Selenicereus Grandiflorus

words by Willow Defebaugh

Welcome to The Overview, a weekly newsletter in which Editor-in-Chief Willow Defebaugh offers an expansive look at the latest events in climate and culture—and how it all fits together.

“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature—the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.” —Rachel Carson


Nature holds certain constants—unvarying truths that even humankind in all of its arrogance has not been able to upend. We learn them in classrooms, textbooks: what goes up must come down, matter cannot be created or destroyed, every action has an equal or opposite reaction. And while Rachel Carson’s note about spring following winter may be less and less poignant as the climate crisis continues, her other point remains.


Despite our best efforts, night has fallen. More than half the global population is under orders to stay home: that’s four billion people. Unemployment rates in the United States are soaring. Supplies are running dangerously low in the city that never sleeps, now the epicenter of the outbreak. And under cover of darkness, ecological assaults press onward while President Trump takes meetings with fossil fuel executives (in person, no less) to discuss federal aid for big oil. What is perhaps more frightening is that it seems the night has only just begun.


This is not to scare you, but to sober you, for acceptance is an integral step in the process of healing. As Mary Heglar points out in a heartbreakingly honest piece for The New Republic, “I believe that we have it in us to face the great unknown that’s on the other side of this collective trauma. But only if we allow ourselves to mourn our losses—be they temporary or permanent. If you’re putting pressure on yourself to hold it together, that very well may be what breaks you apart.”


We could cover our eyes and try to ignore nightfall, but we would find ourselves in darkness all the same. And if we did, we might miss all that’s beholden to it. In our case, that means learning that the world can change overnight—that we can live with less, and when we do, the Earth can catch its breath (pollution levels are dropping so dramatically that data collectors are actually confounded). We are learning that many of our systems are broken and need to be rebuilt. We are learning to value the unsung heroes of our world: the farmers, healthcare professionals, and grocery store workers who are literally keeping us alive. We are learning what resilience looks like.


There is a subset of cacti species, broadly called night-blooming cereus or the Queen of the Night, that flower only after sunset. One particular species, the selenicereus grandiflorus, blooms just once a year, for a single evening. Bats and moths are drawn to their moonlit petals and pollinate them, nourished in return—a reminder that in nature, everything serves a purpose, and nothing lasts forever. Even the night.

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