Notes to Poem: Phalaenopsis

Peter Y. Chou

Phalaenopsis Orchid
Waiting Room at Gentle Dental
Preface: On Monday, April 26, 2010, I visited Gentle Dental at 3920 Middlefield Road in Palo Alto for my yearly checkup with Dr. John Glerum. Arrived at 2 pm for my appointment, but was not called until 2:20 pm. After picking up a magazine to read, I noticed the flower in the vase was beautifully and artistically arranged as in those Japanese floral arrangement. I asked the dental receptionist on the name of the flower. She wasn't sure and said it might be an orchid as there was a white orchid by her desk similar to the purple one in the waiting room. Since nobody was in the room, I moved the magazines on the table to take a photo of this beautiful orchid. Using Photoshop, a row of chairs were deleted to enhance the image of this orchid (See Before & After Retouching). After searching in Google Images (Growing Orchids, Pink Orchid, Graceful One) I learned that this was a Phalaenopsis, an orchid genus of some 60 species. This orchid appears to be Phalaenopsis cultivars or Moth orchid, named by Carl Linnaeus since they resembled moths in flight. After contemplating on this beautiful Phalaenopsis Orchid, I decide to honor it with a poem. These Notes gave me additional insights on this flower.

Commentary to "Phalaenopsis" Poem

Suddenly I felt joy seeing you—
A day after seeing the beautiful Phalaenopsis orchid at Gentle Dental, I heard Gretchen Yanover's "Suddenly I Felt Joy", one of the 14 songs from her CD album Bow and Cello (2005) on KDFC 102.1 FM radio (April 27, 2010, 8:51-9:01 am), (Lyrics unavailable). The song title reminded me of my feeling when I saw the Phalaenopsis orchid. I've not seen this flower before, yet it spoke to me instantly. Putting away the magazine I was reading at the time, I took a photograph of it. Later, I spent two hours in Adobe Photoshop to erase the background chairs so the orchid's image may be enhanced. Often Nature's beauty will astound us that we have to pause from our normal activities and reflect on the magic mystery of life. I believe it was the orchid's curving branch that resembled the logarithmic spiral similar to a nautilus shell which drew my attention to it. Jacob Bernoulli (1654-1705) was fascinated by this curve and called it Spira mirabilis or "miraculous spiral". (Image: Phalaenopsis orchid at Gentle Dental)

beautifully arranged with care by an Ikebana master
Ikebana ("arranged flower") is the Japanese art of flower arrangement. It is a disciplined art form in which nature and humanity are brought together. Ikebana focuses on areas of the plant, such as its stems and leaves, and draws emphasis toward shape, line, form. The main rule of Ikebana is that all the elements used in construction must be organic, be they branches, leaves, grasses, or flowers. The artist's intention behind each arrangement is shown through a piece's color combinations, natural shapes, graceful lines, and the usually implied meaning of the arrangement. Another aspect present in ikebana is its employment of minimalism. That is, an arrangement may consist of only a minimal number of blooms interspersed among stalks and leaves. The spiritual aspect of ikebana is considered very important to its practitioners. It is a time to appreciate things in nature that people often overlook because of their busy lives. One becomes more patient and tolerant of differences, not only in nature, but also in general. Ikebana can inspire one to identify with beauty in all art forms. This is also the time when one feels closeness to nature which provides relaxation for the mind, body, and soul. (Image: Emma Darbyshire, Zen Orchid II)

who knows divine proportion
In mathematics, two quantities are in divine proportion or golden ratio if the ratio of the sum of the quantities to the larger quantity is equal to the ratio of the larger quantity to the smaller one. The golden ratio is often denoted by the Greek letter phi, φ = (a+b)/a = a/b = 1.6180339887... The Franciscan friar Luca Pacioli wrote De Divina Proportione (1497) with illustrations by Leonardo da Vinci on the Platonic solids. Leonardo had shown in his Vitruvian Man how the proportions of the human body corresponds to the cosmological universe. Since the Renaissance, many artists and architects have proportioned their works to approximate the golden ratio, believing this proportion to be aesthetically pleasing. Architecture based on the golden ratio include Pyramid of Giza (2560 BC), Parthenon of Acroplis (438 BC), Mosque of Uqba in Tunisia (670 AD), Laon Cathedral (1215), Chartres (1260), and Notre Dame de Paris (1345). (Works designed with the golden ratio). [Image: Leonardo da Vinci, Vitruvian Man (1487), Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venice, Italy]

I breathe in this elegance that is refreshing
Leonardo Fibonacci (1170-1250) of Pisa, Italy discerned the logarithmic spiral in nature (nautilus shell). We may find more examples in the center of daisies & sunflowers, artichokes & pineapples, in subatomic tracks & spiral galaxies. The Fibonacci numbers are named after him (1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, etc.) where each number is the sum of the two preceding in the series. The spiral is also connected to the breath & spirit, and the Egyptian Thoth is shown with a large spiral on his head. The spiral is used as an attribute of power, found in sceptre heads of Egyptian pharoahs and Christian popes & bishops. In primitive dances of healing & incantation, the pattern of movement develops as a spiral curve. The Sufi whirling dervish dances in a spiral to induce a state of ecstasy to experience the center of his being. (Image: Cross section of a nautilus shell that fits the logarithmic spiral pattern.)

not because of your eight petals on the eight flowers
reminding me of the I Ching's 64 hexagrams

When I found that there were 8 petals on the 8 flowers, the 64 petals reminded me of the 64 codons of DNA and the 64 hexagrams of the I Ching as well as other sacred images on the number 64. The ancient sage-king Fu Hsi (circa 2800 BC) is credited as discovering the eight trigrams on the back of a tortoise shell. The 64 hexagrams were arranged into the Book of Changes or I Ching by King Wen and Duke Chou (circa 1000 BC). One of the oldest Chinese classic texts, the book may be used for divination. Later, the text was re-interpreted as a system of cosmology and philosophy that subsequently became intrinsic to Chinese culture. It centered on the ideas of the dynamic balance of opposites, the evolution of events as a process, and acceptance of the inevitability of change. The I Ching's 64th hexagram: Wei Chi / Before Completion— THE IMAGE— Fire over water: / The image of the condition before transition. / Thus the superior man is careful / In the differentiation of things, / So that each finds its place. (Image: 64 hexagrams of the I Ching.)

or your name Phalaenopsis given by Carl Linnaeus
for looking like moths in flight or diving into flames

Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778) was a Swedish botanist, physician, and zoologist, who laid the foundation for the modern scheme of binomial nomenclature. He is the father of modern taxonomy, and also one of fathers of modern ecology. Linnaeus assigned the name Phalaenopsis to these orchids because they resembled moths in flight. For this reason, the species are sometimes called Moth orchids. Phalaena was originally a subdivision of Lepidoptera, created by Carl Linnaeus, and included moths in general. Opsis is the Greek word for spectacle in the theatre and performance. "Ops or Opis was one of the names of Juno, the 'unique, ever-existent O', or, as she was sometimes known, Demeter, the 'Mother of brilliant splendour'. Ops was the giver of ops, riches, whence the word opulent." [Harold Bayley, The Lost Language of Symbolism (1912), p. 305]. Recently I learned that the words Is and Ish originally meant Light. So "Phalen-ops-is" may be interpreted as "Moth of splendid light" or moth diving into flames. (Image: Portrait of Carl Linnaeus at 32 (1739) by J.H. Scheffel, Uppsala University, Stockholm, Sweden)

your bending as flowers do toward sunlight

Sunflowers turn towards the sun to get the most sunlight. Sunflowers and California poppies close when it's dark and open when it's light. Many flowers turn towards the sun for photosynthesis, as it is the main nutrients for plants. Heliotropism is the diurnal motion of plant parts (flowers or leaves) in response to the direction of the sun. Heliotropism was first described by Leonardo da Vinci (along with gravitropism) in his botanical studies. The term "heliotropism" though, was introduced in the early 1800s by A. P. de Candolle (1778-1841), for the growth of the stem tip towards light, which is now called phototropism. Heliotropic flowers track the sun's motion across the sky from East to West. During the night, the flowers may assume a random orientation, while at dawn they turn again towards the East where the sun rises. The motion is performed by motor cells in a flexible segment just below the flower, called a pulvinus. The motor cells are specialized in pumping potassium ions into nearby tissues, changing their turgor pressure. Heliotropism is a response to blue wavelength light, where potassium ion concentration increases in the "motor" cells on the shadow side of the pulvinus. With the increase of potassium ions the osmotic potential in the cells becomes more negative and the cells absorb more water and elongate, turning the face of the flower to the sun. (Image: Lace Pods & Poppies, Buttermilk Bend Trail, Bridgeport South Yuba River State Park, California; Sunflower from Flowers Show)

thanking the Father for nourishment from seed to fruit
The rays of Father Sun may be likened to sperms that germinate Mother Earth, given birth to the plant world. "Shakuru, the Sun, is the first of the visible powers," said the Pawnee priest. "It is very potent; it gives man health, vitality, and strength. Because of its power to make things grow, Shakuru is sometimes spoken of as atius, 'father'. The Sun comes direct from the mighty power above; that gives it its great potency." was addressed as "Father" or "Elder" because of his life-giving qualities. Especially potent were his first rays. "Whoever is touched by the first rays of the Sun in the morning receives new life and strength which have been brought straight from the power above. Father Sun has been worshipped since ancient times. In the 4th century A.D., the Roman emperor Julian said in his "Oration to the Sovereign Sun": "For the planets dance about him as their king, in certain intervals, fixed in relation to him, and revolve in a circle with perfect accord, making certain halts, and pursuing to and fro their orbit, as those who are learned in the study of the spheres call their visible motions." (See Hymn to the Sun; Sculpting Uncarved Block). [Image: The Sun, 19th major arcana card of Rider-Waite Tarot Deck (1909)]

learning from you how to be humble
and how to pray with curving grace

Denise Levertov in her poem "Of Being" from Oblique Prayers (1984) ends with
"this need to kneel: / this mystery:", for it is a mystery to kneel down and pray to
that invisible and infinite power that sustains our life (See "Poetry & Prayer").
Lew Welch (1926-1971) posed this American koan in
Ring of Bone: Collected Poems 1950-1971 (1973), p. 126:
In every culture, in every place and time, there has always been a religion,
and in every one of these religions there has always been the gesture of
bowing so fully that the forehead strikes the ground. Why is this?
(There is only one right answer to this riddle).
Sooner or later the gesture is necessary no matter which way you go.
Suzuki bows with so much confidence we all feel bold.
Author's Note: It took me 3-1/2 years to solve the question
after the question occurred to me. It isn't easy. It's so simple
it is almost unavailable to our crooked heads.
Anyone who solves the Riddles may get the answer confirmed
by writing me through Coyote. But please don't waste my time
by telling me that Bowing shows respect for the earth or that you
are vulnerable to a great power or you are submitting to something.
I haven't got time for that baby-talk. (p. 127)
[Image: Lew Welch, from cover of How I Work as a Poet (Grey Fox, 1973), Beat Buddhism]

            — Peter Y. Chou
                Mountain View, 5-11-2010

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