A growing idea

This last Christmastime I was given an amaryllis bulb. (Actually its proper name turns out to be hippeastrum,m but who cares?) This is a much more interesting gift than socks -- which I am glad to report I was not given -- because it is a present with tremendous unknown potential.m

Three months later, though, its potential was still tremendously unknown. Not that I hadn't rigorously followed instructions, placing it the right way up, not too deep in a pot that is not too large and filled with a rich mixture of special soil that was provided, but all the bulb had done, if you inspected it very closely indeed, was to go faintly greenish round the gills (if bulbs have gills).

I didn't exactly doubt at this point -- I have had a small amount of luck with amaryllis bulbs before. I know they are deceptive and I know they are slow. But three months did seem almost too much. There are surely limits -- even to dormancy. I caught myself saying things to it like a rider goading a donkey, and this is quite unlike me: on principle I do notm converse with plants. Then, as the sleeper below the surface of the soil still showed no sign of action or reaction, like the proverbial pot-watcher, I decided to ignore it, since watching was obviously counterproductive. And, of course, a very few days later this dilatory old onion (hurt, no doubt, by my indifference) suddenly stuck its tongue out at me.

What an astounding metaphor for growth this plant is. Once it has started to grow it has continued to do so with immense, triumphant, increasing vigor. It has, as they say, liftoff. I am measuring it each day, and the straight vertical of the firm, thick stem, surmounted by the tightly sealed bud (like a sturdy flame on a candle), seems headed for the moon. It makes between a quarter and a half inch per day at present. Inside the capsule there must be, folded away with impeccable economy and neatness, the one, two, three or, at best, four brilliant red trumphet-flowers that will finally burst with a fanfare on the scene. I can hardly wait to see them. But on the other hand their arrival, and the process by which they will emerge from the bud, is keenly intriguing.

So far all that has appeared is the strong stem and bud. Every ounce of resourcefulness is concentrated in pushing these up and up. The leaves will no doubt show up later when called for. The lack of anything but its own essential , naked growing is probably the thing that makes this sort of plant so fascinating and so encouraging.

Many plants are feathery, complex, multiple - abundant with leaves. This is single and straight. Others stay partly above ground in winter, and from these remains, the fresh growth springs. But this amarylis contains and holds back all its secrets, all its planning and preparing and building, in dark invisibility: no hint of movement until . . . the very moment. And then!

Ideas can be like this.

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