A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature
It was supposed to be a Christmas amaryllis. Instead, it turned out to be a Spring one. A gift from downstairs neighbors, I planted the bulb late because I’d been out of town. The timing at first felt out of order as the tips of its two green stalks sprouted up out of the dark soil just as the coronavirus news took center stage. The beginnings of a dark cloud of worry about the virus moved in to share space with the more festive anticipation of amaryllis blooms.
From that point on, the bulb and the virus seemed oddly in synch – visibly growing at amazing/alarming rates. So that by March 20th, the first official day of Spring, when the World Health Organization recognized the virus as a pandemic, my amaryllis’ eighth and final bloom had opened in a quiet burst of coral and white exuberance.
By coincidence, earlier at Christmas I had given my daughter and two-year-old granddaughter Anna their own amaryllis bulb. Its box promised vivid red blooms to fit the holiday season. Together, they promptly planted it, with the bulb in turn promptly sprouting. I loved seeing the wonder on little Anna’s face as the two bright green stalks of their amaryllis seemed almost to grow as we watched. The sturdy stalks reached higher and higher, encouraging Anna to remember to both water the plant and rotate its pot a bit every day so the stalks wouldn’t grow sideways toward the sunny window. I was no longer there when the tips of the stalks (now 1 1/2 feet tall) began to be pushed open by the blooms inside. But later, in a Face Time chat, Anna proudly showed me the lush blooms on their amaryllis. “One. . . two . . . three . . . four!” we counted on each stalk. Both of us happily amazed.
Growing up, I remember the enjoyment that my own mother, Anna’s great-grandmother, had every Christmas when her amaryllis of the season bloomed. Our living room always had holly my dad had clipped on the mantel over the fireplace, a huge Douglas fir in the front windows, and an Italian-made creche scene on the bookcase. But the amaryllis always had pride of place on the coffee table in the center of the room. Its predictable but exotic blooms like eight red trumpets of the joy of the season.
Much later, my always independent, hard-working mother, in her eighties, found herself in a nursing facility because of very aggressive and debilitating Parkinson’s disease. For what turned out to be her last Christmas, her final amaryllis, with its vivid eight blooms on a shelf by her bed, continued to bring her a simple joy. She quietly died at the beginning of that January.
Today, I look at a picture of Anna sitting on the floor beside her very first amaryllis, a look of amazement on her sweet face. While my mother and her great-granddaughter never actually met, I am grateful for the simple connection offered by these amaryllis bulbs and blooms. A sort of tradition passing generation to generation of joy in both the reliability and beauty in these small pots of nature.
Anna’s Christmas amaryllis blooms have faded and died away. But tonight, when I hear the order to shelter in place for the county where I live (a county also including Pittsburgh PA), I check my Spring amaryllis on the coffee table. While the blooms are all still open to their five points, their color is fading, and the edges of the petals are starting to shrink and curl.
Which raises the question – Will the less predictable virus and the more predictable amaryllis continue on in their odd synchronicity? Will this human attempt to flatten and gradually stop the life curve of the coronavirus be able to keep pace with the more natural dying off of my amaryllis?
Copyright 2020 Jackie Robb