Large or small, nature provides a variety of beautiful gifts
By Mitch Mode
Special to the Star Journal
There is a splash of blue where I do not expect to see blue. It is not the color of the sky; not the color of water which, of course, is usually the color of sky; a glint of blue-violet in the mass of greenery. Then gone. I turn my head; all I see is green leaf. Then it is behind me.
I am riding the bike on old fire lanes. To ride is to relax but it is not to be without focus. I am focused on the gravel ahead, the rock and the divots, the puddles and the potholes. The forest to the side is mostly a blur of green; there is very little definition to it, just the mottled green and gray and browns. It is a good growing season what with all the rain. Then that flash of blue. There; then not.
The road is muddy in places. I ride on, steady pace; can feel my heart beat. My legs ache and I am glad for that; I want to push a bit and leg ache is the barometer for effort.
The road winds and rises and falls. Then ahead alien color; orange. A sign: Road Closed. I slow and ride to the sign and coast past it. The road ahead is washed out, rutted and gutted where the rain has run off with speed and volume and washed away portions of the road. I stop.
One hundred yards ahead the road looks passable. I stand, think it over and then lift the bike off the gravel and into the woods and push it through fern and mud.
The mosquitoes come down in clouds! They land on forehead and forearms, legs and back; I breathe them in. I push the bike faster. Both of my hands are holding the bike; I cannot swat the bugs. They dig in. I rush as best I can.
I regain the road, swing a leg over the bar, click into one pedal and push off; engage the other pedal as I go. I am covered with mosquitoes but I pedal hard and find a speed and rhythm and only then do I hammer away at the bugs.
I ride on, bug bites and all. I ride the 20 miles that remain between me and home. All the time in the back of my mind is the glimmer of blue I saw miles behind.
The next day I drive back to where I’d seen the blue. I park the truck, spray myself down with bug repellent, lift camera and close the truck door. The bugs are bad again. I walk down the road and into the woods. The woods are heavy with humidity, dark underfoot, rich green overhead. I walk 100 yards then cut to my right.
Ahead of me the woods open up over a boggy area perhaps a city block in size. The open area is filled with wild iris flowers, hundreds of them. That is the blue I’d seen from the bicycle; that is what I’d caught the glimpse of as I’d ridden past. A bog-full of iris.
I see iris often, along the wet areas, along lake shores, tucked into marshy areas that I kayak or canoe past. They stand, in those places, in small clusters; a handful of plants, a dozen, or just a few. But I’ve seen places, only a few, where they grow in profusion, dozens and dozens and hundreds and hundreds. Now I’d found another. I’d never known it was there.
The bog beneath my feet is soft and mossy, vivid green. It gives as I walk across it; in some places there is standing water. It is very soft underfoot and the greens are unique and rare. Everywhere there are irises.
They stand tall over long, pointed leaves and the flowers are blue and blue-violet and all shades and hues of those colors. It is very quiet and it is very beautiful and it is a very special place.
I kneel in places, camera on tripod, looking for a photo, lining the flowers up in the morning sun, looking for the right light and the right angle. When I kneel I push the moss down and my knee is in water and in a short time my pants legs are soaked. It does not matter to me. I take a lot of photos. I want to hold in a photo what I see in that bog; the iris flowers in bloom on an early summer day.
After a time I give it up as a fool’s errand; there is no manner in which to take it all in. A camera cannot capture it. I simply stand and look.
I stand in the bog on the moss like I am standing in a garden or a cathedral where the light
comes through stained glass and all is beautiful and peaceful. I stand in the garden of the irises with the high arching dome of summer sky overhead and I do nothing more than take it all in.
After a while I walk slowly along the edges of the marsh where bog meets woodland and sun is lost to the shadow of the trees. Everywhere there are irises. Everywhere, beauty.
Two weeks ago I stood on the shore of big water on the Canadian border and looked to the distant horizon and the endless sky of the Boundary Waters and in that was taken by beauty expansive and wild and bold. Now I stand on a sunny June day a handful of miles from home in the county forest and a bog the size of my neighborhood. I hold a flower smaller than my hand. I find beauty in equal measure.
In wild things and wild places we find our peace. And beauty; beauty is where one finds it. In the blue of lakes large and wild or in a flower that glows as if lit with a blue fire.
An assortment of outdoor products is available at Mel’s Trading Post, downtown Rhinelander. Call 715-362-5800.