76. Photosynthetically

On the south wall of my raised rancher house I used to have a flower bed with mostly tulip bulbs planted there. The shade of other trees and bushes would not allow later blooming flowers to thrive there. Every fall the flat soil bed with a concrete block wall behind it was perfect for stacking firewood. You see in those days we had a nice woodstove in our finished basement. A sliding door was just a few convenient paces away. It was a tidy compact system that helped keep the dirt and bark and smell of musty firewood outside all winter. Then, come spring, the firewood was usually all used up and the bulbs would sprout again.

The spring of the mutant was no different despite global warming endtimers’ warnings. Red and yellow tulips had already broken the crust of the silent soil. Just a few pieces of firewood remained.

One early morning as I was pulling up the last of the firewood, I yanked on one piece that was still frosted to the ground. On my second effort the piece came up and I was shocked by what lay beneath it: a pale white thing that seemed to curl up on itself. I did a fast gasp (never heard of a slow one) and recoiled. It took my brain a couple of seconds to figure out that what I was looking at was a mutant albino tulip. It looked like a tulip that had been carved out of provolone cheese. A sense of disgust arose in me. I’ve had other instances when something in nature is sickening, like seeing maggots roiling through a fresh groundhog carcass. Some ancient function in my brain was telling me not to touch it or get within striking distance of it. I took the firewood inside and fed the stove. But the cheesy tulip image clung to my brain.

Apparently what I was exposed to was a tulip that came up in the warm cavity between soil and wood. It tried to find a crack and get to daylight, but it was trapped in this neither world.

On my way to my car and a full day of work, I walked past the mutant. I took one last look and told myself to remember to check in on this rare thing when I got home that day. And away I went, shifting mechanical gears and mental ones to deal with a day of teaching.

I did not think about the mutant albino till I returned to my driveway ten hours later. I walked slowly beside the flower bed. I remembered approximately where it had sprouted, but all I could see were green stemmed, normal yellows and reds and pinks and variegated tulips. No albino. Then I saw the imprint of the last piece of firewood, and in the center of its “footprint” stood one cute little pink tulip. In less than a day the “ink” of nature had colored inside all the lines. No more provolone. No more disgust.

It made a strong impression on me– the absence of sunlight had undone the dance that is photosynthesis. Chlorophyll had no energy to break apart and create O2, the magic that keeps us all alive. And it seemed quite symbolic to me. I shared this story with a counseling client later, how something outside the tulip’s control undid its growth. He focused on the repulsion of the mutant cheesy image. I focused on the redemption. “Yes, it struggled against an unfair burden, but that burden was just as random as its saving intervention. So which fate do you want to claim? Or shall we wait for a rodent to eat the bulb unfairly?”

The albino alien was restored, brought back from the abyss of darkness photosynthetically. That’s what I know, and I know that’s what counts.


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