I moved into my apartment ten years ago. One of my many housewarming gifts was a large corn plant, a member of the hearty dracaena family. The plant had belonged to a friend who gave it to me because she thought my light, airy, roomy suburban digs would be better for it than her New York city apartment. My new place was in need of some green and this plant fit the bill.
It was almost as tall as the 8-foot ceiling and sported two stalks, one slightly smaller than the other. The leaves on the bottom third of the tree were gone but the top was healthy. I never really gave it too much notice, though I watered it dutifully and rotated it occasionally for sunlight. From time to time, I'd come across something pretty to hang in it – a crescent moon, a hand-painted angel, an antique penguin, a feather, a pine cone and a frail fallen nest all found their way deep into the branches.
Ten years is a long time to cohabit with a plant. I guess I started to get in tune with its vibration…or it started to get in tune with mine. One day this past December, I noticed something odd at the top of one of the stalks. It looked like the tip of an ear of corn poking out through the uppermost leaves. By the next day, more of the ear of corn was visible. After a week, the growth was getting bigger and bigger, but instead of being condensed like an ear of corn, it had started to elongate from the center. Now, there were little clumps of "kernels" on the left and right of a green center spine. A clear, sticky sap sent occasional droplets to my carpet, looking like diamonds in certain light.
By the time the ear of corn reached its maximum size, there were twenty clumps of kernels, each clump home to at least fifty kernels. The entire growth was more than eighteen inches long! And that's when the best part began.
At first, I thought it was my imagination or the remnants of too much incense. Then I thought the fragrance was emanating from the hearty poinsettia by the windowsill. During the day, I would stick my nose into the poinsettia, inhaling deeply only to be disappointed. There was almost no aroma. But at night, the scent intensified,
filling my apartment with the sweet smell of a thousand roses in the peak of a June afternoon. Still, I was baffled about the origin.
Until the night I came home from teaching earlier than usual. It had started snowing for the first real storm of the season and the world, at least my corner of it, was turning winter white. As I stepped off the elevator, a powerful scent hit me in the nose. I opened my apartment door, determined to get to the bottom of the bouquet. I flipped on the light and saw it. Each of the kernels had opened into an ivory flower with pale yellow pistons and stamens. There was a riot of flowers, sending this heavenly fragrance everywhere. I stood underneath the flower and stuck my nose smack dab in the center and breathed, filling my lungs and my heart with this intoxicating scent.
My plant has taught me some valuable life lessons. For years, I watered it and cared for it, never suspecting that deep inside was such a special gift. I had no expectations. I accepted it exactly as it was, which was fine with me. Totally unexpectedly, in the middle of the bleakest part of the year, the tree offered forth this special flower to fill my senses with its beauty and perfume.
I tried to figure out ways to capture the beauty, wondering if my autofocus camera would do the delicacy justice. Ah, but even if it did, how could I capture that magical aroma? No perfume on the market even comes close. I considered cutting the flower off and trying to get it to root, but the thought of taking scissors to my wonderful plant made my heart sad. That's when it taught me another life lesson about holding on and letting go. This gift is only temporary, for all flowers fade and die, becoming part of the earth again. I realized I was to enjoy the delicious treat for as long as it lasts and then let it go. I will always have the memory, and if I close my eyes on a dark January night, I just might be able to remember the sweet smell as the snow collects outside. Though the flower will fade, the gift is mine forever.
©1998 Sandi Kimmel
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