Its poignantly brief life is part of its charm. From the first bud to the final sleep is a matter of weeks, but the true transformation - from a tightly closed mass of thin, tapering petals to a glorious and dazzling display of full, sensuous, open-hearted beauty - takes place over a few short hours. Look the other way, get lost in a novel or facebook, and you miss the whole show.
I missed more than I care to think about over the past few weeks, but this time, I was ready. Stalking the Flower of Bethlehem, you might say. I checked on it every morning and every evening. Not knowing exactly what I was looking for meant I had to make multiple visits each night to be sure I wasn't missing anything.
At night! Yes. This is a night-blooming flower, which adds immeasurably to its mystery and allure. It begins to emerge around 7 PM and then continues to blossom till after one in the morning.
This was right around seven and it was different enough from the day before that I began to hope it might actually, at last, be the night.
7:30. Dusk setting in and the flower seems to feel more confident, more willing to reveal itself.
Then dinner details took over and the rituals of feeding Moy Moy and putting her to bed. It was almost nine before I got out again and what I saw was so magical I went right back and woke Moy Moy up and took her out in her wheelchair into the dark, green, damp garden so she could see for herself.
Though, like Moy Moy, this was my first encounter too, somehow I knew this was only the beginning.
Reluctantly, I took Moy back to bed and continued my vigil outside. My sister-in-law was with me and we took turns taking pictures from different angles and comparing our results.
Then suddenly (OK, we had gone inside to have our soup and bread - a light dinner, too much excitement!), there was a sea-change.
Those curved-in-on-themselves lines now edged out and flared into separate rays. But there was still more to come.
And then . . . a fragrance. A fragrance! As if the visual weren't glory enough. A fragrance so bewitching it made me want to cry just a little. A tang of lemon, a splash of something spicy, and all on the cool, rain-spattered night sky.
Finally (it was two AM), I had to say good night.
I plucked one of the flowers - we had three - photographed it in the less difficult indoor light:
and went to bed.
In the morning, there was this:
A tired, spent and still beautiful blossom, one who had saved everything for a single blaze of glory.
I couldn't help but think of this as a metaphor for the people in our lives whose time of transcendence and astonishment we miss because we didn't happen to be watching at the right moment: the ones we see all tight and furled, never realizing they are just - about - to - open. Or the ones we see all drooping and exhausted, never realizing that they just - gave - it - all - they - had.
I love that we get to see this enacted in nature and then learn its lessons for our own sweet lives.