The White Deer at the Orchid Patch

Beauty is common if you look for it, but it is truly rare to step into the wild’s inner sactum, a place and condition apart from time and humanity. For me, I am always oblivious until I am there, when some element of the wild jolts me outside of my consciousness and into a place of pure feeling (the description is embarrassingly corny, but it’s the best I’ve got). And I am only ever there briefly, because almost as soon as the feeling hits, the mind reflects. I was there most often as a child. Now I’m lucky to be there once in years.

Most recently, I was at the Utica Lake tamaracks searching for the little yellow lady’s slipper, which had been reported there in the 1970’s. The tamaracks are thick with poison sumac and exotic shrubs like hybrid honeysuckle and glossy buckthorn. It is a traverse that requires balance, patience, and focus. The tamaracks are bisected by a small stream that drains Utica Lake. The canopy opens around the stream, and when I stepped out into the open, I had found about a dozen of the little yellow lady’s slipper orchids. I had also found another orchid, the showy lady’s slipper, which is even rarer in SE Wisconsin. The opening there provides just enough light for these orchids to hang on.

The little yellow lady's slipper (Cypripedium parviflorum var. makasin)

The little yellow lady’s slipper (Cypripedium parviflorum var. makasin)

The showy lady's slipper (Cypripedium reginae). This orchid is becoming increasingly rare, because it requires ample light, and the boggy areas it prefers, often with some intrusion of calcareous groundwater, are increasing choked with glossy buckthorn.

The showy lady’s slipper (Cypripedium reginae). This orchid is becoming increasingly rare, because it requires ample light, and the boggy areas it prefers, often with some intrusion of calcareous groundwater, are increasingly choked with glossy buckthorn. This orchid blooms a few weeks after the little yellow lady’s slipper. I had to return to get a shot of it in flower.

As I stood there with the orchids on the sedges of the bank, a branch snapped in the tamaracks across the stream. I looked up from the orchids, and my eyes were quickly drawn to a large, white form approaching through the trees. For a brief moment, I did not understand what I saw, and I felt something akin to wonder and terror together. It was a white deer. I muttered an expletive, and it turned tail and ran, leaving me there standing stupid with a cloud of mosquitos and deer flies.

I didn't raise my camera in time to catch the deer, and it wouldn't have been right anyway. I did happen upon a spot where it had bedded down and left behind white hairs.

I didn’t raise my camera in time to catch the deer, and it wouldn’t have been right anyway. I did happen upon a spot where it had bedded down and left behind white hairs.

A white deer is not a miracle. Neither are orchids or tamaracks. The moment on the bank had nothing to do with any of those things apart from the others. It was everything, and I would describe it as everything that was there as well as everything that was not. There was no meaning or message. The experience was limbic. Still, there was something best described as spiritual. I felt like I was the deer. I wonder if it wasn’t how a deer, a wolf, or a bird feels all of the time. Or something that man has lost in looking.

A few more elements from the tamaracks….

Starflower (Trientalis borealis)

Starflower (Trientalis borealis)

Mitella_nuda_2014_1 Naked mitrewort (Mitella nuda). These stood 3-4 inches tall, their nickle-sized leaves looking like decorations pinned to the mossy logs and roots [/caption]

After the Sky Dance

While bending down to pluck deer ticks off of my pants, I was lucky enough to spot this female woodcock on her nest at Lulu Lake SNA. I was mildly startled when she came into focus out of the leaf litter–I had almost stepped right on her. I very slowly reached for my camera and took this photo.

American woodcock (Scolopax minor) on her nest (4/30/14)

American woodcock (Scolopax minor) on her nest (4/30/14)

Spring Meanderings Exhibit A

Finally. It doesn’t matter how cloudy, cool, or rainy it is, because the plants are back. It’s spring. There are places to go and plants to see. As a transplant to SE Wisconsin, many of these plants are firsts for me.

I posted earlier on the state of a snow trillium population. Well, I found another one, and I observed 363 plants there. The fragment of woods these plants are found in is astonishingly small. They’ve won the lottery, as far as human footprint is concerned.

Snow trillium in full bloom at a newly discovered site in SE WI.

Snow trillium in full bloom at a newly discovered site in SE WI.

Pasque flowers are among the most beautiful of the entire season. What a happy hill. The bees thought so too. Pasque flowers are most often encountered in dry-mesic prairie near the crests of rocky hills, particularly where the soil pH is 7-8ish.

Pasque flower

Pasque flower

Not-so-solitary bees--please comment with ID.

Not-so-solitary bees–please comment with ID.

The hepatica have also been in full swing.

Round-lobed hepatica near the S. Kettle Moraine State Forest HQ

Round-lobed hepatica near the S. Kettle Moraine State Forest HQ

Blood root is stunning when in flower, but the flowers are easy to miss, because the flowers only last a few days, unless the weather is cool.

Blood root at Lulu Lake SNA

Blood root at Lulu Lake SNA

Sedges are beautiful too.

Carex umbellata is an important, but easily overlooked, plant on hill prairies.

Carex umbellata (parasol sedge) is an important, but easily overlooked, plant on hill prairies.


Pennsylvania sedge flowers remind me of truffula trees.

Pennsylvania sedge flowers remind me of truffula trees.

Kittentails are friendlier than cats, in my opinion.

Kittentails growing in dry prairie

Kittentails growing in dry prairie

Willows make my head explode, but I’m quite certain this is prairie willow. A large clone may be found on a particular sand prairie in the S. Kettle Moraine.

Prairie willow (Salix humilis)

Prairie willow (Salix humilis)

Spring beauties are shy.

Spring beauty (Claytonia virginica) in a mesic woods

Spring beauty (Claytonia virginica) in a mesic woods

I think the Euphoria beetles were enjoying this view as much as I was.

My new favorite spot

My new favorite spot

These bumble flower beetles (Euphoria inda) were buzzing around in the thousands, but not one bumped into me.

These bumble flower beetles (Euphoria inda) were buzzing around in the thousands, but not one bumped into me.