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Re-Potting Our Lives - My Life as a Ram's-Head Lady's-Slipper

May 17, 2014

For us Northerners, who have just lived through the cold and long nights of winter, the thought of spring brings on a torrent of adrenalin as full and fast as the snowmelt-flooded streams. With the longer days and warming temperatures comes new growth—a procession of wildflowers, each emerging at the optimal time to out-compete the neighbors for sunlight and fertilizing insects.

Not only is the window of opportunity short for these flowers, but for many, the habitat requirements are finite as well. In the case of ram’s-head lady’s-slipper orchids (Cypripedium arietinum), their needs are so specific that they are extremely rare, and in some areas, considered endangered. But when you do find them, you are likely to find many. The area where I photographed these orchids so precisely matches their requirements that a significant portion of the world’s population is found at this particular site.

If anyone had been around to observe me, it would likely have appeared as though I was in slow motion, carefully and methodically walking back and forth beneath the canopy of Jack pine in search of the perfect subject. Occasionally, I’d get down on my belly and peer through a frame of my hands, squinting with one eye closed to see it the way the camera would, then rise and continue my search. Eventually, I came upon this pair of flowers, knowing I had not only found wonderful specimens, but a composition where the repeating lines of the two flowers would provide visual movement in the photograph.

Spring also brings thoughts of personal growth. In this season of new beginnings and renewed energy, it is an ideal time to re-pot our lives — trimming away the dead foliage and making room for new buds to open. Like my process of making photographs, my own life plans usually start with asking myself a series of basic questions. With the photographs, the questions are: Why am I excited about making this photograph? What is the story I want to communicate? What perspective best tells 

this story? Is there something I can do to make this fresh and exciting to show the viewers something new? What technical obstacles must be overcome?

The questions I ask myself about my life are not so different: What do I want my life to be like? What will make me satisfied and happy? How can I be a better partner, father, global citizen? What should I stop doing? In what ways must I grow to reach these goals? What do I have to accomplish to bring about that growth? What obstacles stand in the way?

I am aware that as humans, our unique views are often as rare as ram’s-head lady’s-slippers are in the woods. Like the ram’s-heads, even though our individual views are rare, many people in our networks and communities share them. We are in a cluster, based not on habitat, but on education and awareness.

If you try to transplant a ram’s-head, it will almost certainly die, because the habitat you move it to won’t support it. Rather than continually trying in vain to transplant ideas, we must first ready the soil, making it possible for those ideas to take root and grow. Realization is the first step to achievement.

What can those of us with this awareness say to ready the soil? That we all love. And that no matter what or whom we love, we would all do everything in our power to protect what we love. We have that in common, and that puts us all on the same side. It is a good place to start.

No matter what our desires for growth, we all need to find the medium that will allow our ideas and actions to flourish. And if that medium does not yet exist, creating it must become our primary task.

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The Bakken Center for Spirituality & Healing blog covers a range of integrative health and wellbeing topics. For more information about our blog, contact us at csh@umn.edu