Passion Whittles the World
Down to a Less Frightening Size
The loneliness inherent in the vastness of Florida stretched in all directions as The Orchid Thief author Susan Orlean drove through Florida’s small towns and near swamps where orchid hunters dare to tread. Most of Florida is flat. It’s easy to see east–west, from horizon to horizon; neither hills, mountains, nor high-rise condos block one’s view in Florida’s undeveloped areas.
Orlean writes about orchid hunters who see such areas with different eyes. Rather than experiencing an expanse of deserted roads criss-crossing the state north, south, east, and west, rather than feeling desolation, loneliness and emptiness from untamed territory, the orchid hunter sees Florida swamps as “lands of opportunity” where they things [they] love are waiting to be found.”
The vastness of the world Orlean felt in those near-primitive areas of Florida engenders tension. One can feel small, insignificant. She notes that the orchid hunter doesn’t feel that insignificance when viewing the Florida wilderness. A passion for orchids—or anything else, a care and concern so intense—“whittles the world down to a manageable size.” A passion for life, creativity, involvement, reduces the tension of the knowledge of the vastness of the world. Passion gives one something on which to focus—to anchor oneself in this universe that’s constantly moving and changing.
Orlean’s words resonate for me, but not so much regarding orchids. I love them, tend to them, care for them, and, of course, I want more. However, when I dipped my toes into the world of orchids and their aficionados, I knew right away that orchids are not my passion.
I approach anything resembling a swamp with trepidation. I doubt I would ever view a swamp as a land of opportunity, other than, of course, the opportunity a wild animal might seize if it wants to try a bite of me for its lunch. Anywhere near a swamp, I would be watchful for moccasins (not the shoes), alligators, Florida panthers (which endangered, would nonetheless show up in swarms if I were around), and errant pythons. If I were to come face to face with the rarest of rare ghost orchid, in my efforts to keep away from its dangling roots, I would brush right past them in my haste to find the quickest way out of the swamp.
I do not search orchid shows for the perfect specimen. I do not participate in online auctions. I do not buy from online international sellers. After two years of what I call middling interest, I know only one Latin name for orchids and that’s because I’ve read and spoken it enough to burn it into my memory.
Orchids are not my “passion.” Regarding orchids, I don’t have the “fire in the belly.” Fire in the belly is passion personified; it’s vigor, drive, motivation to achieve, to take action, to do, to be. World-renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma’s sister also is a cellist. She noted, however, that he had the “fire in the belly” and she did not. That fire whittles the fevered orchid collector’s world down to orchid size, as it did Ma’s world down to cello size.
At age 61, the world still seems too big to me at times, too unmanageable, too lonely, too scary to contemplate in far too many ways.
Some of the few times when my world is manageable are when, like these moments, I put pen to paper. Then, it’s only me, the ink, the pale blue lines, filling with me as I move my hand from left to right across and then down the page.
The words come alive and spring from my fingertips. I forget all the noise and wish to, yearn to, get into these flames of fire in my own belly. I want only to continue feeding that fire with yet another word, filling the page.
I look up for only a moment and the bee skimming the purple porterweed distracts me for only a moment, but long enough for my eyes to light on the calendar tucked beneath these pages. I see and then hear those other things, those responsibilities, call me—and the fire starts to sputter and it burns with less intensity until I see only a tiny wisp of smoke flit across the room.
* * * * *
However, when it gets cold, when the world around me becomes too big, too open, too lonely, just too much to consider, I know that paper and pen await me. I can reduce the tension and fear of the vastness of the world by simply stoking the fire with pen to paper. Inky words will again whittle my world to a more manageable size, filling those lonely, vast gaps in life. Ah, passion!