Sunday, May 22, 2016

Hidden in Plain View

I’m part of a small group of dedicated Weed Warriors that meets twice a month to weed, prune, and plant in Exton Park, an 800 acre tract of land five minutes from my home.

Several weeks ago, working on the berm along the old farm pond, one of our group casually mentioned he’d seen a coyote with a kit in her mouth and another following behind.
I paused in my digging: “Where?”

“On the ridge. On Old Valley Road.”

The ridge runs along the north edge of the Park. Old Valley Road is a partially closed gravel road that skirts between the fields, still leased to an area farmer, and the woods hide the steeper slope of the ridge.  I’d heard rumors of coyotes far north of us, but never in our suburban county.

“And I saw pink lady slippers. Blooming.”


I’ve never seen pink lady slippers blooming, except in books. I’ve occasionally seen their thick, waxy leaves, in small clumps, in New York’s north woods, but never blooming. And certainly not in Pennsylvania.

“On the ridge. Just up from the white barn.”

“Blooming now?”


I asked how to find them, listened carefully, then spent the next two weeks thinking of coyotes and lady slippers. The only way I could see to get to the barn was up a lane that said “private road.” And was that the right barn? I wasn’t sure.

Two weeks later, in a light rain, we were back on the berm, planting. The group was small (not everyone loves planting in the rain), and I asked if we could take a short field trip at the end of our work, to see where the lady slippers grew.

Up the private road, turn onto an unused segment of Old Valley Road, park in a little gravel pull-off, then look for the bit of orange caution tape, tied shoulder-height in a bush beside the road.

I felt a little like Alice in Wonderland, stepping through an unexpected door.  Or Lucy, pushing through the back of the wardrobe into the wintry woods of Narnia.

Just past the weedy, brushy thicket along the road was a steep trail leading up into beautiful, open woods.
Beech trees, oak, tulip poplars with an understory of native azaleas, ferns, wood aster.

And there, at the top of the hill, in a clearing where multiple trails converged, were pink lady slippers. Still in bloom.

There was more to see: two springs. A rushing creek, tumbling noisily down the rocky hillside. Remains of an old farm quarry. A precipitous drop clothed in mountain laurel.

I went back alone a few days later, for a short evening walk, and saw a brown thrasher, wood thrush, a great horned owl just heading out for its evening meal.

I haven’t seen the coyotes, but at least I know where to look.

How is it possible I drove past that spot almost every day, for over a decade, and never really saw it?

I’ve walked, worked, birded with that ridge in plain view and never spent much time wondering what was there.

I would have missed it completely if our friend hadn’t told us what he’d seen.

Hadn’t offered to show us how to find it.

After my introduction to the hillside beauty I almost missed I find myself burdened with the knowledge that it’s possible to miss, completely, the wealth and treasure we’ve been already been given.

If our guide hadn’t mentioned what he’d seen I could have driven right by that ridge for the next twenty years and never bothered to venture up to see.

I find myself wondering, what else have I missed? What beauty, treasure, riches, wonders, are hidden in plain sight and I’ve not had eyes to see?

But I also find myself wondering: what are the treasures I’ve seen, myself, that I’ve never bothered to share?

I lead bird walks – in part – because I want to help others see and delight in the beauty of nature that’s been shared with me by others.

This past weekend I sold plants at our neighborhood yard sale – in part – because I wanted to share what I’ve learned about plants and backyard ecology.

I write this blog – in part – because I want to share what I’ve seen, heard, begun to understand about this rich, complex, deeply-loved world we live in.

I posted last week about Pentecost, Church, churches, how easy it is to sit outside and judge.

How maybe the truth of what “Church” is only becomes clear when we step inside, spend time in relationship to others.

Maybe, as friends, we need to share what we’ve seen, and offer to show the way.

I’ve seen a pink lady slipper on a nearby hillside.

I’ve seen a rushing stream dance down a fern-clad ledge.

I’ve seen worship where broken people find joy.

I’ve seen kindness melt icy walls and warm cold, brittle hearts.

I’ve seen unexpected families embracing unconnected children.

I've seen grace and forgiveness take human form. 

Surprising treasure in jars of clay.

All hidden in plain sight.

If you want to see, I’ll show you.