“What’s happening with Godot this year?” she asked. Startled, I said I didn’t know. I’d paid scant attention to my little patio friend since April, when inspections revealed no sign of activity in the cactus pot – no new growth, no buds, no blooms. By the beginning of May things still were quiet and, as happens in so many families, the quiet and well-behaved one was left to fend for himself.
Of course, turning your back on the quiet one can be dangerous. Left to their own devices, there’s no telling what they’ll get up to.
Newer readers may be wondering why I’m talking about a cactus as though it’s a child, but there’s some history here. Godot’s been with me for well over a decade. We’ve developed a bit of a relationship, and I have more than a little affection for my quiet, prickly friend.
Godot came to live with me after the death of a human friend’s mother. When those who’d known her were offered a remembrance from her extensive collection of plants, I chose a slightly pathetic, short, scruffy little cactus no one could identify and took it off to live on twenty-three acres of unimproved land in the Texas hill country.
The valley was filled 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 cold, freezing ice plants split open their tall, slender stems, the curling froth of water betokening winter to come.
There was a cabin in the valley, filled with just enough convenience to make it comfortable. There were screened windows and an ill-fitting screen door that slammed shut 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.
Dangling from a hook between the cabin and the creek, my little cactus lived a quiet life, dependent 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. Sometimes, they carried him into the sunlight for an afternoon. Through it all, nothing changed.
Eventually, the cabin and its land 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 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, he was growing, a quarter-inch at a time. Through the course of the next year, he grew a full three inches as new dirt, full sunlight and consistent watering began working their magic. Then, the miracle happened. A small swelling appeared. 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 next morning consumed by a single thought: “I need to get a photo of that flower.” Unfortunately, that also was the morning I learned an important lesson about cactus. 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 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.
Returning 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 didn’t have to 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.
Last year, just when I’d decided Godot had grown fond of indolence and was taking a vacation of his own, he surprised me by setting three buds. Even the buds were attractive, softly pink and similar in size. Despite my hopes for a spectacular trio of flowers, they bloomed in sequence, with the first being the largest and showiest flower Godot had produced.
Which brings us to this year, and Mother Nature’s mid-May surprise for Godot. Once I’d decided this was going to be the year of rest, a sabbatical of sorts for my friend, I walked out one evening and discovered another three buds had emerged. They grew quickly, this time blooming simultaneously after only a week of development.
In a delightful bit of irony, my lover of all things hot and dry bloomed on a rainy day. Disappointed by the lack of sunlight and certain my photo would be equally disappointing, I recorded the event for posterity. Much to my delight, Godot looked even more dashing with a splash of rain on his petals. Satiny and sleek, they glittered and glistened as if aware they were providing Godot a once-in-a-lifetime experience. After all, not every cactus gets to bloom in the rain.
Blooming in the Rain – Click to Enlarge
The excitement over, Godot has reverted to his low-profile ways, content to doze away his days among the other cactus. In years past, he reminded me that appearances aren’t predictive, that even the plainest among us can produce spectacular beauty and that, in the presence of unexpected beauty, we should take time to pause and appreciate.
And this year? This year’s lesson may be the simplest of all. The sun doesn’t always shine, but even if it rains there’s no reason to cancel the parade. Godot says so – and he’s the living proof.