The Holy Ghost Orchid, national flower of Panama.  Flower-pickers have rendered it nearly extinct.   NEVER found in the boreal forest.

The Holy Ghost Orchid, national flower of Panama. Flower-pickers have rendered it nearly extinct. NEVER found in the boreal forest.

1 – The Hunt Begins

Beautiful day when we launched on the Pic River near Manitouwadge. I accompanied three naturalists, Mike and Sue Bryan, and my brother, John, who acted as guide. He knows where the wild orchids grow.

Friday, July 4th. The Pic is a muddy watercourse, rising in McKay Lake in the Greenstone area and flowing south to Lake Superior. In the early days, the Hudson’s Bay Company supplied its Long Lake post by freighting goods up the Pic, and later, Marathon Corporation flushed its logs down to its mill on the Great Lake.

It’s safe to say that no employee of those great enterprises bothered to look for wild orchids. It’s probably safe to say that they trampled these flowers when they footed the portages or paused for lunch breaks or made campsites or, in the case of the logging company, pushed hundreds of thousands of cut timbers into the canal.

For the Pic River does look, in many places, like a canal. Steep clay banks contain the stream. Where we launched that Friday morning, the bank sloped into the water, probably the result of a slump, a mudslide that sloughed off a hillside in a bygone era. From the Industrial Road, which stretches from Greenstone to Manitouwadge (now closed due to washouts), John’s pickup had turned west on the Michael Road, and just before the Million Dollar Bridge (That’s the local name) over the Pic, he took a brushy tote road down to the river bank. There he had stashed a 12-foot aluminum boat and motor for this excursion.

Launch site on the Pic River

Launch site on the Pic River

We stowed our gear in the boat, treading stickily on the bank, for even relatively flat places on the Pic are deposits of soft waterlogged clay.

A beautiful day. Sure, there were flies (the prickly, bitey kind), and we found ourselves floating helplessly downstream towards the piers of the Million Dollar Bridge for the first ten minutes, until John’s frantic pulls on the cord finally got the motor coughing.

Then we settled in for a cruise upstream, keeping an eye out for deadheads (sunken trees and logs) and wildlife and, of course, orchids.

Would I write about this trip? Of course. “But you can’t reveal where the orchids are,” said Sue.

Well, that could be a problem.

Somewhere in this wilderness there's a lovely wild orchid

Somewhere in this wilderness there’s a lovely wild orchid

About EJ Lavoie

Writer and independent publisher with website
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