waited my turn at the luscious fuchsia petals that somehow managed to be the stealth bomber of the orchid enclave.
I was too focused on the flowers. I almost missed hearing that this well-spoken young man has Asperger’s. And like a flower turned to the sun, I lit up meeting him.
To his mom, I said, “My son has ‘classic autism’, he’s non-verbal.”
“I know. I saw you earlier with him.” She confided, nodding toward her son, “We reached him through his love of photography.”
Her son took a break from photographing the coveted blossom. We shook hands. He told me his name and then asked me for mine. I spelled my name out for the young man. He dutifully entered it into his phone—taking delight when I asked if he knew how to spell my last name—citing the Harry Potter – Salazar Slytherin reference. He showed me his phone and he had it letter perfect.
Unfortunately, in the hustle, I totally missed taking his name down. (The day was about photography not blogging, so my notes were whatever I could slap into my phone between pictures.) Looking later, high and low, I couldn’t find his name. If you know this young man, tell him I said ‘Hi’ and ask him to find me.
But, because I met him, my whole day changed. I wasn’t there just for the flowers, but to flower in the company of human experience.
And in writing about each person I met, I decided, I needed to invent an appropriate orchid name.
First, I met…
The Freckle-Dusted, Curly Charmer – a/k/a Rachel
In such a small space, it is not hard to run into people—several times even—at various stations.
I inadvertently stalked this couple throughout the gardens: Rachel and her very tall, camera-shy companion, Kyle—a smug owner of a Samsung Galaxy phone who taunted me periodically with the amazing shots he could take.
Not to be outdone–here’s one of the best I captured:
We exchanged observations while snapping pictures.
Almost every plant had a ribbon—though some of them could be the floral equivalent of an ‘Honorable Mention’ participant award as far as I knew. I have a policy of admitting my ignorance up front—it saves time and effort.
“They all look so beautiful,” I told her, “I really don’t know how the judges could evaluate the merits of any flower.”
That’s when Rachel dropped her orchid bomb!
“I’m sort of a cheater.” She confessed.
When pushed to explain, she said, “I was a biology major at Grand Valley [State University] and I had this professor who showed us how to propagate orchids using a method of injecting genes to create new flowers. So, I understand a bit more about this than most.” ***
This whole time I’d been standing next to an orchid whisperer and hadn’t known it!
Later, while trying to recapture what she told me, I tried to find an appropriate article on ‘gene splicing’ but failed. I did, however, stumble across an actual process to gene-test an orchid’s D.N.A. to discover its parentage: Orchid DNA
Basically, you can C.S.I. an orchid’s ass to find out ‘Whose your daddy?’ so to speak.
In our many encounters, I mentioned how rare it is for me to get out and interact with the world.
(True Confession Time: I was a bit giddy at the orchid extravaganza. I probably seemed a bit drunk with excitement—kind of like a deranged puppy with a floral fixation.)
I asked if I could take her picture for my blog—and tried to set a ‘privacy’ setting so her picture wouldn’t be plastered all over my feed. But the challenging wifi or vicious internet pixies played havoc with the Facebook options.
Rachel shrugged, saying she didn’t mind. This only encouraged me.
“It’s hard for me to go places sometimes.” I laughed and gave my iPhone a little shake. “So, I kind of live on Facebook. It’s weird, I can live so close to people I know but never get together with them. And yet, this summer, a friend from Japan is coming here and we’re going to meet at the nearby mall!”
Then Rachel said something profound.
“Facebook—it makes the far world closer and the close world farther away.”
It struck me as so true, I made her repeat herself so I could type it in my phone. Yes, I am that pushy.
Every time I ran into Rachel and Kyle, we’d fall into conversation. Well, I babbled at them and Rachel willingly exchanged floral witticisms that I could not possible recreate here. You’ll have to come up with your own horticultural insights, I’m afraid.
Except, I can share one universal truth: “Crab grass is the bitch bane of gardening.”
Everyone I met was friendly, tolerant of my intrusions, polite and sharing. None more so than my next flowery friend.
Gratia Umbra a/k/a Elizabeth N.
A slender blond with an elegance that matched the floral occasion, Elizabeth carried with her a functional camera and used it like she knew what she was doing. So, of course, I asked whether she was planning on posting them online and could I ‘friend’ her to see them.
She politely accepted.
If I were to name her using floral taxonomy, the Latin to describe Elizabeth would be A Shade of Grace or Gratia Umbra.
To Elizabeth, who got the shots I could not make. Thanks for sharing.
I could not conclude this story without letting you know of the absolute perfect ending that almost didn’t happen. A providential duo I would regret not knowing.
Defining them by a flower name that accurately tells you who they are is impossible. But I’ll try. For this couple, you absolutely have to use a crossbred variety. Match a shy, subtly engaging flower with a showy, over-the-top genus to create an utterly unique new combination. I give you:
Painted Hearts x Mirrored Souls
Sometimes, you just know. You look at a couple and know they are meant to go together So it was when I met Nick and Oberon.
I was done photographing the official orchid exhibit. But there is an arboretum that is part of the Meijer Gardens that is a glassed-in heaven in January.
I almost didn’t go. But, rare is my chance to visit the gardens and luxuriate in the peace it brings. And I’m so glad impulse led me to meeting a very special couple.
I wandered to the wall of orchids and sniffed to try and find the one that exuded a glorious, heavy smell that was sweet just to the point of being overpowering.
One of the garden volunteers—the human variety, not the plant kind—corrected me when I told her I loved a particular flower for its heavenly perfume.
“Smell this.” Is all she said.
She thrust a small pot under my nose–tiny fringy leaves with even smaller white flecks you could mistake as dots among all the greenery.
Those dots were actual orchid buds, so small, you had to pay attention to see them.
I did as instructed.
It was like being punched in the nose by the goddess of spring. This confirms a long-held suspicion and I told her so.
“I think the smaller the blossom, the stronger the smell.” I nod in satisfaction. “To make up for not being so showy and bright.”
Saying nothing, she put the pot back and I moved on my way.
Without knowing it, this was the perfect segue to my last encounter of the day.
Getting ready to depart, I was stopped by an incongruous sight.
Among the elderly wanderers, nodding white heads in appreciation of the wonderful view, the families with children, grandparents, and photo-happy parents, there sat a glaring anomaly—a tattooed duo dressed as if headed for a punk rave or a New York grunge art review. Ready for something, anything, more hip than an arboretum.
To Nick and Oberon—for the story about the beehive ink alone—I am indebted. The explanations of a clamshell with the number 13 drawn on your wrist. The laughter and the stories too personal to share here. The tattoo review was the most unique floral exhibit of the day. So if I had to pick flowers to represent you, it would have to be these two–so similar and yet so different, and perfectly matched.
You opened up to a stranger, one arguably stranger than most. You shared your origin stories like the super heroes you are. You let me take pictures that said a lot more about you than words could.
You let me remember what it was like to be young, in love, and filled with the adventure of it all. Thank you.
And yes, I will happily descend upon you the next time I’m in Chicago. I’m dying to color in all those black and white tattoos. Let’s find out if you are brave enough to hand me a needle to try.
And to my final floral tribute – the young man who made it all possible.
You invited me to be part of the human race instead of just an observer. At 26, you understand that connecting with people is more important that getting a perfect shot. I will remember you always and name you for your warm spirit as well as the small bits of fuzz that dotted your baby face.
My Velvet-Petaled / Open Invitation
You are not in my notes, my phone, my email.
I’ve looked for you everywhere.
You are the one who caused me to look up.
To put the camera down.
Hopefully this will find you, somehow.
To the autistic young man at the flower show.
You reminded me to be as well as see.
I dedicate this blog post to you, for without you it would not have happened.
You will forever be a gentle poem in my heart:
And for those curious as to the title of this post, it was the flower name I most identified with. We should all be opalescence on the edge!
Asterisk Bedazzled Footnotes:
*If you ever catch me with a fully-charged device, assume I’ve been kidnapped by aliens and that this is a clone doing research for the impending invasion of Earth. Act accordingly.
**Curse you, Kyle, and your fancy Samsung with those neato photo features. Smugness does not become you!
***This quote is from memory. So, take it with a large grain of salt that I got this at all right.