Many are the ways of dwelling in a city. One way is to dwell in its undeveloped corners, in its unchanging buildings, its extensive parks. They write their own narratives, unfolding in silence, hewing to their own sense of community and time. More
Getting out of the city presents some thrilling opportunities to see amazing plants that grow in the Midwest’s relatively unfrequented woodlands and swamps. One such is the yellow lady’s slipper orchid, a showy native perennial which I saw recently for the first time.
The inflated, balloonlike petal that gives the plant its name nests at the center of several other slender, twisting, greenish-yellow petals and sepals that are streaked with purple. Though this plant has been known to these parts for hundreds of years, its status is no longer secure. The plants should never be picked or disturbed. They rely on very particular conditions to flourish and reproduce.
According Stan Tekiela, author of Wildflowers of Michigan,
Orchids are highly specialized plants needing their own special fungus growing on their roots to survive. This is why they . . . should be enjoyed in the wild only. Orchid seeds are like specks of dust; they consist only of an embryo (no stored food). They depend on being invaded by a fungal hyphae to infuse the seeds with nutrients. This process takes several years before any roots or shoots develop. All orchids are protected by conservation laws in Michigan.
The genus name Cypripedium means literally “the foot of Venus,” which I think is an apt name for a glorious flower.
Creatures enjoying their place in creation.
A short drive from the city, southwest Michigan is home to several forests that have remained undisturbed throughout recorded time. There, trees grow enormous and fall, pushed by strong winds or swelling streams, by the shift of a bank that has been shifting for decades. Lightning strikes. More
Just back from a weekend away in Michigan. . . in the meantime here is a color variation on one of my pictures of the forest floor.
The culmination of Holy Week is Easter, a celebration of new life and new beginnings. The Jesus story is a shattering of the normal rules of nature, a story of dramatic and revelatory transformation, a once-and-for-all event altering human history. Observances run the gamut: zealots get nailed to the cross, schoolkids break out of school, new-bought hats and dresses make their debut.
Easter is a celebration of newness. There is something forced about its drama, just as there is about the season itself. Everything is changed in a second, and nothing is as it was before. We buy potted lilies or sheaves of cut flowers, their forced blossoms ephemeral and artificial but apt, given the prevailing theme of unnatural and dramatic change. We do strange things with eggs, dipping them in dyes, or parading them to churches for a priest’s annointing. Children hunt for eggs, or roll them down the White House lawn.
All the emphasis is on the pretties.
As we get older, we form a more guarded appreciation of spring, and with it a more cautious appraisal of our jumping ahead, of the likelihood of radical alteration. Looking out on the true spring landscape, we may be struck by the old and used-up look of things: the cornstalks left over from last season, the gnarly reluctant look of the trees, some stubbornly refusing to come to bud. The prostrate soil looks as though it would rather sleep late. And what about those evergreens? Aren’t they . . . stuck?
Yet these aged elements are spring’s sine qua non. The woodland flowers, aptly named ephemerals, depend on the trees, just as, in all things, change is vicariously related to continuity. Christ’s resurrection derives its joy from the fact that his presence will be continuing.
The landscape too has its gospel, its lesson of truth, which it mutely spells. It checks our idealism, asserting what is viable and real. Subtle and gradual are the changes of the season. New life arrives, a scant veil draping what is enduring and familiar in a gaudy canopy of blossoms and leaves. The spring spurt will give way to summer’s glaring ennui, in the meantime quickening all with the bear-hug of change.
A secluded oak savannah in the dunes pulses with two seasons’ energy. Dried twigs and grasses are still blazing with the colors of autumn. The fire-blasted remains of a tree still writhe, while the trunks of those living glow with the greeny auguries of spring.
Among the most unusual items in the Garden Show was this panel, displayed on an easel in a wooden frame, entitled “Mosses for Meditation.” It certainly is arresting, and, when photographed, acquires an additional novelty. The plant matter becomes abstract, and its scale impossible to determine.
Well, it is certainly very beautiful-looking, but how long will it last?
I believe I would prefer to meditate on the mosses at the base of a tree . . .
or growing up, star-like, among last season’s leaves . . .
or growing in combination with tender spring shoots . . .
or even growing all over some creepy fungus.
Do you think that they feel?
Contrary to expert predictions, the foliage was spectacular in the Midwest this autumn. Particularly notable were the leaves of the oaks (which have yet to fall in many cases), hanging in thick leathery swathes of maroon and rust, their stands spangled with the brighter tones of sassafras, maple, and beech.