North to Churchill, Day Three

Author: Phyllis Root
Photographer: Kelly Povo

July 3, 2018

Today we are grateful for bug shirts, a GPS, and waterproof boots because we’ve decided to head into Pine Creek Peatlands Scientific and Natural Area (SNA). Our directions send us along roads near the Canadian border, then tell us to walk .5 miles to reach the SNA.  They don’t mention that the .5 miles is through thigh-high grasses that hide deep runnels of water.  We slosh on toward the black spruce trees we see in the distance, clutching at horsetail and aspen saplings for balance.  When we reach what looks like higher ground we discover it consists of broken branches, stumps, and sawdust where our footing is even more treacherous. By now we’ve reached the bog forest, but between the dense growth and the hummocky ground we can’t find anywhere to enter under the trees. When we hear the first roll of thunder, we prudently decide to slosh back to the car.  We make it just as rain begins to pellet down.

Even though we never actually entered the bog forest on our attempt to go in we saw showy lady’s-slipper blooming along with Canada anemone, tall rue, swamp milkweed, fireweed, tufted loosestrife, Labrador tea, bunchberry, marsh skullcap, and three-leaved false Solomon’s seal gone to seed.

What did we learn? That when we are headed into an unfamiliar wild place, it might be wise to ask someone who’s already been there about the best way in.  Maybe that best way was indeed our slippery slog, but maybe another way would have led us in among the trees where we might have found the linear leaf sundew we had hoped to see. When we are headed into a wilder place that we have ever been, it never hurts to ask advice from someone who’s already been there. But, even with slogging and squelching, we’re glad we tried.  Next time (and chances are there will be a next time) we might actually make it into the trees.

Hayes Lake State Park is a contrast to Pine Creek Peatlands: roads lead us into and around the park, paths lead us under the tall pines to a bog boardwalk where we find lots of tiny pyrola and one northern bog orchid (we are still trying to figure out which).  The stillness under the pines, the green light after rain, birdsong and butterflies all make us think we have arrived at the beginning of the world.

Along the road to a walk-in campsite we spot several lesser rattlesnake plantain almost in bloom, along with showy lady’s-slipper blooming and lots of pipsissewa. We drive back to our hotel under a sky that stretches in every direction, knowing that native flowers bloom in places both wild and protected, and we are grateful for this chance to see them wherever they grow.

 

 

 

North to Churchill, Day Two

Author: Phyllis Root
Photographer: Kelly Povo

July 2, 2018

Yesterday we were grateful for our bug shirts. Today we’re grateful for bug shirts and Kelly’s new Garmin GPS as we make our way into Iron Springs Bog, a place where it’s easy to get turned around and not know the way out again–something that happened to us once before. We’ve stopped here on our way up to Winnipeg in hopes of seeing orchids, and we’re  not disappointed. Within five minutes Kelly  has spotted a blooming round-leaved orchid and I’ve found an early coral root gone to seed.  A few minutes later we see tall northern bog orchid and northern green orchid, and not long after we find bunches of showy lady’s-slipper. Stemless lady’s-slipper has already gone to seed, and one small heart-leaved twayblade is bravely blooming in the moss. Tiny lesser rattlesnake plantain is almost hidden in the deep sphagnum moss next to even tinier one-sided pyrola.

When we’ve had our fill of orchids (along with gold thread, bog buckbean, and three leaved false Solomon ‘s seal gone to seed), we followed the GPS back to the car. Soon we leave peat lands behind for a wide prairie sky as we look for the western prairie fringed orchids that we’d seen last year in a ditch alongside a wildlife management area. We drive along the edge of the area peering deeply into ditches until finally we jubilantly spot three western prairie fringed orchids. While Kelly takes photos I wander up the other side of the ditch to discover a prairie full of the bright white blossoms of over fifty more orchids.

“When you’re done there you might want to come up here,” I call. “I think you’ll be happy you did.”

She does, and she is. While Kelly takes picture after picture of orchids from bud to full bloom I wander, grinning, among more western fringed prairie orchids than I’ve ever seen in my life.

Finally we head  farther north at the end of a day filled with orchids.

 

 

North to Churchill, Day One

Author: Phyllis Root
Photographer: Kelly Povo

July 1, 2018

We’ve headed out on a road trip to Winnipeg to catch a plane to Churchill, Manitoba, to take a class on sub-arctic wildflowers at the Churchill Northern Studies Centre.  Our plane leaves on Thursday, but we’ve left a few days early to spend some time in the aspen tallgrass prairie parkland and places en route.   Rain hammers down as we leave town, but we’re hopeful we will drive through it.  Kelly assures me the forecast is for the rain to end at three.

We’ve packed, unpacked, repacked, shopped for essentials (including bug shirts, our new favorite thing) and packed some more.  Churchill’s weather will be cool and rainy, but Minnesota promises to be hot and sunny, a forecast that the cold rain pouring down clearly hasn’t heard.  We drive on in hope toward Long Lake Conservation Center, where last year we hiked through the woods to see several rose pogonia and grass pink orchids.  This time we’ve been offered a canoe to paddle down past floating bogs toward where we saw the orchids.   Rain still falls as we don our new bug shirts under raincoats and launch the canoe at 1:30, but within five minutes the rain no longer matters, because we’ve come to a gathering of blue flag, pitcher plant, and rose pogonia—not just one rose pogonia, but many. We paddle on, past more and more rose pogonia, the occasional grass pink, bog rosemary, water lilies, yellow pond lilies, water shield, bog cranberries, water arum, and sundew with tiny, tiny buds almost ready to bloom.

We paddle back through a richness of flowers we had never imagined when we hiked out to see orchids last year.  It all depends on your point of view, and the view from the water is spectacular.

And at three minutes after three, the rain stops.