May 1– three M’s….May, Montpelier, and Morels!

The first day of May, and my oh my what a delightful day it was.  One of those spectacular spring days, sunny and green, not too warm, breezy, low humidity… one of those days where you just have to spend the day outside, perhaps in the largest remaining stand of old-growth forest in Virginia’s piedmont?

This would be found at James Madison’s Montpelier, Monticello’s less famous little brother a few miles down the road.  After lunch, I went with the boys and my friend Carly and drove the 45 minutes to Montpelier.  The last few miles of the drive was along a woodsy rural road that was just about as purty as any woodsy rural road I’ve ever driven (and I’ve driven a few!)Image

As we came closer to Montpelier, we saw several trees completely covered in bright-blooming wisteria vines.  This backlit photo gives a very imperfect idea of just how impressive and purple that wisteria was.Image

The main mansion at Montpelier isn’t all that impressive– you won’t find it on any coinage, it costs a lot to get in, and it wasn’t why we were there.  The many enormous old trees on the estate, on the other hand, were impressive!Image

Before we got into the forest, the kids wanted to explore the formal garden, complete with hedge maze.Image

Before getting into the “forest primeval,” we walked a path alongside this exceptionally scenic horse pasture.  I’ve lived in Maine, Florida, and California in my life, but I don’t think I’ve ever lived anywhere as intensely green as Virginia in May.Image

Once we got into the woods…wow!  I was here once before, about ten years ago.  It was impressive then, and just as impressive now, to see the Virginia hardwood forests that I’m so familiar with, but all open and old-growth-y, with so many enormous trees.  Image

My younger son Sami, resting in front of a big ol’ tulip poplar.Image

I tried taking several pictures of this amazing wildflower, which looked a bit like a pitcher plant the way its top leaf folded over.  Most of the pictures came out way blurry.  I did a bit of internet research, and discovered that it’s a Jack-in-the-pulpit (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arisaema_triphyllum).Image

Mostly, they had green on the inside, but this one had crazy purple tiger stripes on the inside of the leaf!ImageHere was another gorgeous little flower, this one was tiny and low to the ground and I only saw a couple of them.Image

After hiking on the trails for a mile or so, we decided to do some off-trail exploring.  But first, this little gully had to be crossed on a log bridge.  (This was one of those days where homeschooling was way more educational than a day in school would have been!)

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Across the bridge, I saw this enormous tulip poplar, one of the most impressive forest trees I’ve seen in Virginia (without any people in the photo, it’s hard to get a handle on the scale of this photo).Image

Really beautiful bit of woods, and soon after I took this photo, we discovered the prize that we had come all the way out here to look for…Image

…morels!!!!!  This first one was not exactly the most beautiful morel I’ve ever seen– well, actually it was the first wild growing one I’ve ever seen, and we were pretty excited to see it.Image

We started searching the immediate area, and before long, we came across some more conventionally attractive ones.Image

Sami found one of them and immediately picked it.  We told him that instead of picking them, it was best to cut them off at the base with a knife so as to not damage the part growing in the ground.  He burst into tears, fearing that he had killed the morel he picked.  The next one we found, we gave him the knife and let him harvest it properly.  Here’s Sami with his fungal prize.  He is well on track to be a mushroom expert by the time he is five.Image

That was the largest one we found, this one was the smallest.  All in all, we only found about seven of them (along with a clump of oysters and about a dozen faun mushrooms which I didn’t bother photographing).  Although it wasn’t an epic haul, I’m still very excited to have found what we set out to find.  Tomorrow at lunchtime, we’re going to cook up the morels in a bit of olive oil and have a bit of a feast (or at least a few delicious bites)!Image

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