Thursday, April 29, 2010

Yellow Ladyslipper ~

Kim has been collecting images of yellowness, as part of the work on her role as The Ancestress in "You'll Always Come Back." I was looking at her series on facebook, talking to Jason on the phone about a light design in blue lightbulbs of a black sun, just having chatted with Burley about his crimson gender change tonight, amongst other things, (the butoh dancers in YACB are also the primary colors) when my own lightbulb went off and I remembered the yellow ladyslipper. It's perfect for The Ancestress.

Many years ago the herbalist father of a friend, a very reclusive and, according to my friend, not especially friendly to other people sort of man, whose herbal knowledge came from his Amer-Indian roots, took me out into the woods to a remote hillside where many of these yellow ladyslippers were growing.

On the way, he pointed out certain plants to me, and asked me what their names were. I knew the so-called "common names" of all of them, and the "latin names" of most, & being eager to show off my (ridiculously slight, as it was) knowledge, I named them one after another, just like Adam. I assumed he didn't know, though there was something funny about the way he asked the question, so I was a little on guard. Of one particular plant he asked "Do you know its name?" So I gave the common name I usually used. Then he came back with "But it has another name - do you know it?" I gave another common name. He looked at me in a penetrating way & said, "It has another name - do you know it?" So I figured I'd be definitive, (and a show off) & gave him the Latin name. Sure enough, he looked even more piercingly at me and said, "It has another name. Do you know that one." I confessed I didn't. He didn't offer what that name might be - I assumed (again) that it was the one the plant answered to, and I started paying closer attention.

Anyway, when we arrived at the hillside, deep in the woods, he told me to dig one of the ladyslippers up and take it, giving me very detailed instructions as to the sort of place to replant it - a South-East facing slope, the amount of shade, what kind of earth - I knew of no such place on our farm. And silently, I was distressed at the idea - yellow ladyslippers are rare, and it is illegal to dig them up. I knew, vaguely, that the roots were used in Arabic herbal medicine, and called "jalap," but I didn't know the Indian usage. I didn't have a spot that fit his description, and all conservationist-y I felt it was a crime to dig one of these beautiful flowers up, but I did as I was told, certain that the ladyslipper I dug up was doomed.

I planted it in the backyard. It wasn't really a slope (tho on a hill) and the soil wasn't the deep loam, and the shade not quite like the place he had taken me, plus it was too dry. That was back in the 80s. It was years before it bloomed again, after being moved. Occasionally I would add some mulch around it to help moderate the dryness, but really I left it to its fate, which I assumed, again, was a malingering decline to extinction. After maybe ten years, it apparently sent out a rhizome a foot away and another stem emerged. Eventually they both bloomed. Then visiting children picked the blooms, and a botanist friend who saw it informed me that if the flower was ever picked it would never bloom again.

For a very long time, years, neither stem bloomed. But this year one came back. It's odd not telling my mom to come & see it, but it makes me hopeful too. So much has happened.


Apifera Farm said...

I got shivers reading this. What a bittersweet story, but yes, did you feel her in that bloom? I'm putting ideas in your head, and as usual, shall commence relating similar episodes to my own life when my father died. But this is a lovely post, Dan.

Dan Dutton said...

Thanks K.! YACB seems to swirl about like a swarm of hallucinogenic bees at times, lighting on everything I see. I feel my mom in everything that blooms now.

Cathy said...

Cebah most definitely encouraged that ladyslipper blossom - how wonderful, Dan! And what a favorable omen for YACB.