“Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”
I went to the Orchid Show a few years ago, to take pictures of orchids, but it was too shady and the orchids were wilting in the heat. In one half-dark booth, there were some stalks of ginger. The man selling these ginger flowers was named Ernesto. He was from the Philippines and had a kind smile. I asked him if he had ginger roots that I could plant. He did.
The yellow ginger flowers, he told me, are the most fragrant. I bought eight lumpy brown ginger roots and Ernesto told me how to plant them. He seemed pleased that I bought his ginger, and was not seduced by the flamboyant and wildly colorful specimen orchids all around us.
I felt as though I had a strange secret, and that I was doing something important in passing up the riotous, ephemeral orchids for the long-term project of a ginger jungle.
“They love hot sun,” Ernesto said. When he packed my ginger roots into a plastic Border's bag, he put in two additional roots of white ginger and said, “These are a gift.”
The ginger roots were covered with dark soil, lumpy, humble, damp and looked a bit out of place. It was my hope that they would grow into fine, full plants and fill the garden with their exotic perfume.
It would be about three months before the plants would start sending up leaves. However, I knew that there are things in life that take time, but are worth waiting for.
“If you listen carefully, you can hear them grow,” Ernesto told me, and continued in a whisper: "They grow better if you talk to them a little bit every day."
So each day, I would go out and tell the ginger roots some stories about what was happening for me, what was on my mind, and made sure to tell them how much I loved and appreciated them. If it was a sad day, sometimes I would cry and brush some of my tears into the large terra cotta pots where they were sleeping under the soil.
On the difficult days, the heartbreak days, those days when I felt so frightened and alone, when I could not speak my sorrows to anyone except the ginger roots, I often remembered the Chekhov short story about a man who had no one to share his sorrow with except his little horse. I think the story is called "Grief."
The ginger roots sent up exquisite green shoots, and continued to grow until it was time to plant them in a place where they would have both shade and sun. In time, they bloomed in luxuriant yellow blossoms, and their fragrance drifted out all directions. Nourished by tears, stories, and love, they thrived, and now perfume a special meditation spot, where I still talk to them. I know they hear me. And I know they understand.
(Photograph "Ginger" by AJN)