When I was a child, Opa, my grandfather, would entice me out to walk with him on the paths through the woods with the promise of seeing rabbits. We never did see rabbits in the undergrowth, but we did see astonishingly tall trees, and bright toadstools, and horned beetles the size of my child’s fist. As I grew older, he no longer had to tempt me into taking walks with him. I knew that I wanted to go, and we would wander further, along gravel roads and through fields all the way into the distant, misty mountaintop we called Siberia— it was that far.
We entered the cloud forest up there, at a place where, he said, there should be a path. And we wound our way further into the dense growth, ducking under vines, crashing through interlaced branches, opening a small path for ourselves. As we walked, he showed me the wonders he found, the heart-shaped leaves of the anthurium and the pollen on its long flower, the moss growing up thin trunks and alongside branches. I showed him what I found, the spores on the underside of the fern’s frond, the dew gathered, shining at the tip of a leaf. We searched for treasures, especially, orchids.
Orchids, with their bright, showy flowers, are the Colombian national flower. But the farm is too high and too cold for the flashy ones to grow. Instead, those conditions result most frequently in minute blossoms that are well hidden by the forest. Sometimes it’s one tiny red orchid that blooms on the underside of a wide, thick leaf. Others, it is a cloud of massed golden buds that grows far above our heads.
Those were our treasures, those exquisite flowers that were so well hidden, so difficult to find, and therefore, rare, special. Opa and I would push through the growth slowly, talking softly and looking carefully into the trees, along the trunks. We always managed to find some splendid orchid. And waterfalls, wild grapes, a fleeting scent of sweet perfume. Those walks were the greatest gift.
Opa taught me to search for treasures, and I take his lesson into my adult life, looking for the blessings and the gifts as I move along my day. Today the treasure may look more like a wildflower growing in a crack in the sidewalk, or the slanted sunlight hitting the light post outside my window at dusk, but when it comes up, I am awake, I am aware, I am looking.