Indiana Orchid Hunting
Today we are going to talk about hunting, but it’s probably not what you’re thinking.
Before we get into the meat of our discussion, let me present a bit of background information on Yours Truly. I’m a fellow who enjoys the normal range of stupid guy activities such playing with homemade fireworks, auto racing and straight bourbon. I once even volunteered to serve as a training dummy for one of our nation’s most elite military special forces. That little adventure ended with forty paint bullets being fired into my buttocks from point blank range after I ran out of ammunition.
I provide this information not to demonstrate some kind of spurious machismo but simply to frame the following story in a proper context. It is my belief that I am a standard-issue, semi-normal red-blooded American male and that’s why our latest hunting venture is rather incongruous since it involves wildflowers.
A few years ago, looming large on my Hoosier outdoor bucket list was something that might seem a bit absurd in light of my qualifications as a normal, Neanderthal-style, XY-chromosome bearer: in all the thousands of hours spent rambling the Indiana countryside, I had never seen a blooming wild orchid.
Thus, it was time for some good, old-fashioned Indiana Orchid Hunting, just like grandpa never did!
Pink Lady Slipper Orchid. Photo by Author
Indiana is host to several types of wild orchids but the most impressive is the genus Cypripedium, more commonly known as the Ladyslipper orchids. These showy orchids are found at isolated locations throughout the state but are very protected because of plant poachers.
It might seem bizarre that plants suffer the depredations of poachers but the orchid family is hard-hit because of such criminal scum. The poachers don’t care that the already-rare plants they steal and then sell on the internet will likely be dead within weeks because purchasers don’t have the technical knowledge or habitat to keep the plants alive beyond the time it takes for the check to clear the bank. All they are interested in is making a quick buck. Please resist the urge to purchase orchids or other forest plants that you suspect were collected from the wild.
The secrecy concerns were the reason my quest to find and photograph a blooming wild orchid proved significantly more difficult than arranging for Edward Snowden to appear on America's Got Talent. Eventually, after a week of contacting everyone I know who had ever set foot in the woods, I received a surprise message from an employee of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources Division of Nature Preserves. He sent me an email after being contacted by a mutual friend who vouched for my honest intentions.
To make a very long story short, after swearing oaths, pleading and whining, I was given directions to the patch and permission to visit the non-public area of state-owned land after making promises not to divulge the location, even under torture.
Arriving at the area, incredible good fortune intervened again when I ran into my informant. When considering the odds of actually meeting my newest friend at the location he had revealed to me, I hereby renounce all the terrible things I have previously written about The Fates.
After shaking hands he walked me to the area where the orchids were blooming within twenty feet of a paved road. Carefully stalking along, I looked a few feet to my left and suddenly saw the object of my long-held desire. It was a patch of yellow lady slippers, brassy flowers held high above the green undergrowth as they swayed in the cool wind.
I was awestruck by the beauty of the flowers, their complexity and size unlike anything in the woods. There was also that slight letdown of finally finding something that you have coveted for so long. In my mind, I had expected a single shaft of golden sunlight to highlight the plant like a reliquary. Instead, the plants simply existed, quietly going about their business of perpetuating this most striking species.
A few minutes later I was alone with the orchids. After snapping a few hundred pictures, I finally stood up to brush off the brown forest duff from my knees. With one last look I walked away filled with the deep satisfaction of reaching a long-held goal, an ambition that was made more special by the rarity of my quarry. I felt blessed to have witnessed those special flowers.
All in all, it wasn’t a bad way to spend an afternoon, even if you are a guy.