song of the Lady Slipper

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I enter the forest under the burgundy canopy of Japanese Maple. Slowly, I bend to my shoes, leave them at the trunk, three steps and I am enclosed in the filtered shadow.

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The earth is saturated from last night’s thunderstorms and, behind my eyes, I see the lavender bracts of that witnessed lavender lightning. “1onethousand…2onethousand…3onethousand…” breath held till the crack, distance signaled. Raindrops are a percussion high above my head, tapping from leaf to broad leaf of Beech. Occasionally the cymbal crash as Gray Squirrel leaps to land, heavily, onto the next. Breaking their community are forthright Holly, boughs of bristled leaves splattered in tiny, star-shaped flowers that fall to the ground in drifts. Backward flying ivory petals, four hair-width stamens, topped with a pollen granule no bigger than grain of sand. Their’s a fragrance I’ve never named. The soles of my feet tread lightly over this cosmic duff carefully, evenly.

Nine steps and I encounter the first clumps of Lady Slipper. Oblong, juicy green leaves are a platform for ramrod straight stalks, topped with the bobbing vulgarity of their flower. A triangulation of sword-shaped, plummy upper petals, deepening murkiness towards the parted lips of the center. The falls below a balloon of flush pink veined with violet. Curved out and around and towards one another, a pillowy sack that begs fondling. Uncomfortable yet? Yeah. Bizarre, overtly sexual, this temporal treasure erupts from dank soil for a week, maybe less, before brittling and fading away.

Fifteen steps and feet touch old planks of a creek crossover. Running mostly underground, a hint of the creek’s movement is made known by a wet divot winding through the trees towards a freshwater pond to the west. It’s heavily feathered with Southern Lady Fern, Cinnamon Fern. Fluttering, delicate, glo-stick green in the gloaming. I drop low, stock-still, to get eye-level with the black angels that abide here. Ebony Jewelwing Damselfly, whose four-part wings as black and tissue-thin as a mourning veil lift them into the air for moments before dropping back to the ferns. Iridescent turquoise abdomens, straight as a carpenter’s nail and about as long, angle upward to catch glints of light as their wings erratically expand and gather back together like a gasp.

I move deeper, the trees taller, up a small hill padded with velvety emerald patches of moss. I stick to their lily-pad pattern under the Southern Red and Water Oak, Coastal and Eastern White Pine, Chinese Tulip Tree; bird communities wing back and forth in their day’s work. I reach a forked Pond Pine that leans over the water and encircle it with an arm, resting my face against it’s bark facets, tears leaking from the corners of my eyes. Remembering a long ago time when I sat at this bank and weeped like the world was lost. Couldn’t tell you over what now; a boy? A slight of a friend? My father’s words? That press of loneliness?

I had carried on like this until, without much fanfare, a family of beavers swam up by my feet. I had been there, been still, for so long that they neglected to notice me at all. They paddled back and forth, efficiently pushing sticks up the marshy threshold into piles. Wiggling out of the water to hold up their bounty and gnaw with long, sharp, yellowed incisors, sopping wet bodies leaning back on rudder tails. I had the irrational urge to scoop them up and towel them off.

Turning from this memory, I look up to the canopy. Birdsong has been echoing back and forth from the branches all along. Tiny tuks of Chickadee, vibrational trill of Woodtit, churlish resounds of Cardinal. The bright scarlet male and his drab wife wing into my eye line; he pauses a moment before careening into deeper woods. She does not follow as long as I watch.

Back across the creek, up a steep climb, toes curling into decaying leaves in sure steps. On the rise, I am much closer to the house again and there is far more light. Space created by my father, who clears trees as methodically as mowing grass, craving order, control, over his surroundings. I pivot westward, towards the water, under Pine and Oak he allows to remain. Water Iris line the shoreline, canary yellow, deep violet, steel blue. This season pride, did I see them? Did I see the special purple ones? Aren’t the yellow spectacular? Asked again the next day, day following, assurance, validation, affirmation.

I aim for the little dock but stop short of it when I catch the flit of yellow and black streaked wings. Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly. One, two, now a third, grounded but fluttering over some glory unseen. Is this community? Communication? Reproduction? A fourth arrives, jostles in, dusted paper shoulders touching one another like a whisper against an ear, like the heavy gaze of a lover, like the pulse at your neck.

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