Sunday, June 16, 2013

A Tale of Two Orchids

May 30, 2013
[Somewhere in the Adirondacks]

The bulbous arethusa out a day or two – probably yesterday.
Though in a measure prepared for it,
    still its beauty surprised me;
 it is by far the highest and richest color yet.
 Its intense color in the midst of the great meadow
    made it look twice as large as reality;
it looks very foreign in the midst of our plants –
    its richly speckled, curled, and bearded lip.
   HDT Journal, May 28, 1853

On our final day of orchid-hunting with Andrew, there was a last-minute change of plans.
Evelyn was back from a trip, and contacted Jackie, wondering  if we would like to go to a secret bog to see if the Arethusa was in bloom. Would we ever !
We are sworn to secrecy as to the location. It’s the sort of excursion that Hornbeck boats were made for – and my very first carry-in with my new boat.
My new Blackjack is pretty shiny compared to those of my friends, who have made many such carries into isolated ponds.  It was just a short walk in with it slung over my shoulder, but it certainly helped that the boat weighs a grand total of twelve pounds.
We put in  at one end of the pond, where there was a short portage around a beaver-dam.

                                                                   An Adirondack traffic-jam.

Once on the other side, we paddled about, going here and there in our buoyant shell-boats, like ducklings exploring a new place.
Evelyn meanwhile, was up ahead, checking on the Arethusas – they were up, and beginning to open. She observes this population carefully, with the blessing of the landowner. 

[She returned a week later, and took a careful count, finding over a hundred of them.]

Floating log-gardens bristled with Sundews

Bunchberry, White Violets,  and Calla Lily grew on the wooded  shore

And then we came to the bog mat – a floating mass of sphagnum – where you could get out  and walk (carefully) to see other wonders.
(As long as you didn't mind hearing wierd sucking noises with every step.)

Here grows Buckbean, blooming with enthusiasm.

Jackie pointed out a female Elfin Skimmer dragonfly, whose tiger-striping made her disappear from sight if you took your eyes off her.

As usual, it was fun to see Andrew’s delight in finding many plants new to him.
And to witness his photographer's frustration !
Standing ankle-deep in sphagnum, waiting for a cloud to pass.

Whoever says a swamp is a dreary grey place – has never been to one ! 
Everywhere you looked, it was a riot of color.


As if a morning filled with Arethusas was not enough, we had one last adventure planned for that afternoon.
Andrew would be leaving for Ohio the very next morning, so the pressure was on to find one last treasure.
We were hoping to see a plant that perhaps even Thoreau had never seen in the wild.  
I could find only one reference to it in his Journal:

June 12, 1856: Sophia [Thoreau’s  sister] has sent me,
in a letter from Worcester, part of an orchis in bloom,
apparently Platanthera Hookeri (?), or smaller round-leafed orchis, from the Hermitage Wood, so called, northeast of the town; but the two leaves are elliptical.

June 13. Friday.  To Worcester.

June 14. Walk to Hermitage Woods with Sophia and aunts.
[Heh. Sounds like he surely tried to find one !]

After lunch, we met Bob Duncan, who kindly offered to take us to actually SEE a Hooker’s Orchid.
There are, perhaps, five known individual plants of this orchid in New York State – and we were going to a place where three of them grow.
Bob had scouted the spot earlier, and cautioned us that he had seen only one small flower-spike. (Wild orchids produce flowers very unpredictably; some years, not at all.)

Bob drove us in, along a road whose name I don’t remember, to the beginnings of a trail. From there, we walked through rich wet woods, trending upward to our destination. 
Just a short ways along, we stumbled upon Painted Trillium, still looking fresh.

Andrew had given up all hope of finding it on this trip, and was thrilled.
He’d never seen one before.
I had, but was surprised to see one of these elegant flowers with four petals instead of three – would that be called a Quadrillium??

We walked gingerly across a beaver dam, 
and crossed seeps filled with Marsh Blue Violets.

Amazingly, despite the warmth of the day, and the wetness of the trail, there were few mosquitoes.  Of course, after sundown, things could be different.  For now, we enjoyed a sunny, breezy day in the woods.

The place where Bob and Evelyn had found the Hooker’s plants was originally smack dab in the middle of an ATV trail, and they worked to get the trail re-routed, to spare the orchids.
Their efforts were not in vain.
As we approached the spot, Andrew whooped and got on his knees.
One single plant had sent up one single spike – which, today, was in bloom !

There would be time enough for each of us to take photos of this rare sight.

And for me to take one more of Andrew's happy face.

First, though … a moment just to admire and wonder.


  1. What a day that was! And how wonderfully you have captured its essence! That last photo truly says something about our sense of awe at being in the presence of such a rare plant. Also, I can't believe you got such a clear shot of the Elfin Skimmer. Be sure to send that photo to Evelyn.

  2. Anything I can think of to say would be a cliche, but WOW! anyway.

  3. Such a good story, and I'm fascinated with those lightweight boats. Reminds me of trips up the Bruce Peninsula here in Ontario to see orchids. Great blog!

  4. it was a great day with great companions (can you hear Andrew sighing in that last photo?),
    Caroline, I am slightly jealous of your ability to capture the essence of something with just ONE photo,
    and welcome aboard, Furry !

  5. what a FANTASTIC series on my visit and our adventures out botanizing, Sue. It was an experience I'll never forget and am thankful I'll always have you and Jackie's respective posts to look back on. I can't wait to visit again :)

  6. Hi Andrew, it certainly was fun, we are already wondering what you would be interested in looking for on your next visit !
    Of course you have my permission to use any of these "action photos" of yourself, let me know if you would need any of higher quality than the ones posted here.