William’s body now lies freezing at the foot of Volcano Mount Sinabung in Sumatra and all for what? For the sake of a damned inflorescence, that is all.
As I bring to mind William’s sorry fate, I can still clearly hear his last words high up on that Sumatran ridge.
“Piotr, I can reach the flower. Tell me all this mad journey was worth it.”
It’s a euphoric feeling yes, but I’m also left somewhat hollowed out inside. As though this incredible feat I’d worked so hard to achieve was never worth the effort in the first place. Liem’s Paphiopedilum had always been the one orchid I simply had to have above all else, this one elusive flower consuming my thoughts every waking hour since I first read Fowlie’s article in Orchid Digest way back in the early 70s. My own nature documentary business Posy Media has allowed me the means to pursue my hobby and today my name Piotr Liemipar is appreciated far and wide.
Yet even now I look down upon those vivid purple and white petals with their distinct yellowish-green markings, so vibrant and sparkling in the afternoon sunlight, and I think about what brought this exquisite treasure all the way from 900-odd meters high up a mossy limestone cliff in Gunong Sinabung back here to my private nursery on a disused industrial estate in Huddersfield. I caress those fragile Paphiopedilum petals and my heart aches so. There has always been ludicrously high demand for this bloom now sadly over collected from the wild, the scarcity only serving to make this curio all the more precious. It’s just made me ever more determined to make the thing my own.
Any fellow enthusiast will tell you that orchids are the closest one can get to sentient plants, each with their own individual presence, character, personality and mood. I have always felt them able to read my most subtle shifts in temperament. The demeanour of Piotr Liemipar has bounced around all over the place these past few weeks while our quest for this elusive Paphiopedilum has slowly become an obsession. Looking back I can recognise the very moment when my interest in the flower game became something rather more than just innocent fun. I remember my late Aunt Dorothy stood over me all those years ago, my tearful eyes not comprehending the sheer unfairness of the scene before me. Petals and soil scattered all over our drawing room floor while her screeching voice still echoes round my mind as a terrifying refrain:
“Piotr! Piotr! You knocked my favourite flowers over, you stupid worthless boy…”
Poem and Photo by Ben Robinson
Ben Robinson is an artist and writer based in Dundee, Scotland. He was features editor at the Yuck ‘n Yum art zine and is on Twitter @benjackrobinson. His work is in X-R-A-Y and Silent Auctions. His website is at www.benjackrobinson.com