Sunday, June 12, 2016

"Seeking Wild Orchids" with Ms Ball, Mr Diener, and Mrs Birnbaum

This post is dedicated to Ms Julie Ball, who is now retired.
Thanks also to Tom Diener, Wanda Birnbaum, and Larry Weber.

Once upon a time, former Marshall science teacher Larry Weber used to take some of his colleagues (Ms Ball, Mr Diener, and former science teacher Mrs Birnbaum) on a little expedition to visit a secret patch of Pink Lady Slippers (Cypripedium acaule) right after the graduation ceremony. 

I have heard these tales. Long have I wished to know the location of these Pink Ladies. 

A couple weeks ago, I bumped into Mrs Birnbaum, and she said that we should go see the Slippers, that she was sure she could remember where they were. 

I contacted Ms Ball and Mr Diener, and we all settled on a date. I tried to get Mr Weber to lead us, but he couldn't make it. He did, however, check the spot and tell us that the elusive beauties were, in fact, blooming. If we waited until after graduation, they might well be past their prime. So, on June 7th, after school, Ms Ball, Mrs Birnbaum, Mr Diener, and I made our way to the location.
Tucking pants in socks
To keep out ticks that lurk in
The tall June grass.
As we walked through the woods, we searched the undergrowth. One of the first interesting plants we saw was the Jack-in-the-Pulpit. We ended up seeing many of them.
Preaches to dead trees:
How are the mighty fallen!
As we moved deeper into the woods, each of my colleagues wracked their brains, trying to remember where Mr Weber had taken them so long ago.
Heading for the cedars,
Mrs Birnbaum searches
For Pink Ladies.
Wearing forest colors,
Ms Ball peers into
Memory's deep woods.
Nimble-footed, green-caped,
Mr Diener scans
The undergrowth.
And then, we found them, in among some cedars and (what I think are) black spruce trees.

Tall Pink Lady, with
Slender wings and parasol--
Angel of the bog.
As soon as we spotted one, we saw others, and then even more...
Fragile as paper
Lanterns, these beacons shine,
Leading us onward.
As my wise elders walked on into the woods, trading memories and stories of the past, I paused to take photos of some of the many Slippers we saw.
Ghostly girl, your color
Will deepen each day
Until you, too, fall.
 The soggy ground was littered with fallen trees and branches, making it hard to walk at times. I slipped once--but I'm used to getting my feet wet while hunting orchids. We saw lots of Slipper plants that looked damaged, perhaps by rain. We had to be careful not to step on any of them. 

My three guides through the woods finally led me to a cluster of Pink Slippers, some a deep pink, some still pale and newly-opened. We counted more than a dozen.
Party of 14,
Mothers and daughters,
Dancing all afternoon.
As we explored the area, Mr Diener was naming the other wildflowers we encountered: starflower and bunchberry, while Mrs Birnbaum pointed out a clump of maidenhair ferns. Ms Ball called my attention to a dark hole beneath a tree, a perfect lair for a bog monster.
Lady in the sun,
Showing off for the bees.
--Jack disapproves.
Snapping photos, I started to think about the distant past, about how many orchids must once have grown in places where now there are only roads, buildings, and parking lots. I am always amazed that these gorgeous flowers have survived what we humans have done to their habitat. 

Nodding just a little
Under the ferns:
Afternoon nap.
I also started to think of the future: what will Marshall be like, without Mrs Ball? A year from now, will we gather again in this spot, to visit the Ladies, to trade stories and share secrets?
A warning to all
Who enter this bog:
Keep our secrets, or else!
I know I am very grateful that my colleagues (current and former) agreed to show me this special place. 

I suggested that we should all write haikus to accompany this post. (Perhaps Mr Diener and Mrs Birnbaum will add some poetic comments?) Mrs Ball wrote a poem, and I took a photo of it. (I'll hang the original in my room.) 
Ms Ball's poem
For this sweet afternoon,
Much thanks, Ms Ball.
May there be many more.

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