Although I rarely attach myself to excursions that include a bus and a few too many people, I did just that on two occasions recently and I am all the better for it. Each was great fun, very educational, and was a relaxed opportunity to chat with folks and deepen friendships.
My first trip was to a botanical garden about 45 minutes from Cuenca — a lovely site that, when mature, may well become one of Ecuador’s most treasured contributions to the preservation of native plants and development of attendant educational programs.
Our guide, Manuel Meneses, gave an entertaining tutorial detailing many of the 1,600 varieties of indigenous vegetation his family has planted over many years. He spoke in a manner that maintained everyone’s attention, except, of course, the obligatory member who, although seemingly oblivious to the purpose of the trip, was chatty as a jaybird about the morning television shows she was now missing, with what appeared to be no small measure of wistful longing, Her carrying on became an almost pleasant drone of unusual grammar and even weirder syntax.
It all seemed perfectly scripted; a walk in the woods with friends followed by a delicious lunch in a pretty little restaurant.
Later in the week, I again boarded another bus — with many of the same characters of days before — to visit a commercial rose farm. What a treat! The farm itself is a four-generations-old business of cattle raising, orchard land, and somewhat recently, a variety of greenhouses that produce nine million rose blossoms for export each year.
Ducking into the steam-bath heat of a greenhouse is almost enough to take your breath away. Again and again, I was astonished by the beautiful form and grace of the flowers, and with over 50 varieties of roses to choose from, finding the perfect rose became as confusing as deciding on the best sunset, or prettiest morning and sweetest songbird. The beauty and sheer mass of row upon row of roses left many gasping and speechless — except for one person who, well, you know the rest of it.
Jaybirds squawking in the background.
Lunch at the rose farm was as delicious as the roses were beautiful. Our lunch, most of it grown in the family garden, was a rose pedal light combination of mixed greens, plantain, and a potato soup rich in flavor and absent of any distractions. Potato soup, plan, simple, and tasting of the earth itself.
As the days passed, I became surprised that my memories of the two trips became intertwined. The easy conversations with friends and new acquaintances blended into lush opportunities for photography of both the folks and flowers, neither more beautiful than the other. The peppery fragrance of pine forest and warming soil was irresistible and has taken on a mellow remembrance of other times and places of equal beauty and fragrance.
The roses I was given are beginning to show their age now — although the color is still vibrant — showing the wrinkle of time, heads drooping as if dozing or deep in dreams of the grandeur of their too-short youth. I will try to resist but know I won’t. In a few more days I will strip the petals away and put them in a box. The time will come when I’ll recall their presence and pepper dancers in a parade, sharing a memory of roses, warm earth, and the plants that feed our soul and nourish our bodies.