News from Vermont #267 - Swamp People

July 26th, 2012



Hello again Maple People,
Our Morse family version of "smelling the roses" is more like "lime-lighting the lady's slippers". Yup, we've all grown up idolizing this rare and beautiful member of the orchid family. Just like maple sugarin', it's part of Morse DNA to love wildflowers and the Showy Lady's Slipper is the crème de crème of wildflowers. We've got a swamp right here on the farm where they grow. Although deemed rare and endangered, they've been here all my life so far but like maple sugaring' again, their season is elusive, short, and some years wanting. My brother Tick made a scouting excursion back in June and returned excited..."They're as good as I've ever seen. Better get up there within a few days" he said.
That was the perfect call to action for the rest of us, even a few whose swamp sloggin' days are on the wane. Cousin George and his wife Marge got wind of the trip and immediately wanted in. George and Marge have both been slowed by strokes but have wonderful attitudes and sense of adventure. Word spread here in Vermont's "slow lane" and before we knew it, our party included George's sisters Harriet Gallagher and Ella Maynard and Ella's husband Everett. All but Harriet are over eighty years old!
We organized at a place on our farm where a trail leads to the swamp (and I ain't goin'ta tell you where that is). Besides all of George's folks, there were my siblings Tick and Susie, Paul Cate the naturalist, Jane Richmond the photographer, and Allen Jacobs, man with a strong back. As our group formed, the wisdom of this adventure seemed a bit questionable; after all, none of us were "spring chickens".
Tick's Honda off-road vehicle and Paul's Toyota pickup would be our limousines, accessible by a short step ladder and a silent prayer. We finally got everyone crowded on front driver's seats and a rag-tag collection of folding chairs in the beds and headed out "Granny Clampett" style. It was a beautiful sunny day as our procession crept under the shade of huge white pines to a winding down grade. Finally the woods road leveled in a hemlock forest at the edge of the lady's slipper swamp. Viewing the lady's slippers, though, would require walking a hundred feet out into the swamp over teetery planks that Tick had previously laid down.
We held an impromptu vote; the elders of our party voted on! While we disembarked carefully, very carefully, my thoughts went to an earlier time...I was nine and my buddies, Dougie Schaefer, Claude Young, and I had labored through the woods to get to there. It was not lady's slippers that brought us that day but our boyish attraction to quicksand, deep, bottomless, scary pockets of quicksand. "That quicksand'll swallow you right up! " Dougie said and Claude added "I heard you'll go clear t'China!". All of a sudden the sucking power of a "triple-dawg dare" had me inching out into the swamp. My buddies stood at the edge egging me on..."Go,Go,'re a chicken...You ain't goin'ta give up yet are ya?". I persisted until the mud had sucked me in up to my knees and one of my brand new Keds had been claimed by the depths.
Now, fifty-two years later, I was back in the swamp holding Marge by her therapy belt and encouraging her one baby step at a time. George was first in line employing both his trusty cane and two younger men at his side. Then came Harriet and Ella and last in line was Everett Maynard who will be eighty-nine on his next birthday! We plodded on until finally, one last swamp hummock introduced the show we had come to see; into the distance stood pink and white lady's slippers punctuated by random clumps of blue flag. They seemingly "smiled" at us, their strange visitors. We stayed long enough to "soak in" this natural wonderland and snap a few photos.Finally we made our snail's pace retreat.
We got loaded up in the two vehicles with no incidents and had a very pleasant ride back to where we had started. Unlike my earlier venture to the swamp, we all returned with our footgear intact and our maturity had long-since erased fears of sudden trips to China. Some things, however, never change...the lady's slipper swamp is an alluring place for nine-year-olds and ninety-year-olds alike. We seniors, though, are just a little better at "smelling the roses".
Remember...keep in mind when you need something "maple". Thanks so much for your support!