On Friday, Janet, Liz and I enjoyed a lovely afternoon at a Lady Slippers Walk & Picnic at the Peace Sanctuary in Mystic, Connecticut. Our guide was Maggie Jones, executive director of the Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center. Before we began our walk in the woods, Maggie gave us a little history of the 45-acre sanctuary property.
The Universal Peace Union had been founded in Providence in 1866 by a group of reformers whose belief in nonviolence after years of bloody warfare led them to a broad critique of American imperialism, U.S. immigration and Native American policies. The local branch had formed among Rogerene Quakers around Ledyard, and the first national meetings took place in private homes there. As the number of members grew, including large numbers of women, the annual meeting moved to a larger venue in Mystic. By the 1880s and 1890s, the gathering attracted as many as ten thousand attendees. In 1890, the organization purchased land from Silas Burrows and the Fish family on a hill overlooking the river on the northwestern side of town. Meetings then took place at this open and undeveloped spot, attracting such speakers as reformer Lucretia Mott and author of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” Julia Ward Howe.
~ Leigh Fought
(A History of Mystic, Connecticut: From Pequot Village to Tourist Town)
When peace became less popular around the start of World War II, the land was purchased by explorer, naturalist, cartographer and writer, Mary Jobe Akeley (1886-1966), who turned it into a summer nature camp for girls. Camp Mystic was very popular and attended by girls from across the nation. Renowned explorers often visited the camp and shared stories of their experiences with the girls. Sadly, during the Great Depression the camp was closed.
After her death in 1966, the Mary L. Jobe Akeley Trust & Peace Sanctuary was established and the property is now looked after by the Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center. In the month of May nearly 400 native pink lady slippers, also called pink moccasin flowers, can be found blooming in the woods on the property.
Lady slippers are part of the orchid family and are native to Connecticut. They love the acid soil found in the woods, and need a certain fungus found there in order to survive. They grow 6 to 15 inches tall and the flowers are about 3 inches long. They can often be found growing in decaying logs. I used to see them occasionally when I played in the woods near the swamp where I grew up, so it was a treat to see so many of them in one day!
The pink lady slipper has been the provincial flower of Prince Edward Island since 1947, and the state wildflower of New Hampshire since 1991.
Our walk was mostly uphill and when we reached the top we were treated to an outdoor picnic buffet in a lovely woodland garden. I had stinging nettle soup for the first time, and another soup made with wild leeks.