Here today …
The first time we met you showed me your green-winged tattoo
Shrugging your shirt off the shoulder just enough
And there it bloomed, purple haze with the palest green veins.
Later, much later, I used to trace its outline endlessly,
The slow meandering of my finger sending you to sleep.
Later still, when you were gone, what I missed most was that orchid,
Permanently inked, its colours now fading in my memory.
Maybe, just maybe, it’s gone from your shoulder too.
If I close my eyes, I can still trace its outline.
Who’s tracing it now for the first time?
It was marked from the start. “Vulnerable. Near threatened,” says the website.
The Green-Winged Orchid thrives on the poorest of soils. It needs bees to pollinate it (good luck with that). It’s tiny (7cm) and prone to being trampled on by animal and human. It has to partner with mycorrhizal fungi (also under attack) to germinate its seed because it can’t store enough of its own energy. And if that weren’t enough, it’s the major target of collectors. Talk about hard luck, wings clipped.
I wrote to my brother-in-law who’s a botanist and a member of the Surrey Botanical Society. They live at the foot of Box Hill near Reigate, a place where wild orchids abound. I asked whether there were any green-winged orchids I could see. “The people I know who would know, wouldn’t tell me anyway.” I half suspect he’s in that group but I didn’t push him. I was resigned to not meeting the Green-Winged Orchid face-to-face. It was going to be a long-distance relationship – slightly out of reach, secret, withdrawn.
The next piece of the jigsaw was very commonplace. I had a zoom meeting. The person I was speaking with was relatively new to me. On their upper arm, just below a capped sleeve, I caught a glimpse of a tattoo. I wanted to ask about it – what was the rest of it like? But it wasn’t in my gift to do that, so it remained tucked away. To glimpse more of it would be being let into a secret world, more intimate than my place allowed.
I wondered if a metaphor might be presenting itself.
I asked around about tattoos, being a novice myself. Tattoos are designed to be permanent markers. But they can fade, and you can now have them removed. It got me thinking: how can a flower be erased? “There is a seriously awful trickle of people who like to dig up these rare plants, bit like egg collectors,” my brother-in-law wrote. So, they are not disappearing completely. They are moving to private collections, to be enjoyed by a few. Much like art. Nature being up for grabs to the highest bidder.
But people are fighting back, collecting the seeds, storing them at private locations, secretly planting them into those unimproved soils. It’s a race against time. A numbers’ game.
Image by Alastair Creamer