Chasing the wild orchid


The meadows and mountains of Vermont nourish an abundance of wildflowers, but none so elusive and exquisite as the Lady Slipper Orchid (Sabot de la Vierge—The Virgin's clog–as the Québecois refer to them). These lovely North American orchids—in shades of pink (Cypripedium acaule) and sometimes white (Cypripedium acaule f. alba)—appear in June, though the exact time is always dependent on the weather. Starting around the middle of the month, I begin my explorations, returning to one particular mountain where the views are spectacular and the orchid population is sprinkled mysteriously through the shadowy woods. My challenge is to find orchids in natural light so I won't have to use the flash, which gives flowers a harsh, stunned look. I pick my way carefully through the dense pines, tiptoeing on the spongy undergrowth of accumulated needles. Shafts of light tease me as I move from spot to spot, following the brightness like a character on stage. The real stars always appear at some point in my pursuit—one, or if I'm lucky, a pair of orchids highlighted by the sun. Squatting to flower level, I begin communing with my camera. The results are always spectacular, and all the credit goes to the orchids.