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The International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year: Hiking USA

A Rare Wildflower
Floyd Frank

When I first came to the Northwest at the age of twenty I was introduced to lots of animals and plants that I had never seen. Marmots, mountain goats, skunk cabbage, blue grouse … I could name dozens of new discoveries. One of my favorite things was the chance to come across something new every time I went outdoors. The most beautiful thing I discovered lived in Mt. Rainier National Park.

I was exploring a trail near Longmire when I decided to get a drink of creek water, which, incidentally, is the best tasting water in the world. Above the trail was a pool of clear cold water with damp moss growing in the shade on both sides of the small creek. Growing out of the moss was a little green plant with a pink flower. The scene reminded me of a misty vision from an old black-and-white werewolf movie I had seen when I was a kid. I felt like the professor finding a new orchid in a dark forest glade, surrounded by animals that I couldn't see. I looked closely at the flower and was stunned by its beauty. I had never seen anything like it.

I wanted to identify it, so I picked the flower and a leaf so that I could find out what kind of wildflower it was. When I got back to my cabin I took the plant out of my shirt pocket and got my wildflower guidebook. Wow, it really was an orchid! I identified it as a Fairyslipper and read the page-long description of it. I felt great until I read the last sentence, which I quote: "Thus orchids are rare, and each one thoughtlessly picked further reduces the chances of a new orchid coming to life." Oh man! Talk about a buzz-kill! The authors had struck me personally and I felt very small and mean.

I got over this feeling by telling myself that I picked this flower innocently and that there were millions more of them. I knew that I would see many more and I would never pick another. That was in the summer of 1969.

In the next three decades I climbed hundreds of mountains, crossed hundreds of streams and hiked well over six or seven thousand miles of trails and trackless wilderness. I was very observant and saw many wonderful things in my travels. One thing I did not see was another Fairyslipper.

My wife and I moved to Graham in 1999 and spent all of our free time together checking out the trails and backroads around us. So much beautiful country to explore! One Saturday we camped near the Cispus River at the Blue Lake Creek Campground. That afternoon we hiked the short trail down to the river. Valmari saw some flowers and I went over to look at them. My God! They were Fairyslipper orchids! If I had been alone, I would have fallen to my knees and sobbed with relief. I told her what I was feeling so she could understand how I felt. She had removed a terrible weight that only I could bear. I had spent thirty years thinking that I might have killed the last one in the world!

I have learned a couple valuable lessons from this and they are "Hike with a friend and don't pick the flowers".

Floyd Frank May 4th 2009

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