Tuesday, June 06, 2006


Every year for the past twenty of so, The Farmer and I have been going to two particular secret spots in the woods in early June. It began when we were on a walk and found some pink lady slippers. The next year, in the beginning of June, we went again. The next year, we did the same. This has gone on and on – a June ritual. We don’t know if anyone else knows our spots and we haven’t shared our secret. This is what we found Sunday.

Lady slippers are so beautiful and fragile. When I was a child, my mother told me that they were very rare and very special. We were a family full of bouquet builders (I still am) but we all knew never to pick a lady slipper. I have always had a fondness and respect for these blooms. Their ovoid shape, the puffiness of the flower - they look like someone blew air into them. They dance above the two little leaves and the straight, strong stem.

One year Mark was clearing trees to dig a pond to water the sheep. It was close to prime lady slipper territory. The trees were mosly pine, tall, straight, and probably past their prime. He cut them down with his chain saw and the light came in. The next year, June came and it was time for our annual hunt. Near the new pond, the ground was literally covered in a carpet of pink lady slippers. There had to be over a thousand - at least that's how I remember it - a sea of pink dancing flowers. It was as if we were in some kind of forest dream. Every year, we go to that spot again; there are usually a few flowers but never as many as that one June.

What was it about that year? Was it the light coming in through the remaining trees that was just perfect? Were those seeds just sitting there, just waiting to germinate for a hundred years? Was the moisture just right? We'll never know and it will always be a memory and mystery that we won't forget.

I remember as a young girl, my mother taking us to a special place in the woods near our house to find Indian Pipes - a white, fungus-like flower that has an almost eerie, mystical, other-worldly look to it. My sisters and I looked forward to seeing the flowers each year. Then Mom and Dad did some serious re-arranging of the trees in our yard to build some new gardens. The Indian pipes never grew again. I have never seen them since I was about twelve.

It's amazing what happens when you alter the natural habitat of the earth. Sometimes beauty happens, sometimes it all disappears.


Annie D said...

Wow. You totally brought me back with that post. I grew up in Berkshire County and I remember Indian pipes very well. Devil's Paintbrushes, too, but those are a very different thing altogether.

Enjoy western Mass. I miss it--although I'm outside Boston now, and WEBS drags me back occasionally. :)

Kary said...

Amazing ... I remember both Lady Slippers & Indian Pipes growing up in NH. WOW - thanks bringing back some wonderful childhood memories. BTW - LOVE your BloG - so incredibly inspirational.

togbean said...

My Bompa, GGF, used to take me foraging in the forests of Windsor, MA as a child and I remember helping him to clear away debris from lady slipper patches. I only remember finding Indian Pipes with him once and even he was amazed. Those were also the trips when we'd collect fiddlehead ferns, spruce gum and check for good spots where we knew we'd find mushrooms later in the year. There are some wonders to be found in our forests that I don't think we take the time to be amazed by anymore, if you haven't yet, page through Tom Wessels book The Forested Landscape. It seems dry and academic on the surafce but WHAT A READ!YOu'll find yourself searching for wierd apples and pillow/cradles.
You're an amazing woman. Thank you for sharing your work and a glimpse of your life with us.

Siri said...

Stunning. We saw a single pink ladyslipper (a bit different than that variety, I think) on a hike over Memorial Day weekend, too.
I remember feeling that way about Indian Paintbrush flowers when I was young. We always saw them in Mt. Rainier Nat'l Park and you can't pick anything in the park, so I thought that they were very rare and that you couldn't pick them anywhere. Turns out, they're not as rare as I had once thought. We even have a little patch of them on our place. After my husband poured the foundation for his cabinet shop one spring, I suddenly realized that that was right over by where the patch was. OH NO! Luckily, later that summer we found out that they had missed the patch and it was still a little ways off one of the back corners of the building.

bernie said...

I've never seen an Indian Pipe flower so I googled it and clicked on images. What an unusual plant! They apparently don't have chlorophyll so their energy comes from the soil, not the sun (so they are more like a fungus than a flower). Very interesting! for those others who have never seen:



Kristin said...

That's them. Thanks Bernie. I was going to look for a link, but I got lazy. The ones in our yard were a little clump like the bottom picture. They would make a great painting.