A Reverence of Botany
January 9th, 2018
It made it to nearly seventy degrees today. The botanical gardens in Athens were dotted with those shiny-eyed souls who rush the outdoors as soon as conditions allow. Under the pagoda, next to the black marble rotating globe, a ladybug landed on my arm – the blood orange kind with faded spots. She stayed with me for nearly five minutes and I counted my blessings for such a visit. I also wondered how she survived the kinked polar vortex that had overstayed its welcome the week before.
When she left, I wandered into the tropical plant greenhouse, reacquainting myself with the fruits that had surprised me so long ago in Hawai`i. Mangosteen, cacao, deliciously lilting lilikoi. This last one is also known as passionfruit and had singlehandedly convinced me, on my fifth day in the islands, to stay, when some boring and self-important voice was trying to convince me to leave. Luckily the passionfruit had its way. I couldn't imagine leaving a place where something so exquisite had flourished.
But back to Georgia and the Athens garden. I kept crossing paths with an older gentleman who circled the same pedestrian walkways as I. He was about sixty and had a thick head of black hair with a jacket to match. I saw him again in the greenhouse and absentmindedly followed him down the slightly sloped footpath encased by a box of tropics. We both stopped before the kava tree (Piper methysticum), though I was a few feet behind and to the left of him. He may not have known I was watching, because his next moment was one of immersion. He reached out his big bear hand and cradled a slender branch where the freckled nodules had not yet formed. Then he closed his eyes and stayed that way for almost a minute. Neither one of us moved. When his eyes opened again, he leaned into the main trunk of the kava tree and gently kissed it.
Concerned that my presence might have been intrusive if noticed, I walked away before he fully emerged from the cocoon he inhabited – a vacuum stripped of time or appointments or obligations. I was (and wasn't) surprised to find myself crying. He had pulled me, without knowing, into a vacuum of my own, into that startling space of reverence that we all somehow know, those pockets of the extraordinary into which we all sometimes stumble. Somehow, I think there are more of these spaces around us than we realize, secret alternates in perspective floating around us like thought bubbles in a comic strip. Maybe, in my case, it was the combination of us all: him, me, the chemicals released by the plants that tickled some sleepy part of my brain. A shared experience.
They usually are, though we might not always know it.
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