Sunday, August 11, 2013
He sought out inconspicuous things that could be only be found by those who already knew that they might be there. He learned that in early spring, if you looked carefully, where the back roads wound through woods, the little flowers of hepatica, unfolding from delicate stems, might be discovered rising a few tentative inches above the remains of last year's fallen leaves, barely visible even to those who passed that way on foot. In the weeks to come they would be joined by anemone and bloodroot, Dutchman's-breeches and trillium, Jack-in-the-pulpit and columbine and dog's-tooth violet, all of them hidden away on shadowy slopes or at the edges of swamps and streams. There was an old cart path, long disused, that ran for a mile or so through the deepest woods, past great outcroppings of rock, and if you were lucky and knew where to look you might come across lady's-slippers, sturdy yellow or pink orchids, sprouting up in tiny colonies here and there, just a few, concealed by boulders and brush until you were almost upon them. Where the brush had been cleared and the canopy opened to let in the full strength of the sun, the colonies disappeared, and it was said that the plants were impossible to cultivate, no matter how hard you tried.
If you crouched down at the base of beech trees, whose giant, smooth trunks, unless they were very well concealed, were invariably scarred with the initials of putative or intended couples, you could often find Indian-pipes, pale, waxy saprophytes that had no chlorophyll of their own and seemed relics of a radically different world. Unassertive and opaque, they did no harm and offered nothing. On the trees and the forest floor there were mushrooms in all sizes and shapes. He knew none of their names nor which would be infallibly fatal if eaten, and so he left them all alone.
On some afternoons, when he climbed to an elevated clearing surrounded by decaying paper birches, he knelt down on the moss that covered the weathered stone and found the red-capped stalks of the lichen they called British soldiers.