Treasure Hunting on the Hard Drive

Old photo files have a way of concealing themselves on a hard drive that can defy discovery. They often hide in plain sight under false flags. This morning I found the mother lode of pitcher plant photos I thought were gone forever and was able them restore it to their place in the time continuum for May 16, 2005 in a post called Pitcher Plant Show.

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Pretty remarkable what nature does all on its own, whether we’re there to see it or not.

February Pitcher Plants: High-Style Carnivores

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Are these pitcher plants gorgeous or what? Talk about a nice surprise. A crystalline blue sky and dry, cool air drew Buck and me outdoors yesterday to wander the fire line trails. There’s a swampy area where the road is too wet to cross this time of year. We walked right up to that spot; I looked off to the right, and there, in the pine straw and muck, nearly hidden, was this stunner. No wonder hapless insects find them irresistible.

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We only saw this one cluster, but it was our treasure find for the day.

Carnivorous Pink Jewels

The sundew colony reappears in the same spot every year once the ground is warm and damp. Tiny Drosera capillaris  tempts insects to come and set a spell, but when they accept the invitation, the sticky dew spells their doom.

Honeycombhead and Other Wonders

Buck and I walked yesterday in the cool of the evening. Here, in our own private Eden, we saw many wonders, but no apple tree.

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Red-blanket lichen covers the underside of one branch of a magnificent old oak some 200 feet from the house.  The tree straddles the section line of the property. This is important because a future plan for our county envisions a major road paving its way through this tree. Two hundred feet from the house. That's not very far, especially when the stream, blueberries, and the gate are on the other side.

IMG_2757 Balduina's nickname is "honeycombhead." That's not a name; it's an endearment.

IMG_2769 Rhynchospora colorata, or white top sedge, also has a nickname: "star-rush."

IMG_2770 But for Buck's sharp eye, I would have missed the thrill of seeing this white-topped pitcher plant (sarracenia leucophylla).

It was near dark by the time we shook the road dust off our jogging shoes at the front door. We had lost track of time, and were happy to settle for a warmed-up plate of leftovers from last night's feast.

Who wouldn't lose track of time, wandering under branches laden with red-blanket lichen, through woodlands of honeycombhead, carnivorous plants and star-rush?

Fire Lines

Buck talked to the Division of Forestry last week to make arrangements for them to come out and re-plow some of the fire lines around Longleaf. Before Hurricane Ivan knocked us for a loop, back in September of 2004, we could walk a circle of fire lines all around the property. There were circles within circles and connecting lines. It was not quite a labyrinth, but was, for me, the perfect place for a walking meditation.

The forester will come out once the ground has dried enough so his brand new equipment doesn't bog up and run the risk of getting stuck. We're into a pattern of daily thunderstorms and showers right now, and the ground has been too wet to plow.

Hurricane Ivan took about 350 of the old growth Longleaf pines and hardwood trees around here. A good number of them wound up strewn across the fire lines.

Exigencies of life intervened in 2005 and 2006 to put path clearing not only on the back burner, but forgotten for a long time. Our son (my stepson), Darryl, died of a heart attack. He was 45 years old, much loved, and greatly missed. The trauma of his passing has developed scar tissue on our hearts, but as anyone who has experienced loss knows, the open wound never really goes away. His mother, Buck's first wife and the natural grandmother of my grandchildren, had died from complications of a stroke almost exactly 60 days earlier. Darryl's brother and sister lost both mother and brother within two months.

We were smack in the middle of a huge home building project — sort of like being in the center of a bridge with both ends on fire and no where to go but through the fire.  It was an awful time.

The year 2006 brought surgery for me for a strange fibroid outside the uterine wall that no one was sure was a fibroid, rather than something else far more scary, until it was out and examined by pathologists.

I've been sitting here trying to remember what took 2007. Oh, yeah. No wonder I forgot. I put it into the File 13 of my memory bank. Buck's friend of 35 years, a retired two-star Air Force general, died in February of 2007, leaving Buck the personal representative of his estate. He had also made Buck trustee of a trust that Buck didn't know existed. The twisted plot line of the unfolding of this messy situation would make a Southern Gothic novelist drool. I'll leave it at that.

Life is a beautiful, horrific braiding of events. We stand at the mouth of the river and the eye of the storm, that place where rainbows are seen. Difficult days, we tread water. Glorious days, we fly.

When the forester clears the path and the circle is once more unbroken, Buck, Maggie and I will walk it again and again. Maybe we'll find anew the pitcher plant prairie where I took these photographs in May of 2004.

Fly with me. Let's soar above it all for a sweet while.

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Pitcher Plant Show

Sultry and humid, the afternoon teased at rain, but didn’t deliver. Just about to turn around and head back to the house for a shower and the comfort of air-conditioning, Buck, Maggie and I rounded a bend in the newly plowed fire line and found secret garden of glorious pitcher plants.

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Treasure Hunting in the Woods

REMEMBER THOSE AFTERNOONS WHEN YOU WERE A KID and didn’t come in the house until dark, and you were sunburned and maybe a little sweaty from your adventures? You didn’t surrender until your mom hollered you in for the third time.

I had a day like that today. What a day. I would give anything to have my mother or father here, alive, and calling me in from the woods. “Mary Beth! Come home. It’s time for supper!”

Buck, Maggie and I walked to the gate this morning to pick up the newspaper. The climbing rose bush there has several buds with vibrant color just beginning to peek out. The yellow Carolina jessamine on the other side of the gate looks friendly, its bright flowers nodding in the breeze.

At mid-day, we ate a lunch of leftover grilled chicken on the screened porch. We talked about the newly planted little pine trees, local politics, the stock market, and the arrival of goldfinches at the bird feeder.

After lunch, we removed Maggie’s collar, brushed of a bushel of hair, filled a tub, and gave her a bath. She seemed to enjoy her spa afternoon immensely, and is snoring by my side as I write. Her left paw twitches in time to her tail. Dog dreams.

Later in the day, when Buck was working out on the weight bench, I felt the irresistible lure of the woods. Grabbing my camera, I stepped out onto the porch barefoot, found my discarded socks and jogging shoes, and headed out. It was a warm afternoon. I left Maggie with Buck, not wanting to take a chance on her surprising a rattlesnake.

I was treasure hunting, hoping to find some newly emerging bloom, moss or lichen. I turned off the main dirt road onto a recently plowed fire line, and was nearly blinded by the setting sun. I poked ahead of my steps with a stick more from superstition than practical benefit. The plowed soil was a superhighway for critters: deer and raccoon tracks the most obvious; others not so easily identified. This was new territory for me. I was thoroughly absorbed. Looking to my right, I noticed the bushes had become trees, and the woods were deep and braided with well-traveled animal trails. Shadows began to loom, and I heard odd knocking sounds from where the darkness began.

“Don’t go into the woods at night. The woods will give you a terrible fright.”

I unconsciously began to hum that old childhood tune. Then stopped. A clearing opened several more steps ahead. I wanted to go there. It looked interesting. I stood at attention, one foot up, my nose almost twitching and sniffing the breeze. Suddenly, whirling, I ran back the way I had come, my heart beating fast enough that I could feel a pounding sensation. I ran, looking back over my shoulder, forgetting about snakes or mud or holes in the ground. Finally, with a sigh of relief, I was back at the intersection of the fire line and the main, familiar trail.

There was still plenty of light, after all, to go back to see the lovely orange spores in the moss patch, which I did. Then, I walked back to the main road yet a different way, a slightly longer way, near the edge of a boggy area. Peering into the thick brush, I could hardly believe my eyes. There was a single pink blooming pitcher plant. “Yes!” My treasure hunt was over for this day. I crouched low to capture the photo, then wandered homeward, ready for a hot shower and lotion for sunburned shoulders.

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Pitcher Plant (Sarraceniaceae, s. leucophylla) at Longleaf Preserve