Tricounty News

Lady Slippers Grew Deep in the Swamp

From the pen of the late Elizabeth Cooper Mike, Kimball Historical Society member and her book "The Girl From Stickney Hill, Kimball Prairie, Minnesota," reprinted with permission of the author.

We hesitated at the fence line wondering if we should crawl through the barbed wire and begin our search for the pink lady slippers we knew grew in the dark scary swamp. The swamp was shaded with tall trees and grass growing higher than my head and it was probably filled, I thought, with all kinds of bugs, and worms, and maybe snakes.

It was June on our Minnesota farm the summer I was 14, when we first began to think about the pink lady slippers and how we would search for them in the swamp to the north of our farm.

The air was clean and fresh and warm with sunshine. Summer leaves sparkled on the trees, and the scent of flowers was everywhere. Us kids with our bare feet finally free of tight school shoes scampered over the soft green grass seeking the location of this flower or that flower somewhere in our yard or growing wild in the woods.

The scent of purple lilacs that bloomed in May along the gateway that separated the house yard from the barnyard area was long gone. Now the violets and pansies and balsam dotted my mother's flower beds and the white blossoms of the nicotina sent its intoxicating sweet scent out over the grass once the evening dew had fallen.

Out the kitchen window, I could see a sweep of yellow across the back yard settle on the trellis around the outhouse under the old box elder tree. Dozens of wild canaries began pecking at the tender new scarlet runner vines making their way up the wooden frame.

In a few weeks the trellis would be covered with hundreds of reddish orange bean blossoms, and the outhouse would be a secluded place to sit and read.

We sought the icy white bloodroot on the way to a neighbor's, a flower that shed orangey-red juice over our fingers when we broke their stems to pick them.

On the hillside around the Big Rock at our other farm hepaticas dotted the grassy area under the trees, their white and pink blooms beckoning to be picked.

Always the pink wild roses grew everywhere, along the roadside on the way to the mailboxes a mile away, down the road past our nearest neighbors, and in my heart it was my favorite flower, particularly when the first almost red buds appeared.

Once, way down in our fields, just across the fence to the west in a neighbor's woods, we found a tiny purple flower set in a small lush green plant, and Muddy called it an orchid when we brought it home to her.

Now it was July and we looked for the freckled faced orange wild tiger lilies along a bend in the road on the way to Chris Flint's house when we went to visit his roly poly little wife.

But this year, we determined for sure we would search for the pink lady slipper, the official Minnesota state flower. Lady slippers grew deep in the swamp across the fence on the north at the end of our last forty acres, but on someone else's farm.

A few yellow lady slippers grew just outside of our driveway in June in a woodsy area along the road to the west, but they were small and ordinary-looking next to the showy larger pink lady slipper and the pink lady slippers were what we went in search of that hot July day.

We stood now at the fence, my sister and I. I had an earthen-ware jug of water wrapped in wet burlap and Peggy had a couple of sandwiches.

I looked at the sun directly overhead. The sky was clear blue with no clouds. "As long as the sun keeps shining we won't get lost," I said.

"See," I said. "I'm facing the fence. West is on my left, east is on my right, and north is right ahead and south is at my back." I pointed to the west. "As the sun slips past noon that direction would always be west."

"Let's go," I said. "We just have to watch the sun." We held the barbed wire for each other and crawled through the fence.

A few feet into the tall grass and the nettles were stinging our arms with ugly red welts as we brushed past. The mosquitoes were flying up from the weeds to sink their hungry little stingers into our backs. Some kind of little gnat or fly were buzzing in swarms around our heads getting in our eyes and mouths.

"Stay close behind me." I motioned Peggy back. "You don't want to get lost."

We went straight north parting the grass to make a path, swatting and slapping at mosquitoes. It was wet and soggy and bumpy underfoot. I was glad I wore my shoes.

From time to time we veered off to the left or right when we saw a flash of color we thought might be the pink lady slippers.

I kept my eye on the sun and we always came back to our northward trail. "We'll just turn around and go back the way we came when we're ready to go home," I said. "The sun will be on our right."

Then the sky began to darken and the clouds rolled in covering the sun and a light rain began to fall. It was hard to see and I itched all over from insect bites and contact with the stinging nettles.

We wandered on for awhile until we were out of the swamp and in a thick woods. I finally had to admit I no longer knew which way was north. I tried to go back the way we had come, but now we were so hopelessly turned around that we were going in circles.

Peggy said, "You got us lost!"

I said, "Shut up!"

We sat down under a tree and ate our sandwiches and drank some water out of the jug. "I'm sure tired of carrying this jug," I said. "It's heavy."

"Throw it away and Daddy'll get you." Smartie Peggy said. "That's the jug he uses in the fields." Her voice sounded like she was going to cry.

"Don't you dare cry," I said, standing up and picking up the jug. "I'll get us out of this."

I looked around. "The sky is lighter in that direction, like the rain is clearing up. We're going that way until we come out at a road or a pond or someone's farm."

We went only a little way when Peggy ran ahead, "I see a road."

I looked at the overgrown ruts trailing deeper into the woods behind us. "This is an old logging trail," I said. "I've heard Daddy say there used to be an old saw mill in these woods." I began to run.

"I know where we are," I said. "The road is right over that way." And we ran toward the bright sky and came out on a road about two miles from home.

We were hungry, full of insect bites and red welts from nettles, but we were safe.

"This jug doesn't seem so heavy now," I said as we walked home.

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Tuesday, June 23 - come spend "An Evening with Bill Morgan." Renowned St. Cloud Times columnist, author, St. Cloud State professor and unique historian Bill Morgan continues to leave his own indelible imprint on Central Minnesota's history, including our own Stearns County and Kimball. A first-time special event, no one has heard most of the Central Minnesota lives and landmarks he will share. Join us at 7 p.m. In Kimball's historic City Hall, then you'll hear the whole story he brings for your promised enjoyment. Fellowship and refreshments are included following this cost-free experience. Hope to see you there.

Saturday, June 27 - Fairhaven's "Old Settlers" event including our history booth display. Come see.

Aug. 7, 8, 9 "Kimball Days" festival is celebrated. Make plans now to enjoy a "stay-cation" closer than distant destinations, this year. Special events are already underway by every organization and area business to surprise you with best ever 2009 festival, including the Kimball Area Historical Society's Supper-In-The-Park and Exhibit, besides member Audrey White's sidewalk-coffee-nook.

September, October, November historical society's special fall events to be announced. Keep watching this column for details.

Thank you for your renewed or new membership. If you forgot, we look forward to counting you on-board again with 2009 membership, one of the affordable ways to strengthen Kimball and this society. Thank you.

Restoration continues Phase 5 indoors: 2009-2010 restoring historic city hall. If you haven't already don so, please make your gift or pledge soon for Phase 5. Remember, whatever the size of donations, it will be tax deductible and your money doubled! Pledges count towards the matching grant, but need not be paid until 2010. We sincerely hope that you will consider helping preserve this visible part of Kimball history. Donor plaques provided.

For information and responses to all the above, please contact the Kimball Area Historical Society at Box 100, Kimball MN 55353 or phone (320) 398-5743 or 398-5250.

"Through the Corridors of Time"