Book # 8:
Oh boy, this was like a work out for my brain. Orlean said it was a really hard book to write…it was also a pretty hard book to read, for me anyway.
It definitely was engaging, filled with interesting facts and people she met along the way, but it was kind of like reading a discovery channel special on orchids. She was very detailed, wrote in long paragraphs, and the facts flowed down the page, almost as if she wanted to include everything she could think of in one topic.
Her journey begins after she hears about John Laroche, a Florida man, who was arrested and tried for poaching orchids out of the Fakahatchee-a Florida state Park where it is illegal to take out endangered animals, plants…and pretty much any living thing. He tried to find a loophole in the rules, by taking Semionles with him and have them poach for him. They don’t fall under the endangered law, so they can technically take the orchids, at least that’s what Laroche was betting on.
I watched the movie Adaptation a while ago, and after reading this I understand why Charlie Kaufman had such a hard time with the screenplay. With all the details and facts, its hard to form one strand of an idea for a movie, but he definitely made it work.
Orlean is a phenomenal writer, she acts more like an anthropologist in this book than a journalist. The characters seem so wild and unreal, that I had to keep reminding myself that this was non-fiction. The whole time I was reading, I just pictured Chris Cooper in my head, playing John Laroche…because that’s what I knew (an example of how I shouldn’t watch movies before reading the book). Looking him up, though he is nothing of what I pictured. Chris Cooper won an Oscar for his performance, and after reading this book, I bet Laroche was out there gloating-now his name is out there forever!
Orlean says what sparked her interest in Laroche was his pure passion for this plant. He lived and breathed for them, at the time. He had a number of past hobbies that he was infatuated with and then would all of a lose all interest in it and start up with something else. I guess to a certain extent his passion made her curious. I think at one point she even said she wanted to know what it felt like to be passionate about something. That’s what really fueled her journey in this book: “I was starting to believe that the reason it matters to care passionately about something is that it whittles the world down to a more manageable size. It makes the world seem not huge and empty but full of possibility.”
I learned a lot, at least that’s what I can say from reading this. I learned about the history of orchids, how they have survived a million years, because they are adaptable. They can grow on trees, on rocks, after fires, in the cold, after hurricanes, etc.
It’s pretty crazy. What’s even crazier are “orchid people.” There are people who have temperature controlled greenhouses for different species of orchids and couples who don’t go on vacations together, so that one person can stay with their orchids. There are people who pay thousands or dollars for one of them. There are competitive international orchid shows, where at one event people needed body guards.
There are A LOT of people who poach them, like Laroche. When orchids were first put on the map in the 1800’s in England they became a phenomenon. The rich would send out orchid hunters to come back with as many plants as they could-often times one hunter would take all the orchids in one area and then burn the area, so no other hunter could get them, they would even go as far as killing each other for them.
Like I said…crazy.
These people have thousands in their collection and become consumed by them, which is why Orlean gave away all the orchids she was given on her trip. She did however become fascinated with the ghost orchid (pictured above). One very rare, endangered orchid that is found in the Fakahatchee. She had guts going in there. I couldn’t walk around in water that’s so dark, you can’t see the bottom and where you have to worry about alligators, snakes, sinkholes, etc.
I became curious about orchids in general after reading this. I even went as far, as buying my own…but I WILL NOT, I promise, become a collector. No way. I have a small collection of indoor plants and this was just a challenge for myself-to see if it doesn’t die. I hope it doesn’t, because its beautiful. The only plant I’ve grown from scratch is my avocado plant, and its the only one I’m really proud of…which shows how much of a green thumb I have.