I'm an avid hunter. Especially in the spring of the year when the air is fresh, the breezes gentle, and new "game" is plentiful. More often than not, I hunt in my woods and fields, armed with my trusty Wildflowers and Plants of North America book, a camera, and a dog and cat companion. And, yes, I'm a wildflower hunter.
The Mark Twain National forest covers 1.5 million acres in my area. Noted for its scenic qualities, the Forest contains much for the outdoor lover. If you hanker for clear, cool spring-fed streams to dip your toes into, you will find them here. If changing landscapes are your thing, you will find peaks, hills and knobs of varying heights throughout the forest. Exposed rock and open glades also add interest to the scenic settings.
Each spring, enchanting wildflowers, ferns, and prairie grasses appear, to the special delight of wildflower enthusiasts. Some of the wildflowers are rare, and even endangered-like the yellow lady's slipper plant, a member of the wild orchid family.
Two years ago, my friend and fellow wildflower enthusiast, Hazel, called to tell me she had heard where there were some yellow lady's slippers growing in the Mark Twain National Forest. "It's in the J Highway area of the forest," she said. "Want to go see if we can find them?"
"Do I ever!" I said. "How about tomorrow morning?"
It was a beautiful, mild, late April morning as Hazel and I drove up to J Highway to set out for the hunt for the yellow lady's slipper. Most of the land in that area is owned by the Forest Service, except for a few smatterings of privately owned farms, which, it turned out, was a lucky thing for two careless hunters!
We parked the car on the side of the road, and walked into the leafy sanctuary of tall oaks and hickories. A myriad of plants and wildflowers carpeted the floor, and we became so engrossed in trying to identify each one that we lost all sense of time and direction. But what was even worse, we failed to notice the ominous changes taking place above our heads--until we heard a noise that compelled us to look up.
"Oh, my gosh, it's thundering in the distance. There is a storm coming," I said to Hazel. "We'd better had back to the car."
"You aint a-kidding," Hazel said. "And we'd better hurry, too. From the looks of those dark clouds, it will be a doozie!" We turned quickly and began sprinting through the woods in the direction of our vehicle. Unfortunately, our vehicle was nowhere to be found. We had gotten ourselves lost!
After sprinting some more, while the sky grew even darker and the thunder closer, panic began to set it in. So we stopped for a minute to catch our breath.
"I can't believe we got lost. I've been in these woods many times and thought I knew the way," Hazel said.
"Sh-h! Listen! I hear something," I interrupted.
"Cock-a-doodle-do!" the something went.
"It's a rooster crowing! And it doesn't sound far away. We must be near a farm," Hazel said. "Come on, let's follow the noise." A few minutes later we came out in a clearing and saw the rustic farmhouse, just ahead. We landed on the farms front porch just as the first crack of lightening came down, almost at our heels! A woman opened the door to see who the strangers on her porch were.
"Hi," Hazel said. "We were wildflower hunting in the National Forest and got lost, and when we finally found our way out, well here we are at your place."
"Oh, you poor things," the woman said. "You were lucky to find your way out just before the storm hit. Come in and have a cup of coffee with me. And later, I'll drive you back and help you find your car."
"Well, it was more than luck that brought us to safety," I mused over coffee. "We heard your rooster crowing and followed the noise. We're sure glad you have a rooster."
"The woman looked at us with a strange expression. "Well, if that don't beat all," she said.
"Beg you pardon?" Hazel and I looked at her curiously.
"You see, ladies, that's a young rooster. This morning was the first time he crowed," she said. Then she smiled and added, "Well, they do say that the Lord works in mysterious ways. This just proves it."
He does indeed!
First published in the book, Their Mysterious Ways, by Guideposts Books, copyright 2002.
I posted this story in remembrance of my old friend and hunting partner, Hazel, who passed away recently. She knew every wildflower that grew in our area, and taught me a great deal. I will always remember our many, happy hunting times together.
Thank you for reading. Have a wonderful week!