I’m pleased to say that the yellow lady’s slipper featured in a recent RR post connected with Bill Ragosta, a Pennsylvania conservation officer and excellent photographer of outdoor subjects. I had no problem in disclosing the location of the yellow blooms to Bill so that he might photograph them as a hobbyist and add the flower to his catalogue of outdoor images. Visit his photo-blog, GANGGREEN’S Nature Blog (see my link at Blogroll) and treat yourself to some of the finest nature photography available.
The lady’s-slipper helped rekindle my own interest in our native flora and inspired me to revisit nearby Keeney Swamp before I took to the fishing road again. To find the pink lady’s-slipper (Moccasin Flower) once more, or the rarer wild orchids, would really make my day. While rambling through the heart of the 2400 acre “swamp,” I struck out on the orchids, unfortunately, but found other interesting plants such as the painted trillium and the starflower and the bunchberry.
The foliage had thickened overhead and my eyes were more focused on the ground than before. A black bear crossed my path; and my camera, always more asleep than an instrument used by a real wildlife photographer, was slow to the bruin that shuffled toward the understory. All I got for my attempt was a blob of darkness, a blur. (Two days later I was lucky to find and photograph another bear, this one close to home, but in the distance of a hillside).
I gave thanks to the flowers for not running away from me like bears. Bunchberry. Trillium. Starflower. I enjoy them; I enjoy the birds, the fish, the four-legged animals, the hills and the streams because they seem so ephemeral and dignified. I’m not getting any younger these days, and acquaintance with the wild in all of its diversity is something that my struggling soul requires for fulfillment.
A recent article in Science makes a case for humankind and its involvement in “The Sixth Great Extinction.” The diversity of life on Earth is facing a sixth major annihilation, according to this view. It won’t happen in entirety any time soon, but it’s happening piece-meal, day by day, by habitat destruction, climate change, pollution, by ways in which we shape the sad course of our destiny.
The Fifth Extinction of life is known scientifically as the time when the dinosaurs vanished following the impact of a giant meteor. The Sixth Extinction, whereby species are dying off at a rate 100-1000 times faster than before the rise of modern man, is marked by the effects we have on planet Earth. It’s not because we humans are inherently good or evil, it’s because we humans do what humans do.
None of this is new to me. For many years (since I stopped fretting about the Bomb and learned to live within its shadow), my greatest fear has been the drying of the gene pool on this planet and the slow but certain diminishment of life’s diversity. It’s enough to make me want to get out there on a daily basis and to learn the fascinating plants and animals while I can, and to understand what it is we’re losing.
The bunchberry of the northern forest floor is both attractive and deceiving. What appear to be four white petals of a ground-hugging flower are actually bracts, or specialized leaves for a plant related to the dogwood tree. The bracts attract the human eye searching for late spring flowers. They attract pollinators to the hub of the plant which, in this case, is a cluster of tiny green flowers otherwise unnoticed and unfertilized.
Like the starflower and the painted trillium and so much more, the bunchberry plant allows me to see a bit of certainty in the understory of the greening forest. At a time when the rambler is experiencing difficulty in seeing what was clear and open just a few short weeks ago, it’s good to look at a flower closely. Those four white bracts of a bunchberry are not unlike a mirror or a clear pool in a stream. They lead you to the center of the bloom, the flowers of your self therein.