It’s Lady’s Slipper season in Upper Michigan, and thanks to some of my Facebook friends, I heard my favorite wildflower was in bloom around Little Presque Isle near Marquette and set out on a rainy day to get photographs. I plan to have a photo of lady’s slippers on the front cover of my next novel, Spirit of the North, which will be published in Spring 2012. In the novel, there is a pivotal scene around lady’s slippers.
In fact, lady’s slippers have been my favorite flower since I was a child growing up in Stonegate near the Crossroads where the flowers grew profusely in the woods. Even back then in the 1970s, they were illegal to pick, but we picked them all the time anyway. I don’t recommend anyone doing so now since they appear to be more rare than they were back then, although by looking hard, I easily spotted about 100 of them, growing in groups of 1 and 2, but I remember them often growing in much larger clumps when I was younger. I was more respectful when I went out to photograph them this past week, and I swear they knew I was there, admiring them and they were ready for their photo-shoot. I think because of their shape they look almost like they have faces and their own personalities. You can decide for yourself.
I did not neglect to mention Lady’s Slippers in some of my other novels, so I offer here a scene from my novel Superior Heritage in which young John Vandelaare, who is only about six years old, goes fishing with his brother and older cousins at Ives Lake where his grandfather is the caretaker, and on the way back, they stumble on a field of Lady’s Slippers.
From Superior Heritage: The Marquette Trilogy, Book Three
They were all a bit tired now from the long day, and less talkative than they had been on the way to the fishing hole. They walked with a bit of urgency because they knew it would soon be nightfall, and the forest’s thick trees would block out the remaining light.
Then, as the beautiful summer evening ended, they stumbled upon a little copse, almost a meadow really, where sunbeams broke through the trees, illuminating a small patch of the forest floor.
Suddenly, Chad cried out, “Ooh, look at the lady’s slippers!”
All turned their heads to see the meadow packed with the little pink flowers that looked like fairy slippers hanging from their stems.
“How’d we miss seeing all those before?” asked Alan.
“I saw them,” said William, who had not thought flowers worth mentioning.
Chad struggled to get out of the wagon.
“Where are you going?” Jason asked him.
“To pick some for Gwamma and Aunt Ada,” was Chad’s obvious answer.
“Hey, ain’t these flowers the kind that are illegal to pick?” asked Jason.
“Why would flowers be illegal to pick?” asked Alan.
“Because they’re rare,” said William.
“They don’t look rare,” said Alan. “There’s about a hundred of them here.”
“Let’s pick them all,” said Chad. “We can give some to Gwamma, and Aunt Ada, and some to my mom and some to your mom.” He felt overcome by a desire to give all the women pretty flowers until they would all feel as beautiful as Princess Ada.
“It’s almost dark,” said William.
“It’ll only take a minute to pick them,” Alan replied. “Besides, maybe the flowers will cheer Mom up.”
“Mom’s not going to cheer up until Dad quits being a jerk,” William muttered; as the oldest, he was burdened with understanding his parents’ marriage better than his brothers.
“If we pick them all,” said Jason, “won’t they die from being exposed? We don’t have any water to put them in.”
“Aunt Beth will give us vases, or at least plastic bags to wrap them in,” said Alan.
While his cousins debated, John joined his brother in gathering flowers. William refused to pick any—he was too old for flower picking, even to make his mother happy. But Alan did not mind pleasing his younger cousins by joining in. Chad’s little hands filled too quickly, so he enlisted Jason in carrying his flowers to the wagon for him. Meanwhile, Alan picked ferns to make backgrounds so the bouquets of lady’s slippers would look even prettier in vases.
In ten minutes, the meadow was cleared. Heaps of delicate pink air pockets of flowers were gently laid in the wagon. Chad did not object when told he would have to walk home so his feet did not crush the flowers. He thought it nicer to walk beside the wagon and look at the pretty flowers.
The boys started back down the path. John looked back to where the flowers had been. He remembered just minutes before how stunned they had all been by the flowers—how there had been a seemingly endless field of pink rising up from the decaying leaves of last autumn. Now, he only saw the decaying leaves and little broken stems sticking up where once the flowers had been. The evening sun had lowered as well, leaving the field almost dark. Already he was starting to strain his eyes to see ahead of him. He wished they had not picked all the flowers; then he could have come back tomorrow night to see the pink field again.
“I hope the DNR doesn’t catch us,” said William.
“What’s the DNR?” asked Alan.
“The Department of Natural Resources. If they catch us illegally picking all these flowers, they’ll probably throw us in jail, or make Dad pay a huge fine, and then he’ll probably ground us for a month.”
John was frightened by the thought of jail. But he felt it would serve them right if the DNR did catch them. It seemed wrong to have picked all the flowers. They had not left behind a single one. He felt the trees would be lonely and sad without the lady’s slippers.
When the boys got back to the house, Ada and Beth marveled at so many delicate flowers. Beth quickly found more empty coke bottles to serve as vases so Ada could go home with a bouquet, and the Whitman boys could bring another home for their mother.
“Thanks for having me, Beth,” Ada said, as she picked up her vase and kissed her sister-in-law goodbye.
“Any time, Ada,” said Beth.
“We wish you’d come to visit more often,” said Henry.
“It was a perfect day,” Ada said.
“Boys, what do you say to your aunt?”
“Thank you for the pwincess,” said Chad.
“Thank you for the ship,” said John, and then he turned to his cousins and added, “Thank you for taking me fishing.”
William and Jason said nothing, but Alan mussed his cousin’s hair.
“We better get home before dark or Annette will be worried,” said Bill.
William thought his mother might prefer if they did not go home, but he would not argue with his father in public. Instead, he carried his and his brothers’ fishing poles to the car trunk. A sprinkle of rain started up as everyone piled into the car.
“We’re going to have another storm tonight,” said Henry as the visitors drove away.
“Well, at least the boys got out of the house this evening,” said Beth, “though I don’t think they minded being inside since they had Ada to entertain them.”
“Did you boys have a good time with Aunt Ada?” Henry asked.
Both nodded enthusiastically.
“Well, you better get to bed now,” said Beth. “John go brush your teeth while I help Chad put on his pajamas.”
John got ready for bed, then came out into the kitchen to get a drink of water before he went to sleep. When he saw the lady’s slippers sitting on the kitchen counter, he wished he could replant them in the woods, but he knew they would not grow now.
As he started to fall asleep, a loud thunderclap made him hide his head under the blankets. He was surprised Chad could sleep through the noise. He felt the thunder was a warning he had done something wrong to pick the flowers. They had been so beautiful in the forest; they were nowhere near as pretty sitting on the counter. He wanted to cry, but he felt if his older cousins knew he cried, they would think him a baby. That he refused to cry did not make him feel any less guilty.
Find out more about Superior Heritage and all my novels at www.MarquetteFiction.com