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It's worth the time to smell - and photograph - the flowers!

It's not an easy slog through the bog, but the journey is worth the trip
2018-06-22 Wood Sorrel.jpg
A wood sorrel. David Hawke/OrilliaMatters

A vibration caused a dewdrop to quiver and fall from the leaf of a small flower that is growing at the base of a cedar tree within a vast conifer swamp that feeds a lake that is part of a watershed that drains into the North River which in turn flows into Severn Sound, that being a part of Georgian Bay which, as we all know, is but a portion of Lake Huron which is a link in the chain of Great Lakes that feeds the St. Lawrence River before it empties into the Atlantic Ocean; and where it goes from there I’m not exactly sure.

This little flower, known as wood sorrel, growing serenely in the quietness of the damp green woods is an old friend of mine, our acquaintance first being made some 40 years ago. Back then, whilst crawling about quite literally on the forest floor with a camera and close up lens, I came upon a beautiful white and pink-striped flower surrounded by leaves that shared a strong resemblance to shamrock. This blossom was quite noticeable, as all the other flowers I had been photographing up to that point were green, brown, or dull yellow.

The resulting slide (that, at the time, took two weeks to process and return in the mail) inspired me to make a print of it, wrap a frame around it, and suddenly I was a ‘nature photographer’ with a ware to sell.

Yes, wood sorrel and I go back a few years, but as with many of my acquaintances and relationships, it has taken the passing of two score years before I went back for a visit. One of the reasons for this tardy delay is that this flower is not a simple roadside viewing opportunity; it is a "march to the marsh" and a "slog through the bog" kind of an outing. Definitely not a ten-minute quickie visit, this took some effort.

However, a few days ago, time, energy and equipment all aligned in a cosmic fashion and I crawled through the swamp once again. The road leading into this unique wetland has been all but forgotten by the township road crews: branches reached across the lane and puddles hid potholes that caused the car to bounce with considerable spring. Yet the rustic condition of the roadway simply added to the adventure of the day.

Anticipating hordes of mosquitoes, a bug-jacket was donned; turned out that only two mosquitoes were observed and the skin-hugging mesh only caused considerable sweating. The squadrons of deer flies that had enveloped the car as I rolled into a parking area… seemed to disappear.  Either I was very focused on the photography aspects of the hike and I ignored the flying nasties, or luck was with me.

Perhaps it was luck, as every step of the journey led to amazing scenes and lovely re-acquaintances. Wood lilies stood proudly around woodland clearings, showy lady’s-slipper orchids clustered in Ascot-like knots of gossiping well-to-do, and a plethora of twinflowers carpeted the moss-covered stumps. A rag-tag thatch of reddish coloured sundew, one of our carnivorous plants of the region, grew with vigour on the bed of an old logging road.

On either side of this road is a thick jungle of cedar and balsam fir, those conifer trees that like their roots wet and their solitude undisturbed. A jumble of dead branches juts out from every tree, blocking access and causing would-be intruders to turn back. But not me, not today, not when I have time to rediscover this magical land.

As branches are swept aside and a route planed one step at a time, the rate of progress was slow and arduous. But that was okay, as before a boot could be brought down to complete that next step, the forest floor had to be scrutinized very carefully. And that’s where a few amazing plants were found.

One-flowered wintergreen, unseen for three decades by this naturalist, revealed itself on several knolls of moss. A slender stalk of brown, looking so much like a dead bit of botanical debris was, on close inspection (read: face on the ground and looking sideways) a delicate heart-leafed twayblade orchid!

Partridgeberry blossoms mingled with one-sided pyrola, a last of the season bunchberry cluster glowed from the shadows, and the seed pods of naked miterwort glistened under the morning sun. The calls of white-throated sparrows mingled with that of a chickadee. Heaven on Earth.

It was almost at the end of my hike (due to a quickly depleting personal energy reserve) that I came upon a slightly elevated part of the swamp, a place only slightly drier than that of the surrounding forest. Here a group of Indian cucumber root wildflowers dangled their blossoms from their second-level leaves, and a variety of ferns displayed their fronds for any who would care to view them.

As I stepped over a log that once was a tree ever so long ago, I landed a bit heavily and caused the surface of the area to jiggle a bit. A dewdrop fell, its motion catching my eye, and I suddenly found myself right back where I had started, ever so long ago.