Lucy Bugbee

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(HOST) Tomorrow is the 35th anniversary of Earth Day, when 20 million people across America came together to address their mutual concern for the environment. In honor of that event, commentator Ted Levin remembers Vermont conservationist Lucy Bugbee.

(LEVIN) Once again this spring, a crowd of orchids will stir in the hills of Vershire, cradled by evergreens that, year by year, slowly squeeze the fen dry. There is no escape; the wetland is shifting from one plant community to another. It might take centuries. Or maybe decades. If it wasn’t for Lucy Bugbee, who died in 1984 at the age of 97, the fen would have been destroyed long ago.

I first visited the fen during the summer of 1978, the guest of Bugbee, who was then 91 years old. For years she had been coming here to see showy ladyslippers and to collect wild strawberries for shortcake.

A retired school teacher from West Hartford, Connecticut, Lucy Bugbee and her husband Lloyd retired to Bradford in 1951. Almost immediate- ly she took up the cause of conservation. For more than 30 years she photographed rare plants and delivered 40 or more lectures a year to schools, museums and garden clubs, promoting endangered species.

Bugbee traveled and photographed every river that enters the Connecticut, tracing each to its source. Her slides, which recount these journeys, have been donated to educational institutions throughout Vermont. Bugbee received meritorious awards from the Vermont Natural Resources Council, the Garden Club of America, the Montshire Museum and the New England Wildflower Society.

Lucy Bugbee was born six years after the last catamount was killed in Vermont. She was old enough to remember stories of passenger pigeons and lived long enough to see the state remove the bounty on the timber rattlesnake and protect the reptile as an endangered species.

When she was 93, Lucy Bugbee took me to Peacham to see calypso orchids growing in the cool shade of a white cedar bog. I haven’t seen one since. She took me to Strafford to see ram’s head ladyslippers, and to Sharon to see showy orchis.

Back in ’78, when we entered the Vershire fen, even though she had been there a hundred times, Bugbee was so excited she rushed in, tripped on a root and tumbled head over heels. But she popped up right up, laughing, her lips and hands stained red from feasting on wild strawberries.

On my 35th birthday, she cooked me a pot roast. One sunny winter afternoon, when she was 96, she was too busy sliding down her driveway to take my phone call. When construction began on interstate highways 89 and 91, Bugbee collected and transplanted wildflowers ahead of the dynamite and the bulldozers. In 1967, as a tribute on her 80th birthday, Governor Phillip Hoff named a bog in her honor.

“I’m not a botanist,” she once told me. “I’ve no iron to grind. I just feel strongly about leaving Vermont as it is.”

This is Ted Levin from Coyote Hollow in Thetford Ctr.

Ted Levin is a writer and photographer and winner of the 2004 Burroughs Medal for Nature Writing. He spoke from our studio in Norwich.

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