In the heart of a cold coastal winter, these red Andean brugmansia sanguinea flowers are blooming, darker than embers. They are also called red Angel's Trumpets, and are endemic to the Andes, from Colombia to northern Chile, thriving at 6,600 to 9,800 feet, in the high thin air. A sacred guest in my parent's garden, from the southern part of this hemisphere. They are intoxicating to look at, jeweled and thriving. Several years ago, Simon gave me two tiny seedlings in pots that fit in my palms. He and his brother Spencer had snatched a seedpod the shape of a big green egg off a flourishing brugmansia up near Bodega Bay, and had sprouted several dozen starts. As a gift, I was given two, which I tended like a nervous and thrilled new mother, stroking their little green leaves and doting, sometimes even singing.
Eventually, I planted the two young Angel's trumpets up near my mother's herb garden in rich soil that, long ago, was annually flooded marshland. They thrived. Now, the blossoms are blood-red, fire-red, and deliriously beautiful. Just looking at them is like touching a dream; you can tell they are hallucinogenic, and treading the line toward deadly. Their hallucinogenic properties are very strong, described as terrifying by those who have tried to ingest the plants recreationally. In many indigenous South American cultures, however, varieties of brugmansia were and are used in ritual divinations, to commune with ancestors, to prophecy and to poison. This is a plant that undoubtedly requires deep respect, that calls up the deeps and the darks of the human mind and the realms of spirits.
The blossoms hang like red bells of winter, tolling in the cold and the darkness. "Angel's trumpet"; I love the holy musicality of that name, the image of sere beings treading the fog, blowing into blood-red trumpet flowers—saintly and utterly pagan at once.
This plant grows near the grave of my childhood cat Delphi, who acquired this thoroughly oracular nickname from his full name, Delphinium, which I bestowed upon him at age five, inspired by his blue eyes. I wonder if this particular plant is thriving because his body has seeped its nutrients nearby. I wonder if he is in the red bells, my first pet, never really mine, with his crossed eyes and his temper.
A newer blossom, unfurling, damp with its own birth. The skin of it looks like lizard's, holy.