When a friend’s mother died some years ago, those who’d known her were offered a remembrance from her extensive collection of plants. I chose a slightly pathetic, short and scruffy little cactus no one could identify and took it off to live at The Place, twenty-three acres of unimproved land in the Texas hill country.
There was a cabin at The Place, filled with all the conveniences of modern life. There were screened windows and an ill-fitting screen door that closed with a terrifically satisfying metallic “thwang!” There were Coleman lanterns and a wood-burning stove, gravity-fed water from a barrel in a tree and all the shade you could want.
Still, the valley itself was the attraction, filled as it was with scrub and live oak, pin oak, black walnut and cherry. Along the creek, water striders darted beneath canopies of fern. Fossils – clams, whelks and corals – lined its limestone bed. In summer, lightning bugs rose from the damp and decaying bottoms like shimmering steam and, at the first touch of autumn, freezing ice plants split their tall, slender stems, the curling froth of water betokening winter to come.
Dangling from its hook between the cabin and the creek, my little cactus lived a quiet life, depending on nature’s largess for survival. It didn’t grow, but it didn’t die. It simply was. After months of waiting for the cactus to do something – anything! – I named him Godot. The name made me laugh. With a name, he seemed less prickly, more accessible. People talked to him and gave him extra water. He seemed to appreciate the attention, but never changed.
Eventually, The Place was sold. In the midst of clearing out the cabin, Godot nearly was forgotten, but at the last minute I retrieved him and took him back to Houston, where he began adjusting to city life. I replaced his plastic basket with a clay pot, filled it with good dirt and plunked him into it. Just as he’d done at the cabin, he sat around, prickly and plain, doing a whole lot of nothing.
One day, I noticed with astonishment he seemed to have grown. In fact, the new dirt, full sunlight and consistent watering were working their magic. He was growing, a quarter-inch at a time. In the next year, he grew a full three inches. Then, the miracle happened. A small swelling appeared near his top. Within a few days, it became identifiable as a bud. Godot was going to bloom.
In only a week, my scrubby little cactus produced a glorious pink flower. Thrilled with this surprise from a plant I confess I’d labeled an under-achiever, I awoke the morning after his blossoming with a single thought: “I need to get a photo of that flower.” Unfortunately, that also was the morning I learned an important lesson about cacti. Many blooms last no more than a day. Godot had done his thing, and the show was over. There would be no photo.
The next year, Godot set two buds rather than one. Having planned a road trip to Mississippi, I was nervous about missing a second photo opportunity. I considered taking Godot with me, thinking he could ride on the floor, in the back seat of the car. Hearing my plans, a local plant guru rolled his eyes and promised that bringing Godot inside, into lower levels of light and cooler temperatures, would slow down the blooming process. Nervously, I brought him in, lowered some shades and the thermostat, and left.
When I returned home, I was relieved to find Godot essentially unchanged. Moving him back into his accustomed place in the sun, I resigned myself to more waiting, but I certainly didn’t wait long. Within a day his buds began to swell. In two days they opened: first the petals, then the bright centers. Larger than the first year’s blossom, the pair opened fully in six hours and remained open through the afternoon and evening. This time I got my photo, before dusk approached and the petals began to close. By morning, the blossoms were shriveled and drooping. In only a few days, they fell to the ground.
The excitement over, Godot reverted to his low-profile ways, content to doze away his days among the lantana and geraniums. Still, he’d taught me some important lessons: that appearances aren’t predictive, that even the plainest ones among us can produce spectacular beauty and that, whenever unexpected beauty appears, we should do our best to pay attention lest it fade before our eyes.
This year, just when I’d decided Godot had grown fond of indolence and was taking a vacation of his own, he surprised me with three blooms. The first, the largest and showiest flower of any he’s produced, was destined to provide my first photograph for a site called Vision & Verb.
A collaborative site devoted to the photography and writing of a world-wide group of women, Vision and Verb has been on my reading list almost since its inception. Delighted when asked to write a guest post for the site last January, I was even more pleased by a recent invitation to join the group on a permanent basis. On the other hand, my first post would require not only a topic but a photograph – a “vision” to go with my “verbs” – and none of my cache of low-resolution, internet-ready photos would do.
Then, I remembered Godot. Several photographs of this year’s flowering remained on my camera’s card, and one was especially pleasing. A little cropping here, a little sharpening there, a new size and resolution to meet the requirements of the site, and the deed was done. A click of the mouse sent my pedestrian little cactus on the journey of his life.
Pushing back from the computer, I walked over to the patio door and slid it open. “Godot!” I said. “You’re famous! You got yourself a gig!” “Of course I did,” he said “Haven’t you heard the old saying? Third bloom’s a charm!”