Monday, April 17, 2017

Helping a Friend Move: An Orchid Rescue Team Adventure

View of the Munger Trail, not far from where 
my friend lived.
On the morning of Saturday, April 15, 2017, my colleague Mr Tom Diener and I helped a friend move. Her house was condemned and her neighborhood slated to be bulldozed, so as to make room for bigger and better things. She had been rather isolated, living on her own, and the heavy traffic through her neighborhood put her at great risk of physical harm, and even of kidnapping. Although I hated to see her leave her birthplace, there was nothing else to be done. She had to move.

My first photo of my friend, taken September, 2012. Seed pods are visible
at the top of her stems.
I first met her back in September of 2012, some months after the big flood that left so much of our region damaged. I was biking along the Willard Munger State Trail--the parts of it that were passable--and I saw her:  tall, dressed in pale brownish rags, more than a little past her prime. She was standing just off the edge of the Trail, at the base of a wooded slope near the high rock walls that tower over the trail along portions of the Duluth section. 

I might have missed her, if I hadn’t already had such Ladies on my mind. As you can see, I’m not talking about a person but a flower, and not just any flower, but our State flower, the Showy Lady Slipper (Cypripedium reginae). 

The Munger Showy sprouting in the spring.
That September day in 2012, I was thinking about the Yellow Slippers (Cypripedium parviflorum) that I had been photographing along the Trail since about 2010, when I first started spending time on the Munger. I was worried that the flood might have washed away some of their habitat (they survived pretty well, as it turned out). 

Showy sprouts getting bigger.
I had been reading Welby Smith’s Native Orchids of Minnesota, so I knew something about the appearance of the foliage and the size of the Showy Slipper plants. I was hoping I might see a Showy someday, but I hadn’t expected to come across the remains of one on the Munger in September. I snapped a photo and began the long process of waiting until July of 2013 to see her in bloom.

The Munger Showy, July 2013, with a butterfly caught in her slipper.

Showy seed pods, visible in the winter.
Since then, I have been visiting and photographing this orchid at all stages of her life cycle and in all seasons. I have come to think of her as a friend. When I heard that her portion of the Munger Trail was going to be closed for resurfacing and reconstruction, I worried about her safety. 

Truck full of rescued Showys that Mr Diener helped save (note the reflection 
of Mr Diener in the side of the truck). Photo credit: Tom Diener.

So I contacted Martin Torgerson, the DNR Moose Lake Area Supervisor, to ask for permission to move her to Jay Cooke State Park, where Mr Diener works in the summer and where some other Showy Slippers grow. A couple days later, he put me in touch with Tyler Gangelhoff, the Assistant Manager of the Park, and he gave his permission for Mr Diener and me to transplant her. The Park Naturalist, Kristine Hiller, marked a spot for us near some of the other Showys at Jay Cooke, and Mr Diener and I then went about the business of planning the Rescue Operation. Mr Diener said Easter weekend seemed like an appropriate time for such an endeavor.

Diener's rescued Showys, blooming in the Park. They'll be the 
Munger Showy's companions.
Mr Diener already had some experience with rescuing the State flower. A couple years ago, he helped dig some up at a construction site along the Nemadji River and then re-planted them at the Park. Those Showys made the transition very nicely. 

On Saturday, then, Mr Diener and I met at the Becks Road trailhead and biked to the Slipper. Mr Diener had a trailer attached to his bike, perfect for transporting the flower and our lunch. Although the day was overcast, the rain held off until well after we finished the Operation. 

Mr Diener inspects the above-ground portion 
of the plant.
We arrived at the Slipper's home on the Trail, and Mr Diener began to dig. The ground was extremely rocky, which made getting her out of the earth much harder than I'd anticipated. I even broke off the tip of my garden trowel. I had brought along a small-but-serious shovel, which, combined with Mr Diener's strength, did the job nicely. 

Mr Diener did all the hard work--I just led him to the right 
spot and supplied the shovel! Note the ballast rocks around the 
edge of the hole.
The Munger Trail runs along an old railway line, and Mr Diener knows a lot about rocks and old railroads. He said all the rocks in the soil were track ballast for the old rail line

As we were digging up the Showy, lots of people passed by. I was expecting that someone would question us, and I had printed out Mr Gangelhoff's official statement of permission, just in case someone wanted to know what we were doing. But no one seemed to pay any attention to us, except one man walking his dog, but he came by before we started digging. Mr Diener told him we were testing out some camping equipment, and the man seemed to believe us, but Mr Diener felt guilty later about making up that story.
Mr Diener securing the Showy (in the gray tub) & the shovel 
on his nifty bike trailer. You can see, in the background, 
that we filled in the hole pretty well. Mr Diener assures me 
that his trailer will be available for other Orchid Rescue Team 
(ORT) Adventures, should the need arise.

Once we had the Showy loaded into Mr Diener's trailer, we biked all the way to Jay Cooke, where I put Mr Diener to work again, digging a hole at the designated spot (the ground was still somewhat frozen, which made his job difficult). Mr Gangelhoff met us there and watched as we put her back in the earth. I wish Kristine Hiller had been there, too, to see us add another Showy to the Park, but she was working at another State Park that day. 
Mr Diener digs a hole for the Slipper's new
home, in the spot chosen by Kris Hiller.

Mr Diener and I ate our lunch in the River Inn Interpretive Center and then biked back to our cars. I let Mr Diener go on ahead of me: he's not only a much, much faster and stronger biker than I am, but I also wanted to stop along the Trail on my way back to check on some Bloodroot that I hoped would be blooming (it was!). As I moseyed back along the Trail, I wondered how many colonies of our State flower are lost to construction projects...
Bloodroot blooming along
the Munger.

There must be other Trail users out there who loved and admired this magnificent orchid as they biked or jogged past her. I hope at least some of them will see this post and learn that their familiar friend was not destroyed in the construction, nor was she poached, as our wild orchids sometimes are, but rather she was moved to a safer house, where she can live with relatives. And she now has the best of neighbors, ones who will protect her, according to their stated mission
The Munger Showy with the sun shining right through her blossoms.
From now on, every time I pass her old spot along the Trail, I'll miss her presence, but I look forward to seeing her bloom in the Park this summer--long may she live there in comfort and health, multiplying in beauty, year after year.
Another portrait of my friend, taken in July of 2016, the last time she bloomed on the Munger Trail.

Update:  Mr Diener checked on our friend on May 13, and found that she had sprouted up out of the ground in her new home. He sent me this photo.
Photo by T. Diener. The Munger Showy sprouted in Jay Cooke State Park!
Taken May 13,  2017
With three stems coming up, she looks like she's well on her way.

(All photos, unless otherwise indicated, were taken by S. Nygaard with an iPhone 5 or 6s.)