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Saturday, May 11, 2019

A Mother's Day Musing

I stepped gingerly across the slick sand rocks, forging my way across the swift running creek, still a bit swollen from another round of the seemingly ever-present spring rains this year. I poked with my walking stick, making sure that there was something solid in front of me for each step and that there were no surprise hidden deep spots that would soak me to my waist.

I clambered up the wet sharp bank, using exposed tree roots as hand holds and for balance and leverage. Walking through the light misty rain I marveled at the sheer greenness of the woods.  My inner clock was ticking and as I mentally checked off the plants, I was seeing I knew the time
was right.

It was time to visit the wild orchids. The fat, bulbous, golden yellow lady slippers, the small tiny and delicate showy orchis. The wild orchids that first appear as the morels, bluebells, and spring ephemerals fade and the ferns, Blue Eyed Mary's, and spiderworts burst forth.

The wild orchids that bloom near Mother’s Day each year and will forever for me be associated with my tiny wild woman mother and her final acceptance of me as trustworthy and caring of our wild and sacred plants and places.

I’d always been the child in our family that loved the woods in the same deep and often spiritual way that my mother did.  Like my mother I found safety, solace, and sanctuary in the deep creek bottoms, the murky swamps, the steep hills and soaring bluffs. We were blessed to live in area where multiple ecosystems existed – including arid high desert glades. Each of these held special, rare, unique plants that few ever saw. Plants that were edible and nutritious and could sustain us. Plants that were medicinal and that provide care. Plants whose roots were valuable and provided extra income in times of need.

“Going to the woods” was an integral part of my mother’s daily life and in turn became part of mine.
My mother was fierce, intelligent, and keeper of  deep secrets. Many of those secrets were where the special, the unusual, and the wildest of the wild things could be found.  She had seen enough of life to know that if she had shared those special things others likely would not recognize the specialness, the rarity or the need to leave them undisturbed and protected in a world where habitats were disappearing left and right.

The early May wild orchids were one of those species. It wasn’t an easy hike to the creek bottom and hillsides where they were found along with a full season’s worth of other rare and endangered  plants. On the days she went to the site I was left behind. First, she told me it was too hard of a walk, as I got older and more woods hardy that excuse didn’t wash with my snappy know it all ten-year-old personality. I could scale a bluff and wade a swamp better than most adults. I knew what snakes were venomous, what bugs were would leave a nasty bite, and had developed an internal compass and ability to use a field guide that rivaled many adults. I insisted that I be allowed to go along. I stomped, and snarled, and pouted.

But still, she would not let me go along to see the lady slippers, the showy orchis, the whirled pegonias.

She recognized my impatience, but in her eyes, she had to be sure that the lessons in the forests and the fields she had taught me were firmly cemented. That I understood the importance of secret places.  That I was able to judge the intentions, character, and personality of anyone I would consider
sharing those rarities with in future years.

It was the spring before I turned 13 – she announced one drizzly May morning that if I’d get my boots on, we could go look maybe for a few of the last remaining big yellow morels or maybe to see if the lady slippers were blooming yet.  “I suppose it’s time.” she sighed.

Little did I realize then, that for her it was an admission that her last child was no longer a child and was quickly growing up and moving on.

Little did I realize then that this was her way of telling me that she trusted me and the person I was becoming. It was a rite of passage and leap of faith.  Her fledgling was ready to fly.

I will never forget that day, the beauty the wonder the magic of that special place. I simply sat on the damp ground, listening to the light drizzle on the leaves of the trees, suddenly understanding far more than just the intricate make up of the plants around me. I never did take anyone there – instead saving it as a place that was ours alone. I learned to seek out and find my own special places and special plants.

Know that if I ever share one of those places with you, you are indeed a special soul. Know that when I refuse to share that place with you, it does not mean that you are unworthy; it only means that I have that inner need to guard and to protect those places the way I would a child. Trust must be earned.

It’s been 45 years since that first sighting of the masses of yellow lady slippers and delicate pink and white orchis and I still find myself early each May wading the creeks, climbing the hills, resting in the ferns and dense green marveling at the beauty and the specialness of these amazing wild orchids.

Funny how it’s always near Mother’s Day.  I like to think Mother Nature likes it that way. It’s her gift to us for Mother’s Day. It's her promise to us that as long we continue to protect and to cherish the wild things she will continue to provide them.

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