You Are Not Alone
March 9, 2023
March 23, 2023

The Queen of the Night

Photo by Ivan Obolensky

A year ago, a friend gave Mary Jo and me a plant. It was called the Queen of the Night (epiphyllum oxypetalum), and she said it produced a flower that bloomed once a year for a single night. We thanked her and planted it in the garden. The plant didn’t look like much, more like a long somewhat succulent tongue, but it was a gift, and it was a plant, so it was duly watered and looked after. Over time the tongue grew longer and heavier and had to be supported. It was now some three feet long and more tongues began to splay out from the base and spread along the ground. We still didn’t think much of the plant, just that it was strange, and it was ours. Many months later, the tongue began to grow a brown bulge from one of its edges that looked like a large light bulb.

That was odd, but the unusual is never far away in Uruguay. There are trees here that look like they’ve been taken from a Dr. Seuss book, spiders the size of which would make you scream and run away if you came across them suddenly, and weather that defies all reasonable predictions. The country has many idiosyncrasies, and that’s okay with us. We let the plant be, odd as it was.

One evening, the moon was almost full, rising up from behind the pines, to bathe the garden in bluish light. Outdoors is always an attraction here, and to watch the moon rise and set is its own peculiar joy. That night, we were drawn outside as if by magic and stood gazing up at the orb above when Mary Jo noticed a large white something to our left. I pulled out my trusty SureFire miniature flashlight, and a huge flower stared back. It was large, meaty like an orchid, yet delicate and alien. My camera is never far away, and the 1.2, 100 mm, Leica lens was perfect for capturing the moment.

The bloom made an impression on us. It flowered for only a few hours and was gone by morning. We learned it was a species of cactus, and commonly called the night-blooming cereus.

Strange and beautiful as the flower turned out to be, what was stranger still was our being called outside that particular night, and for no reason we could fathom other than the moon and the stillness. Yet, we were called. The message started as an urge that could have been so easily ignored. Had we stayed inside, we never would have experienced the magic of seeing the alien perfection of that ephemeral bloom. It makes me wonder even now. What was it that called us outside that night and why? Such are the moments that make life truly marvelous, mysterious, and wonderful—to surrender to an impulse and unexpectedly discover miracles.

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