Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Big Freeze

The BBC ended their World News round up the other evening with pictures of frozen iguanas falling out of South Florida trees.

Suddenly hard, miserable weather and not just cold but damp - English weather. It's always said about England, (like here: "Its not the heat it's the humidity") that: "It's not the cold it's the damp." And our old Cracker house, the model for Aunt Charlotte's in Orchid Territory, reminds me too much of England in the old days. Designed to keep heat out, it does such a good job we always joke we'd be warmer down with the orchids.

When I think back over the years here, growing orchids, what is most vivid is the drama of cold and freezes, rather than hurricanes, even Andrew. The big drama in Orchid Territory is the New Year's Eve freeze: the tearing plastic, the arctic blast coming out of nowhere, out shivering at midnight under the cold hard stars, praying the pump won't fail and the plastic holds. Novels set in Florida often do great, dramatic things with storms and hurricanes hitting smashing...and they often read about as real as computer-generated disaster movies..But here's a modest word: Orchid Territory tells it like it is for orchid growers.

If you have orchids, the warm-loving ones, you feel the cold with them like a mother with a new born baby. It's the one thing that unites newcomers and the natives. When you observe a strapping mid-westerner wringing his hands over a forecast of 48 Fahrenheit, you know he's down here growing orchids and what's more, he's been celebrating the fact that he's down here growing orchids and not up in Minnesota growing orchids and has been happily, if not deliriously, draping them under trees, on fences and trellises:" Hey! I am out in my yard in December in my shorts at one with nature and it is good!"

And like us locals, he's basically unprepared, even more so. In England, it's always like that, even though we always have cold weather (any time of the year, actually.) Right now, apparently, they've run out of salt for the roads and the Prime Minister may have to resign. Years ago it was just the same: one little blizzard and out came the headlines: "Only Six Snow Ploughs for the Whole of England and Wales! All In North Yorkshire!"

Dr. Motes has sent out his Don't panic! Freeze emails. Am not sure what he's told those who've followed his advice by sticking orchids on to suitable trees with Liquid Nails. Even iguanas would have a hard job falling out of trees if they'd been stuck on with Liquid Nails. But there are always unlikely survivors, after a freeze. Some orchids put out in the grove because they refused to bloom, also, we discover, refuse to die. And on the other hand, some silly little Vanda in the shade house, in the middle of a warm and cosy row, gets a hissy fit and turns burned and brown for no reason at all.

But this time, with forecasts of maybe below freezing for two nights, then this looks like being the big one. And even our heaters and strategic watering may not be enough. And certainly when we emerge, blinking at the scene, everything outside should be mostly burned brown by the cold. So bring in what you can, or cover with sheets like the Ramada Inn. We were there two nights ago, courtesy of the Naples Orchid Society (after Martin's talk on Darwin and Survival of the Fittest) and the management had tucked sheets - some fitted, some top- all around their ornamental flower beds. ( "Beds!" -Ha!) As Martin observed: "Well, if you need sheets, then a hotel is certainly the place to find them."

The local channels will be telling us to bring in our orchids and our pets. Our two large mastiffs are in the kitchen right now, sitting there a little uneasy, like pupils told to relax in the principal's office and as far as the orchids are concerned, we can do no more. As our young hero in Orchid Territory reflects on the night of the freeze: "The plastic was tight, the water was on. Nature was on the rampage out there just taking her course, clumping down the peninsular: Termi-nature! And in an hour or two, in the dawn, they'd all see how merciless she'd been."

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