As we drive a winding narrow dirt road into the Greenhorn Mountains of northeast Oregon, we come to a cattle guard and a “no trespassing” sign. Realizing there is no place to turn around, we have to venture into the private property to find a wider spot to redirect our truck. I find an area barely wide enough and Tarn gets out to give me some signals so I don’t run into anything or drop into the creek drainage. I manage to back and fill until I am heading in the right direction then drive down the road fifty yards or so and stop to let Tarn rejoin me.
While I wait, my gaze turns toward the uphill slope next to the truck. There, amidst lush green foliage, I see an orchid-like flower peeking out. Then I spy another one and another … In the moment of discovery, everything becomes vibrant and alive. I notice my mind, stimulated by awe, falls into a deep appreciation of the unknown. I am giddy and quiet. A shimmering light pervades the forest. I have never seen this orchid before and am overcome with delight.
Looking through our wildflower books we discover this is a Mountain Lady Slipper (Cypripedium montanum). It is a species limited to certain areas of northwestern United States and southwestern Canada. Even with this distribution, it is not often observed. The strange twisted sepals and petals are maroon-brown, looking almost dried. The white pouch-like flower has an elastic yellow lip with red spots hovering over the bowl. This ‘landing pad’ invites pollinators to enter and do their pollinating thing. Tarn and I do our little dance of discovery and head on down the road.
After some silence, we both note the auspicious event. How in the world did we find ourselves in this time and place to observe such a rare beauty? What are the chances? Whatever enlightenment is, I think it may be like this moment of discovery. We are overwhelmed by the beauty of something we do not know and we catch a glimpse of unfiltered light. Even my desire to know and name the flower does not diminish that light.
Real spiritual practice is always being prepared to be surprised and recognize a moment of awakening when we trip over it by accident. When we are caught unknowing and the light shines through, it important to remember this is our true nature. Everything else is just a smoke screen.