My Life in the Understory

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 ofOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA 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.DSCN4316

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).

DSCN4337I 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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

DSCN4289The 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.



painted trillium

painted trillium





About rivertoprambles

Welcome to Rivertop Rambles. This is my blog about the headwaters country-far afield or close to home. I've been a fly-fisher, birder, and naturalist for most of my adult life. I've also written poetry and natural history books for thirty years. In Rambles I will mostly reflect on the backcountry of my Allegheny foothills in the northern tier of Pennsylvania and the southern tier of New York State. Sometimes I'll write about the wilderness in distant states, or of the wild places in the human soul. Other times I'll just reflect on the domestic life outdoors. In any case, I hope you enjoy. Let's ramble!
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to My Life in the Understory

  1. Bob Stanton says:

    Great title for the entry, as I’ve spent more time looking at the ground than anywhere else as of late.Saw starflower, Canada mayflower, cinquefoil, mayapple, and host of other wildflowers today as I prowled Kinzua creek. Actually caught some fish too, while nymphing no less, which I’m not that good at. Wouldn’t you know that the biggest fish of the day, the bonus fish, came as I was looking up at what I thought was a Cooper’s hawk, but turned out to be a crow. But hey, I’ll take it.

    • Way to go, Bob, that’s keeping your eyes open and accepting the possibilities offered by the ground and the sky. It could’ve been a Cooper’s rather than a crow, and then your good fish would’ve had an even deeper experience. Fishing Kettle the other day, I noticed that none of the singing birds had an interest in the stream or its hatches (meaning they hadn’t yet started) so I switched from dry fly to a nymph and caught the big one in a day of super fishing.

  2. Junior says:

    I read a piece on the forthcoming extinction as well. It’s sad to know that, even if I’m gone before the worst of it, there is something unique and beautiful today that won’t be there tomorrow. I guess that’s why it’s important to look left, right, up, AND down to find beauty wherever it remains.

    On a more practical note, keep your eyes peeled for ticks. The Lyme season is apparently a bad one, and the northern fields and forests aren’t immune anymore.

    • Well-stated, Junior. Yes, the tick season has hit the northern clime in a way I haven’t seen in 30 years. I’ve never gotten them on me in NY before, but this year it’s a different story. Ticks are doing well with climate change.

  3. Bill and Kelly Ragosta says:

    Very nice and thanks for the nice comments and mention of my blog.


  4. Bill and Kelly Ragosta says:

    By the way, if you want to see the Mocassin flower, there are some that are VERY easy to get to in an area that I think is close to your stomping grounds and I believe that they’re still in bloom. They’re literally right next to the Oswayo Fish Hatchery. Go to the little parking area across from the cemetery that sits just to the east/north of the hatchery. Park back by the picnic tables in the woods and walk to the left of the picnic table, you’ll see them around you. There are a dozen or more in there and I’m guessing that very few people, if any, actually know that they’re there, which is amazing to me since people do use that area all the time.

  5. Thanks Bill! And yes, that’s where I’ve seen them before and where I checked recently, without luck. But maybe I was expecting them closer to the water. I’ll take another look. By the way, was that a public or private park at one time?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.