Meet the Member
Submitted By: Norma Raiff
Chasing Ladies By Lance Cheuvront
In May of 1982 my parents and I took part in a Lady Slipper orchid (Cypripedium) census along the Skyline drive section of
the Blue Ridge Parkway. The U.S. Parks service had commissioned the census to determine the population of Cypripedium
parviflorum the small yellow lady slipper and Cypripedium pubescens the large yellow lady slipper along the Blue Ridge and
use the gathered data to decide on protection status for the orchids within the park.
My parents had honeymooned on Skyline Drive in 1969 and over the ensuing years had become fixtures in the park the closest weekend to May 20th each spring. Father was an obsessive photographer with a fixation on Lady Slippers in general. My mother was a nationally recognized rock gardener and herbalist and so to them and their young wild child, that stretch of road and the forests around it became our playground.
And so it came to pass that in the spring of 1982 my father had volunteered us to spend a week, hunting lady slippers along
the stretch of Skyline drive from Front Royal to Crescent Rock Trail, some forty five miles south. It was a week of absolute joy for me, wandering the Virginia forests, my eyes ever scanning for the bright, canary yellow blossoms hanging pendulous in small stands in the dappled sunlight.
There were streams to splash in, green and garter snakes to chase, a hundred kinds of birds to admire and a whole wilderness to get nearly lost in. So we would find a place along the Drive to park, a place that set dad’s orchid senses tingling and we would pile out of the car and wander off in different directions with a plan to meet back at the car in an hour or ninety minutes.
I became Lewis AND Clark, I was Dr. Livingstone, I was Allan Quatermain, or even a young, North American Tarzan! I
walked, ran and crawled through the woods, senses totally attuned to every sight, sound and scent that one could imagine,
feeling like at any minute I might discover a lost city, or some amazing artifact, or even more exciting, perfect, golden orchids.
And there they were, in proliferation, the exquisite moccasins in bright yellow with whimsical burgundy or spotted petals
corkscrewing off from the sides and above where they stood, their heads bowed as if deep in thought.
The moment always seemed magical, as if nature had let you in on a special secret, had decided that you were worthy to view
something that she kept just for special guests and so it always caught me off guard and made me stand there, surprised and
incredibly happy to have found them in such a wild and vast place.
But then it was time to get to work. Out came the tape measure, the pen and the notebook. Where were the plants, how many were there, and how many in flower, how tall were they and what kind of conditions were they growing in? All of this had to be recorded, along with time of day and weather conditions. So I gathered all of the information I could, laying down among the plants, so careful as to not damage any of them and did everything I could to protect them, even though I wasn’t aware at the time just how threatened the Lady Slippers were from poachers and misguided tourists.
And so we worked our way southward, ten or twelve hours a day, eating our meals out of a green plastic cooler while we sat
in the grass comparing notes. On day two dad saw a fox with her kits running through the mountain laurel near the Mary’s
Rocks tunnel. Day three, I came face to face with a rather large black bear that seemed to be more terrified of me than I ever
could have been of him, but it was on day six that the highlight of the trip and one of my all-time favorite memories occurred.
When we pulled into the parking lot of the Jewel Hollow overlook, it was misting and the whole mountaintop was socked in
with the most unimaginably thick fog. It was like something out of a movie and you couldn’t see more than about thirty feet
in any given direction.
My family were naturalists, outdoors people, we never let a little thing like pea soup fog get in the way and so we suited up
in our rain gear, grabbed our notebooks and tape measures and with three hundred warnings from my mother about being
careful not to fall off of the mountainside, we were off.
The orchids were out there, but you couldn’t see them from a distance, you had to be almost on top of them before you were
aware that they were there. I found and noted about six small patches of them over the first hour and then came around a
clump of massive old oak trees into a glade that extended off into the mist and everywhere I looked, fading in and out of
view were lady slippers.
I tried to count them, but the further I walked, the more there were, and the higher my excitement grew until finally I decided
to walk a straight line back up to the trail and call for my parents. Luckily because of the fog, they had not gone too far into
the forest on the other side of the parking lot and they made it back to me in only a few minutes. I led them down the hill,
waving off their questions until I had them in the middle of the massive stand of large yellow lady slippers. We were silent. The fog shifted around us, revealing more and then hiding them as it moved like a living thing. Finally dad spoke, he had come up with a plan. “Jackie, you count everything from the oaks to the mountain laurels. Lance, you get all the ones between here and the big sycamore below and I will get the ones on the right. It took us two hours. Two hours to count two hundred and thirty seven plants with more than three hundred and fifty blossoms. When we had finished, we all sat down in the leaf litter among the orchids and quietly absorbed the beauty of that place for almost another hour until the rain began to get heavy and thunder rumbled to the west, warning us to get off of the mountaintop, or else. That day, that afternoon in the rain and fog proved to be one of the most wonderful memories of a family that spent a lot of time making great memories and led to my lifelong obsession with slipper orchids of all kinds, which in turn, led me to the OSWP.