16" x 18"
Whenever I paint a subject as small as this one, I realize how little experience I have with the world at the level of my hiking boots. It’s a different world down there. A little mound of pine needles becomes a major compositional feature. Peering into this tiny world is both challenging and rewarding. I used as many as four colors to paint a single pine needle. When painting more distant scenes, a touch from the edge of my painting knife makes a needle. At a still greater distance, a stroke of the knife makes a spray of needles, a branch, or even an entire Pine tree.
I had some fun with the title of this painting. The first person to hear it was a native of Miami. He thought it was a joke. I explained to him that it was early spring when I saw these orchids and there were still patches of melting snow under the pine trees. Living in the orchid capital of North America, he could not imagine orchids growing in the snow. He wanted to know where I saw them. I told him that they were on the sunny side of a little slope just under the pine trees. And I pointed out, just in case he missed it, all the pine needles in the painting. Of course, what he really wanted to know was where in the tropics is there snow. He had exactly the reaction I had hoped my title would provoke. It provided one of the rare opportunities for me to talk about the flora.
There are 27,000 species of Orchids and they grow in every continent but Antarctica, yet people associate them with the tropics. These beauties were popping out of the thick pine needles beside a hiking trail in Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada.
The name “Calypso”, with its tropical island connections, helped mislead him. The botanical name Calypso bulbosa doesn’t refer to the West Indian music. “Calypso” is named for the beautiful nymph in Homer's Odyssey who waylaid Ulysses on his return to Ithaca.
The story behind this little plant is even more interesting than orchids in the snow or Ulysses. The flower is shaped, colored, and scented to attract a very specific pollinator—the Golden Northern Bumblebee. But not just any Golden Northern Bumblebee. It blooms early in the spring before the drones or workers are hatched, when only the queen bees are active. And it contains no nectar, so the experienced queen bees avoid it. Putting all this together, then, it attracts inexperienced, Golden Northern, queen, Bumblebees and some oil painters. I found them irresistible.