My anticipation in those first steps taken toward the “bog walk” was somewhat reminiscent of those Christmases as a child, back when my dream was of seeing a bright red bow on the handlebars of my first bicycle. In this case my anticipation was if we would find a native Dragon’s Mouth orchid in the spongy, muddy ecosystem.
I wish I could adequately describe a Dragon’s Mouth. I cannot for I’ve never seen one. Thanks to the guidebooks I can say the stem is about six to eight inches tall, and at the bent apex is a pinkish, delicate flower with yellow tendrils.
My quest has not gone unrewarded, and that begins with the bogs themselves.
Bogs are rather special places and so unlike the prairie. If the “yang” is of a prairie, the “yen” is of a bog, for they are nearly complete opposites of one another. Each is as fascinating as they are different. Equally as fascinatingly different are the flora that live in each. Images of Prairie Smoke bring as much wonder to some as does a bog’s Pitcher Plant to others, and of course, neither could exist as a neighbor to the other.
Both ecosystems are home to numerous orchids. As rare as the Dragon’s Mouth is for me, White Ladyslippers may be for others. Even some prairie people are surprised and fascinated by the “whites,” often asking if they’re real, of where they’re found, and even if they aren’t paled versions of Minnesota’s state flower, the Showy. Actually, Whites are to blame for my late “blooming” fascination with native orchids. I began photographing Whites about a dozen years ago and was later surprised to learn of the vast number of other orchid species native to Minnesota, all with wildly diverging colors.
Perhaps the rarest orchid found in virgin native prairies is the White Fringed Prairie Orchid. So rare it’s on the federally protected endangered list. Then there is the Nodding Ladies’ Tresses, rare in our part of the state as an early fall spiraling white flowered orchid. Equally as rare as the White Fringed is the prairie is the Calypso of the bogs. Global warming issues, actually, are threats to orchids no matter their biome.
So, yes, back to the “yen.” My introduction to bogs came through a long friendship with retired State Trooper Harold Marty, who was an investigator with the patrol. He and his wife, Kimberly, took us to the Lake Bemidji State Park where there is a lovely boarded bog walk. Then, years later, I happened upon a bog near Grand Rapids during a Gathering Partners photography presentation I gave to a group of Master Naturalists where we encountered the true jewels of the bog, Marsh Marigolds. Rich, yellow blooms seemed to serenade us from all directions, both boldly in the open and secretively peeking from obscure, uneven bog structures. A few years ago en route to a fly fishing expedition in Ontario, I detoured off Highway 71 into the Lake Bemidji State Park to revisit the bog … and yes, to see if the Dragon’s Mouth was blooming. Recently, my friend, Mary Gafkjen, and I made the trip back.
The Dragon’s Mouth is one of two bog-based native orchids I really want to photograph: it and the Calypso. Although late May is apparently bad timing for either, though not too late for the Marsh Marigolds and a host of other incredible bog plants. False Trout Lilies. Those bowl-shaped Pitcher Plants. Bog Rosemary, a delicate little plant you can’t help but love. And, many others. All truly unique to bogs.
On my first walk I discovered a new orchid .. the Stemless Ladyslipper. I mistakenly thought I had found the Dragon’s Mouth until the park naturalist corrected me, and apparently there is not much similarity between the two. I’ll have to take her word for it since I’m still in search of the Dragon’s Mouth.
Who’s to fuss over technicalities? The Stemless is a beauty. And have been rising in their magnificent glory for my past three trips to the bog. If you can imagine that moment when a ballerina rises from a bent position, her hands near her ankles, to rise to the “fifth” position with arms and hands extended skyward in a classic ballet pose, then you can imagine the beauty in the opening of a Stemless. Poetic grace and classic movement, all in a blend of colors to make a dancer proud if not envious.
So my anticipation and quest continues. From here at Listening Stones Farm the drive to the Bemidji bog is a long four hours one way. And, as a friend asks, “For a flower?” Yet, it’s more than that. Indeed, for that quest, as Aldo Leopold suggested in his Sand County Almanac, is when “the opportunity to see geese is more important than television, and the chance to see a pasque-flower is a right an inalienable as free speech.” So my quest, and anticipation, continues.