I’d searched all over for the sacred flower on the top of the mountain during my birthday camping trip–to no avail. After descending back to sea level, I’d spoken with Mama Rosette, the enormous Tahitian grandmother who sat at her fruit stand alongside the road near the boatyard.
“Before,” she told me in a mix of French and Tahitian, “the flowers sprouted from the ground all around up there. The people went there often to talk with them and keep them company. Now, nobody goes there. They just stay in the house and watch the television. Nobody cares about the flower, so it doesn’t grow.” She explained. “It needs the love of the people.”
Other locals I’d spoken with blamed the scarcity of the flower on people who broke the plant off at it’s root and tried to bring it home to grow in their gardens. That never worked. It needs the unique mountain climate. Either way, I felt I had to give one more effort to see this lagendary flower before leaving the island that I had grown to love so deeply…
A few days later, clear skies sent me into a flurry of packing. I shoved the tent, a sheet, and a can of lentils and corn, matches, and my knife into a backpack and talked a friend into a two-night mountain adventure.
The first morning atop the moutain, I slit a papaya open and passed half to my friend, then slipped on my rain-soaked Patagonia runners and a long sleeved shirt to block the sun. Who knew how long it would take to find the flower?
I remembered my tracks from the prior trip, and intending to go a different route this time, we set out south across the plateau. The morning was glorious, brisk and clear, but for some reason I felt sad. How could it be that this sacred flower was nearly extinct? Why were people so greedy, short-sighted, and stupid!? The absence of the flower seemed to symbolize the entire state of the planet–unbalanced and rapidly declining. I felt depressed.
“If we don’t see one of those flowers on this entire mountaintop,” I declared dramatically to my friend, “there is no hope left in this world…”
We wandered on up the mountainside, ascended the next peak and doing our best to dodge the webs of the many spiders who had been working all night on intricate, dew-laden bug catchers.
“I don’t know, Liz,” my friend said. “We already looked quite a bit yesterday, on and off the trail. I don’t know see that flower anywhere…” Just as the words left his mouth, we rejoined with the trail on the top of the peak. I looked left and a bunch of long, skinny leaves caught my eye.
“But wait…this looks like the leaves of…” I mumbled. I looked over towards him, and there, nearly touching the back of his shoulder, was the sacred flower–open, delicate, perfect. “There it is!!” I cried, “Right behind you!”
We laughed together, marveling over the timing and coincidence that had led us there. It was real! We rested there, spending a while admiring the flower’s unique, semi-circular splendor. Finally continuing on up to the highest peak, we enjoyed the spectacular views in every direction and the steady silence and peace that cloaked the mountain top. But we saw no other flowers that entire day.
On the way back down, we passed near the way we’d come. “I’ll meet you back at the camp. I need to talk with the flower,” I told my friend. He smiled and understood.
Sitting in the dirt and moss beside it, I spoke to the flower until the sun fell low and red onto the horizon below us. I won’t bore you with all I talked about, but I assure you that I thanked it for restoring my bleak hope that we as humans can find a sustainable way of life on this planet. But sit and wait, we cannot! And so I will try to do my best, everyday, to minimize my impact…