Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Desire Under The Elms

Nevermind that the title of this entry is from a classic 1958 melodrama that a certain missus attempted to ram down my throat one crisp autumn eve. Or maybe it was summer? Of course, my mood at the time wasn't at all conducive to watching Sophia Loren run sappy for a brooding Anthony Perkins, despite the fact it was set on a farm. (She just KNEW I'd love that part, the whole "Psycho star enticed by sexy mid-centuryish foxy lady to carouse amidst the fertile acres." It didn't work, sorry boo). After visiting IMDB to see what exactly the movie is about (and maybe a bout of internal searching on the meanings of life, ho-hum), I think I can now view this flick with an open mind. Sometimes, women do know best.

Which brings us to the real topic of today's post. It is the story of young man aging, more left-brained and rigid than poetry and art, or so he thought. Today, I bought my first potted flowering plant in, well, ever. This $2 purchase at the local garden store was driven by an initial desire to find a very specific orchid (anyone seen "Adaptation"? Greatest. Movie. EVER. *view trailer). A White Ghost orchid this is not, but now I'm even happier than first supposed.

My little flower is a small and spindly Melampodium, cultivar "Showstar". The internet says it's a type of daisy. I guess. My version isn't nearly as full as most of the images. It's more akin to an ambitious architectural prop than a plant. The majority of the tiny yellow flowers are concentrated near the top, as if approximating a bouquet (plants play grown-up too?). There are 10 flowers all total, with 5 or 6 tiny budlings. Further down sit the leaves, a photosynthetic factory prepped to go gang-busters (it prefers full sun, which renders my cubicle window inadequate as a homebase). These leaves, they remind me of dandelions. Then there's this...space, or rather "stems devoid of offshoots and such," as the inspired botanical lyricist might say. Toward the bottom, close to the life-sustaining moistness of the soil, the story from above is recreated in miniature. There reside 9 smaller leaves, 1 smaller flower, and 3 pinhead-sized buds. One can only imagine if the plant were taller, another even more minute scene would exist further toward the base, much like those paintings of a mirrored room looking into another mirrored room looking into another, ad infinitum. Because there wasn't a pot that jostled my senses enough to spend money on it, I settled on covering the cheap plastic container with a reworked white box. In Japanese, such creativity is often viewed as origami (how clever those Toyota engineers). Origami this is not, but it's an unexepectedly elegant solution, despite the absence of a bottom. Or waterproofing. And nevermind the stains and pencil marks. Wabi-sabi at its finest.

Ok so I know by now you're wondering, Why this lame description of a $2 flower, and an even lamer "pot" made from a box? Well my friends, I've been reading and introspecting. As we all know, such activities set loose a beehive of emotive man-thought; we buy and/or make things. This was my contribution in dousing that particular fire. I'd forgotten how good books are, what with all my spare time having been spent in the presence of others. Though they tend to be wonderful company, something had to give along the way, and for better or for worse I've retreated to the gentle solitude of my paperbacks. It'd been a while, but it's familiar territory and a place one forgets they love when distracted by prolonged romantic endeavors without a break (para la *sigh*). I'd also forgotten how important it is to notice, indeed appreciate the details of life's ephemera, things like ants and dustballs and bird droppings.

As such, my most recent book acquisition is "The Botany of Desire" by Micheal Pollan. You'll remember his name from another of my recent posts: "Pollan on-On-Pollan". To be brief, the work is a short but heady glimpse into the "mind" of 4 species of plants, namely the apple, the tulip, marijuana, and the potato. "Yep, interesting stuff!" chirps the economist with a vaguely caustic smile. No, really, it's a great book. If you've ever wondered why Holland is so fascinated by tulips (hint - it has a lot to do with a speculative buying and breeding frenzy in the 1630s that drove many to financial ruin), or questioned the intrinsic value of an entheogenic experience with the majestic cannabis, well this one's for you. Even if neither of these topics sets your literary passions aflame, anyone can find some minute pleasure between its pages. Pollan does well to brush the major themes of classic prose - sweetness, beauty, intoxication, and control - over a layer of scientific gray primer, the droll made mystical. The difference here being, these fundamental human desires are examined through the eyes of the plants themselves, as if plants had eyes (Woe human, he of anthropogenic folly). Because I still haven't read "Zen and the Art of the Motorcycle," I must naively conclude that this might be what it's about. I'm not sure that book is even about motorcycles at all.

What initially led me to Pollan was a piece in Harper's, where he decided that the best way to research the beef industry was to buy his own calf and follow its life through to the slaughter house and upon his dinner plate. His wit is almost always superb and finely placed, with a careful balancing of science, history, politics and cultural observation. In Pollan's works, I've been surprised that subjects aren't handled with an overwrought pen, the mark of some other contemporary hippie-treehugger perspectives. In this age of eco-oneupmanship, who needs another Toyonda Pious-driving romantic? Though the language is at times flowery and dare I say excessive, simplicity always returns to knock the point home. One can easily discern that Pollan's pleasure is derived from the mental connections he's made in researching the topic. It seems great fun for him to connect the dots in his own head; the reader just happens to be along on the trip, and by chance will learn lots of weird little "facts" in the process. For that reason alone, I recommend any of his books and essays. At 245 pages (including the Epilogue), "The Botany of Desire" makes for a quick and enjoyable read for anyone willing to learn why marijuana loves humans far more than any San Francisco pothead. And if my novice review wasn't enough, try Bilger's "For the Love of Potatoes" over at the New York Times (firewalled. get a password).

2 Comments:

Blogger RedHotMama said...

women always know best.
it just so happens that i have a copy of this movie, in case you want to borrow it one day.
*ahem*

6:14 PM  
Blogger Trynn Diesel said...

Omigosh, the other day at Borders, I saw that book, "Zen and the Art of the Motorbike", and I immediately thought of you, haha. Still alive and well? Great post, very deep. Now close the books and get out.

6:01 PM  

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