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The Timeless amaryllis

THIS doesn't look like the same flower I asked Melanie Stetson Freeman to photograph. It is, and the color's right - peach-pink streaked with yellow and red - but the expression is wrong. Looking at her photo is like sitting for a portrait and then seeing in it a face that is not your own.

The amaryllis I expected to see looked almost comical, standing at the edge of a large metal desk and playing its four proud bugles. It was nothing more than a tall green stalk crowned with a ring of blossoms. The plant had raced to unfold itself from inside an onion-like bulb. It wasted no time with leaves: It had a job to do.

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For almost a week, the amaryllis was sentry at a nearby window. Then as quickly as the plant had sprung to life, its flowers began to fade and wither. When Stetson Freeman arrived with her camera, two of the blossoms had already died.

But just as a good portrait captures a subject's present look along with past and future faces, this photo pays tribute to countless generations. If you look closely, you can see the extended family within each petal: the curve of an ocean wave, the rays of the sun, and twinkling stars endlessly scattered. There's a marriage of movement and inspiration. And each vein leads toward a coronation.

This portrait should hang on a living-room wall. The real flower died months ago, but this one remains timeless. It's a tribute to unseen majesty and a season of light that remains despite the earth's constant turning.

The flower that once looked awkward has been forever sealed with the glory intended for it long before it had a face. Summer may crinkle toward fall and winter, but this portrait is a celebration of the endless links in one large family.

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