Stephen Kirkpatrick

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Should've Been Here Yesterday

In photography, timing is everything. That's clear in the split-second timing of an action photo, like the one below that captures a leaping deer the instant the jump reaches its apex. But there are other, more subtle examples of "perfect timing," like seasonal fall color at its peak or spring buds just as the flowers burst open. 

White-tailed Deer Leaping at Sunrise  
December 2009
from the book  
SANCTUARY: Mississippi's Coastal Plain

With wild orchids, it's all about the bloom. I began shooting Mississippi orchids in May of 1992. My first exposure was of grass-pink orchids (Calopogon barbatus) in the 194-acre Sweetbay Bogs Preserve owned by the Nature Conservancy. Since that day 19 years ago, I have been gradually trying to photograph all of the state's native orchids, approximately 50 species.

Bearded Grass-pink Orchids (Calopogon barbatus)
May 1992
from the book

The blooming season for Mississippi orchids begins in March and continues through October. Photographing the orchids is the easy part. Finding them, getting to them, and timing the shots to coincide with that elusive bloom is another story altogether. Most Mississippi orchids are on the small side and are not overly "showy." A couple of listed species have either disappeared or have apparently never really been here in the first place, and a couple of others may have only one or two known populations in the entire state.  

I have often thought my autobiography should be titled, Should've Been Here Yesterday. I arrived in Alaska’s Denali National Park the day after a grizzly bear took down a moose in front of a bus full of tourists. I dove in the waters of Utila, Honduras, three days after a sighting of two 30-foot whale sharks. And I was once awakened in the Amazon rain forest by an unearthly screaming, which turned out to have been a jaguar killing chickens a few feet from where I slept. I missed that shot by a few seconds. 

This week, I wrote another chapter in that aggravating autobiography. I spent Monday and Tuesday in search of a new orchid, the crested coral root (Hexalectris spicata), a beautiful but inconspicuous species of orchid that derives food by parasitizing very specific fungi. I was accompanied by a different botanist each day, Heather Sullivan from the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science in Jackson on Monday and Kevin Philley with the Corps of Engineers in Vicksburg on Tuesday. Each had previously located and recorded this species. 

We drove a total of 424 miles over nine hours, followed by a sweaty search on foot. Alas, no orchids, even though this had been deemed the perfect week to see them. In the first location, several trees had fallen exactly where the orchids had been seen a couple of years before; it is possible the tiny orchids were crushed beneath them. At the second spot, we actually located the orchids, but they had already flowered and died. 

It will be another year before I can try again. 

So, nothing shot for On A Roll, but another chapter written for Should’ve Been Here Yesterday.

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