I’ve been on a wild orchid chase


blue and red flower field during daytime

I’d been waiting over six months to check out the setting for an early scene in my novel-in-progress. Back in November, the rocky field carpeted with purple orchids of my imagination proved a pleasant distraction from the storms buffeting the land beyond my desk. It was based on a place I’ve visited often, albeit not for a few years. I promised myself I’d go back at the right time of year to see what details I’d missed.

The ascent was hot and sticky. The path on the ground didn’t match the markings on my map. But there were skylarks above, buttercups below and views of wooded hills in between. And it would only get better once I found the field.

At last. Up ahead the jagged lumps of limestone. Would I find southern marsh or bee orchids blooming among the common spotted? Would there be too many to count?

I didn’t. There weren’t. I didn’t need to concern myself with identification because, regardless of the species, I found exactly … none.

Was this the wrong field? No, I’d definitely – eventually – got it right. The wrong time? No, there was no evidence of orchids past their best or yet to flower. Was it a bad year for wild orchids with all the months of rain? On the contrary, it was the best year ever in my garden, where we have at least two dozen. Here’s one:

But this post isn’t about The Mystery of the Vanishing Wildflowers. It’s about the implications – if any – for my novel. Should I revise what I’ve written to reflect current reality or leave it as it is?

The orchids aren’t essential to the story. Should I move the scene elsewhere? But the setting conjures the rural idyll I want to create at the start of the novel before my character’s life is turned upside down.

Or maybe I could make my disappointment hers: if I send her there expecting hundreds but she doesn’t find any, it’ll be a foretaste of the losses to come. Except that might make it too much about the orchids. Lovely as they are, they should stay in the background. Readers don’t need to wonder why they’ve disappeared.

I’ll probably let the orchids stand on the basis that

  • I’m writing fiction not a countryside guidebook
  • I’m fairly confident they would have been there in 2008 when my story begins
  • no one but me is likely to care.

But I haven’t completely decided, so if you have a view on the matter, please let me know.

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