Face to face with some yellow lady slippers; thinking Hoosier book

A reliable tip about a patch of yellow lady slippers displaying their state watch-listed colors in the wooded shadows just off Tower Ridge Road stirred a quick, unexpected Tuesday afternoon excursion to the Charles C. Deam Wilderness. The timing and logistics couldn’t have been better.

Tuesday clearly had the week’s best weather potential. But there wasn’t anywhere I had the time and inspiration to explore – until Monroe County Naturalist Cathy Meyer messaged there were “nearly 100” of these radiant yellow beauties blooming just off this remote, backcountry road. Serious nature photographers don’t ignore a Cathy message that ends with “incredible!”

Besides, her message arrived at 2:02 p.m., two minutes after a planned meeting that kept me in town for the day had fallen off the log. And roadside meant a leisurely drive through the woods, not a strenuous trek through hills and hollers. Sunshine at 2:30 sealed the deal.

Cathy said the aptly named lady slippers, members of the orchid family, were on the north side of the gravel road between the Grubb Ridge Trailhead and Hickory Ridge Lookout Tower. But the only yellow that caught my eye on the leisurely, two-mile cruise between the two were the occasional golden ragworts.

Traffic isn’t much of a concern on Tower Ridge on Tuesday afternoons, and I doubt my speedometer topped 10 m.p.h. on the way back out. I scoured the landscape and, just as Cathy had tipped, the forest floor suddenly popped with dozens of little yellow spots.

The species name for these pouched-shaped wildflowers, with deep red markings inside and out, is derived from a Latin term meaning “a little shoe.” My old Audubon wildflower field guide says the Cherokee Indians used the roots to treat worms.

The dappled sunlight filtering through the freshly matured canopy offered a variety of light, including direct illumination on a couple near-perfect specimens less than a foot off the forest floor. The cool temps meant I could drop to my sides and behind and get face to face with these delicate rarities without having to douse myself in repellant.

Here’s a Photo Album.

Contemplating the Hoosier National Forest book

The rest of the soggy, dreary week was spent shepherding the last couple students to the semester summit and refocusing on the Northern Indiana guidebook. I researched and wrote up nine more natural areas in the Bluffton Till Plain Section, which stretches northeast of a rounded line between Muncie and Logansport to Fort Wayne.

Among the more anticipated are the 139-acre Kokiwanee Nature Preserve on the Salamonie River, the 27-acre Acres Along the Wabash Nature Preserve, and the 79-acre Bicentennial Woods Nature Preserve, reputedly the only stand of virgin timber in Allen County. All are Dedicated State Nature Preserves, all surrounded by larger natural complexes.

On Friday I telephonically met my new IU Press editor, and we set a time to meet when she is in Bloomington later this summer. She lives in Lexington. Since the guidebook is a bit of a “no-brainer,” in her predecessor’s words, I’m contemplating the Hoosier National Forest coffee table book in preparation for our meeting.

The working title is The Hoosier National Forest: Rewilding Southern Indiana. It will trace in image and words Indiana’s largest public land holding’s two-century journey from wilderness to devastation to relative wilderness.

I reorganized my digital photo files and learned I’ve shot more than 900 Hoosier images since July 2013.

That's a start.

Photographs: Yellow lady slippers, Charles C. Deam Wilderness


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