Monthly Archives: July 2013

July 28-30 – stayin’ cool and headin’ south

Back at home now, after my week long trip up to the big city and back.  Before going up to NY, I wasn’t quite sure if I there would be much in the way of nature observing opportunities.  It’s true that “nature” is everywhere, even in the city there are birds, bugs, atmospheric conditions.  But New York is certainly a place where the built, human, environment so overwhelms the natural one that it’s hard, outside of the changes in weather, to get a sense of “nature.”  In the winter it’s cold and bleak, in the summer it’s hot; the parks are green and the trees have leaves.  But, even in the parks, any greenery you see is tended and landscaped, only in the vacant lots and wastelands is “nature” (mostly in the form of non-native weeds) allowed to do its thing.  I did have some nice outdoor experiences while up there, primarily a Saturday trip to Governor’s Island, an awesome new park in the middle of New York Harbor, at the confluence of the Hudson and East rivers.  Beautiful views of the city, and a spectacular pleasant summer day.

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I was excited about our trip home, as we had been planning on taking our time, meandering through the mountains a bit, and camping along the way.  It didn’t take long to feel like I was back in a more natural environment.  In Clinton, NJ, just about an hour out of the city, we stopped for lunch, and discovered a lovely picnic area just behind the parking lot of a deli.  There was a surprisingly clean-looking creek flowing nearby, with a sign saying that it had been stocked with trout.  What a difference a few miles makes!

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Another hour’s drive into Pennsylvania, and we decided to call it a day at Blue Rocks Family Campground.  The primary natural feature of this location is the blue rocks boulder field, a mile-long stretch of rocks and rubble, upon which the boys and I had an excellent time climbing and exploring.

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Later, I was able to get some kid-free time and set off hiking for a couple of hours.  The campground was just a mile off of the Appalachian Trail (one of the reasons we chose it), and there was a spur trail that left the camp heading uphill.  The region had received some rain recently (indeed, it was storming just an hour before we pulled into the campground), so the ground was pretty wet and squishy, with numerous streams crossing over.  I was so glad to be free of the city that I walked barefoot, although I was aware of Pennsylvania’s AT reputation as an endless rockfield.  Muddy bits like this on the trail made me glad of my decision.Image

It only took a short while to climb up to the white-blazed Appalachian trail.  By the looks of the wide, heavily traveled treadway, this section gets plenty of use.

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On my way up, I saw the same unusual sight that I’ve seen in Virginia– there were lots of chanterelles growing in the compacted soil right in the middle of the trail, and not so many growing in the soft forest litter to the side.  Many of them had been trampled by unconscious hikers, and the ones that hadn’t been stepped on were all muddy and unappealing.

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Stone staircase near the top of the ridge.  This section of trail was in fact pretty rocky, but nothing my farm-toughened feet couldn’t handle!

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The hike to the Pulpit Rock lookout was about one and a half miles, and the view, while not spectacular by AT standards, was enjoyable enough.  The blue rocks boulder field is prominent on the right side of this photo.  Although I didn’t see anyone on the way up, there were a handful of folks at the lookout, some of whom had brought up several glass bottles of hard cider, which they generously passed around.Image

As I was exploring the immediate area around the lookout, I came across this copperhead curled up in a little crack in the rocks.  I’m so glad I saw it before stepping on it, for otherwise you would be reading a very different post right now!

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Just another random AT photo, taken on the way down.  The grassy plant along the edge of the trail is similar to the one growing along the logging trails at Twin Oaks Community.  It looks almost like some sort of tiny bamboo, and I’m guessing it’s some sort of invasive exotic.

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Not many mushrooms today.  Aside from the muddy chanterelles, I saw some overgrown platterfuls and a couple of withered flushes of oysters, long past edibility.  By far, the choice find of the day was this gorgeous chicken of the woods, which I discovered along the trail just a quarter mile or so from our campsite.

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It tasted as good as it looked– fried up in some butter, then simmered in tomato sauce for a while and served over noodles.  A treat for kids and adults alike!

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After dinner, further explorations in the boulder field with my son Sami.  I think the boys could have spent days just climbing around on the rocks.

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From where we were camped, the sunset was blocked by mountains, but the sky to the east, reflecting the colors of the sunset, was equally dramatic.  One of my favorite things about camping out is the opportunity to be outdoors in the mountains in the late afternoon and early morning, magical times that you always miss when only going out for day trips.  When you’re camping, you can just have your dinner, then sit out on a rock enjoying the slow transition from day to night…

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Day 2

My oh my what a night!  To start with, just before it got dark, we decided to change campsites in order to pitch our tent on a platform right at the edge of the boulder field (our designated campsite was kind of muddy and gravelly).  Although our tent was a little bit bigger than the platform, we figured it wouldn’t be a problem if it hung over a couple inches on each side.  Unfortunately, it was impossible to stake down the tent when it was set like this.  And during the night, when a sudden drenching thunderstorm blew in, the walls of the tent sagged down onto our faces, seriously compromising the “waterproof” nature of the tent.  The rainstorm was followed by a steadily increasing wind, blowing down across the boulder field, which had increased to gale force by dawn.  I couldn’t possibly sleep with a moist tent alternately flapping around all around me and slapping me in the face, so I got up in the pre-dawn light to explore the boulder field and surrounding forests.Image

Somehow, amazingly, the rest of the family was able to sleep in, even with gusts of wind that nearly lifted the tent clean off of the platform!Image

After breaking camp, we took a winding drive through the mountains of central Pennsylvania, making our way by early afternoon to Hancock, Maryland, a spot where just about two miles separates the Potomac River from the Mason/Dixon line.  After a picnic lunch along the river, I rented bikes for an hour and set off with the boys to explore the nearby rail trail.  Although the ground was dry (I don’t think they got any of the past couple days storms), the forests surrounding the old C&O Canal towpath were bright green. Image

In other places, the forest opened up, revealing views of the surrounding hills and mountains, also thickly forested.Image

A couple of miles up the trail, we came to this odd round brick building, which looked like it may have once been the chimney of a larger structure, most of which is now gone.  Image

unsurprisingly, we saw lots of deer in PA and MD.  Along the bike route, we saw several little fawns with their momma, and later on, this one fawn all alone.  So cute!Image

We ended the day camping at a little campground between the canal trail and the Potomac river itself.  Although it wasn’t an especially hot afternoon, it still felt nice to take a dip in the river, far enough upstream from the city so that the water looked and felt clean, and I didn’t have to worry too much about poisoning myself.Image

Here’s a spot where a side stream, flowing into the Potomac, crosses under the railroad line, through a small tunnel that must be at least 100 years old, or older.  I thought the twin reflections of the tunnel entrance and exit were especially interesting.Image

Day 3

The next morning, we made our way to Harper’s Ferry, where the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers join forces.  I’m not sure why the joined river bears the name Potomac, as the Shenandoah definitely seems like the more voluminous of the two tributaries, and appears to be the primary upstream route.  But that’s history, I guess.

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The center of this little town, as anyone who’s been there knows, is quite scenic and historic.  I took some photos, mostly of the boys, that don’t seem quite appropriate for this journal, although I do like this view of the Virginia Mountains across the river, through the window of the old stone church.Image

We took a short hike along the AT as it heads out of town, on a trail that was quite dry and dusty, with a surprising lot of broken glass underfoot.  The glass looked kind of old, as though the trail was passing through an old dumping area from years ago.  We looped back along the canal, much of which was bright green with algae, and filled with wading birds and turtles.Image

I especially liked the color contrast between the green of the canal and the blue-gray plumage of this egret.Image

After spending an afternoon at Harper’s Ferry, we loaded back in the car and drove the final few hours back to Twin Oaks.  But that’s a story for a different post.

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July 23-24 – stayin’ hot and headin’ north

I’m sitting and writing right now at my siblings’ building in Brooklyn, where we’ve relocated for a few days, a “visit the family and get the hell out of Virginia for a week” vacation.  But before I get too far along, let’s get in the way back machine and travel all the way back to last Monday (the 23rd), with some random notes and observations…

On Monday, another hot dry day, I had the afternoon free, and feeling a bit negligent about dropping the ball on this journal, I took a little stroll through the yard and off into the woods.  My journey began with a delightful discovery– all of this hot sunny weather has had one positive outcome:  figs!  The fig trees in my back yard have been putting out fruit for a couple of months now, and just this weekend they started to get ripe.  On Sunday, I picked my first fig of the year, and on Monday, then again on Tuesday, there were several more.  So delicious– I think figs might be my absolute #1 favorite thing we grow at Twin Oaks.Image

The Japanese beetles have continued to breed like mad.  Most days, I’ve had a chance to gather up a bowl of beetles and feed them to the chickens at Tupelo, but I’ve skipped a few days, and it definitely makes a difference.Image

Butterflies in the back yard, one bush in particular was covered with them.Image

Most of them were the yellow and black variety pictured above, but there was one  bright orange individual of a different species.  As I tried to take a photo of it, it started to fly away, the resulting picture came out looking pretty nifty.Image

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As I walked into the woods, trying to figure out whether any mushrooms had survived the past 10 days of heat and rainlessness, I came across several specimens that may have been edible several days ago, but were presently in pretty bad shape, like this indigo milky.Image

or this green Russula, which would have made good eating several days ago.Image

I spotted this large shelf mushroom far off through the woods.  The sunlight came through the forest canopy so as to illuminate them, they were glowing brightly.  I think they may have been something edible at some point, but at this point they were all tough and woody and dried out.Image

A word on spiders.  For much of the season, as I walk through the woods, either on our trails or just bushwhacking, I’ve had to wave a “spider stick” in front of me, to keep me from blundering through one web after another.  As the summer has gone on, the webs have become more and more numerous; the walk I took today, which was the first time I’d been out in the woods for over a week, was downright spider-iffic.  Even constantly swinging a spider stick to break webs, I still kept walking into webs, and a couple of times I had to pull a spider out of my hair or off of my face.  Which is pretty unpleasant, even knowing that there are no poisonous web spiders in Virginia (there are black widows, but they don’t string webs between trees).  The spiders we have, though are pretty intimidating looking.  I had tried many times to photograph one of them, and just today figured out a way to trick my camera into focusing on one of them.  I believe they may be some species of Gasteracantha, but I’m certainly no expert on spider ID.  I just know they are one crazy looking bug, and it’s kind of unnerving to have one crawling around on your face, even if you know it isn’t poisonous.Image

one freaky looking spider.Image

I’m still finding lots of coral mushrooms in the woods, but you can see that the recent hot dry weather has taken a toll on them.  The ones below, like most of the mushrooms I encountered today, definitely was looking dried out and heat-stressed.Image

walking along a tractor path used by the forestry crew for cutting trees in the winter.  The green grassy looking plant looked almost like some sort of bamboo.  When I lived in California, I did some work with invasive plant removal, and it was interesting to see how logging paths were a vector for invasive plants that would grow along the paths and then spread out into the woods.  It doesn’t look like these plants are spreading beyond the path itself, but you can definitely see how non-native plants use logging roads and paths to push their way into otherwise impenetrable forest.Image

Deep into the woods, I started to come across some remnant chanterelle patches.  The first one I spotted was extremely heat stressed.Image

but then, I started to spot some others that were in surprisingly good shape.  I didn’t expect to find chanterelles under these conditions, but wound up filling my basket with them.Image

My prize find of the day was this enormous, bug free bolete.  I’m not sure what type it was, but I’m pretty sure it was one of the edible ones.Image

One mushroom I’ve continued to see lots of, even in the summer heat, is the Old Man of the Woods bolete.  What these particular mushrooms lack in gastronomic value, they make up for in sheer interestingness of appearance.Image

look at the weird texture on the cap of this one!Image

Along the way, I stopped in at my ‘dipping hole’ along the creek to splash some water on myself.  I wanted to do some more raking and dumping of rocks, but was running short of time by this point.  After nearly two weeks without rain, the creek was looking pretty low.  Image

Finally, just before I left the woods, I came across this flush of white oyster mushrooms, also in surprisingly good shape.  The brown specks on them were bits of sawdust, from ants (termites?) that were eating away at the stump above, and washed right off.  These oysters (along with the chanterelles I found) all wound up in omelets on Wednesday morning.Image

Tuesday AM.  I snapped this picture as I was heading out to C’ville to deliver tofu early in the morning.  The sky was actually much prettier than the photo shows, but I guess it kind of gets the idea across.Image

Tuesday after dinner, going for a walk with the boys.  I guess it’s a testament to such a wet spring and early summer that, even after so many hot dry rainless days, the countryside is still so green and shows no sign of drought.  Hopefully we’ll start getting rain again before things really start drying out.Image

On Wednesday morning, the whole family loaded up the station wagon and started driving north, to visit my brother and sister in New York.  We stopped for lunch just about an hour into the trip at spot where the road crossed over the Rappahannock River.  We parked along the side of the road, where a large convenient pullout vied in a battle of mixed messages with several prominent no parking signs.  I figured that if they had that many No Parking signs, there must have been something nice down there.  So we parked and followed a path down to a lovely sandy beach along the side of the river where we picnicked and splashed around before packing up and driving the rest of the way to the big city.  ImageAnd now I’m in New York, where I may try to do some more observaing, despite being in the midst of the greatest metropolitan area in the ol’ US of A.  We’ll see what the next few days have in store…

July 14-22 – it’s like a heat wave

Welcome back to the journal everyone.  Welcome back, me.  Wow I can’t believe it’s been over a week since I’ve been able to sit down and write.  Handful of major contributing factors– big indexing job that’s sucked up all of my free time, persistent internet outages at Twin Oaks, and our annual mid-July heat wave, which has been keeping me indoors.

Let’s talk about that last one for a while.  When I started this journal, I wanted to avoid cliche complaints about summer heat…it’s so hot…blah blah blah…poor me…blah blah blah…wretched humidity, etc.  But it must be said that old man summer, having spared us his wrath for all of June and half of July, has showed no mercy this past week.  Highs over 95 every day, with a “heat index factor” (whatever that means) of about 175 degrees, even the shortest outdoor walks leave you drenched with sweat.  Now, I can’t complain too terribly, as my indexing job means that I have had to spend long stretches of time each day in front of a computer, which I have conveniently set up in our  seeds business’ “cold room.”   The hardest times have been at night, when the temperature hovers in the 80’s and the humidity lies thickly like a damp blanket.

This past week has been the point when the mold and mildew begins to gain the upper hand on our efforts to control it.  Every indoor space at Twin Oaks, even my bedroom (and my pillow!), has been experiencing that familiar unpleasant aroma, the smell of mold and rot that is all-pervasive this time of year.  Which is odd, considering that, in terms of actual precipitation, it’s been the driest week of the year.  There have been storms in the area, and we’ve had several episodes with dark heavy skies and the rumbling of thunder in the distance, but none of them have passed overhead.  At most, we’ve had a couple of five-minute showers, but nothing to really soak the ground.  As a consequence, the pond has become bathwater warm, dark-green and soupy, not very appealing or refreshing.  The abundant mushrooms which were everywhere earlier this month have all dried up; the mycelium seems to be hunkering down under the leaf litter, waiting for a proper soaking before growing any additional mushrooms.

So, yeah, it’s been that sort of week.  I haven’t done any of my usual rambles in the woods, not much observating.  I did get out a little earlier in the week, so I have a few photos to share, most of these were taken last Sunday and Monday.

On Sunday, after dinner, I took the boys to Acorn community to visit a friend who had recently given birth.  The boys were only interested in the newborn for a few moments, and were much more interested in the trampoline.  A few minutes later, I went out to join them, and enjoy the relatively cool last moments of the afternoon.Image

Summer sunset at Acorn community..Image

On Monday afternoon, I took another trip down to the creek to play around in the rocks a little more, creating a little dipping spot for days when the pond is no longer a refreshing option.  I worked for a little while on the spot below, then realized that the area immediately upstream would actually be a much better location, so I shifted my energies.  Image

The banks of the creek were covered with delicate little red chanterelles, which have almost surely dried up and withered by now.Image

Here’s the spot immediately upstream, which being more open and accessible, I decided would make a better ‘dipping hole.’  As you can see here, I’ve been raking up the rocks in the stream bed into little piles.  The next step (which I did on Tuesday afternoon) involved shoveling them into a bucket, and making a tiny rock dam at the bottom edge.  Ultimately, I’m hoping to create a spot, probably no more than knee-deep, with a smooth gravel bottom, that is a cool comfortable place to hang out during the sort of unbearable summer weather we’ve been having lately.  Mostly, I’ve been too crazy busy with this index to get back down there, but I hope to do a bit more work (and take a few more pics) later this month. Image

The only other picture I took was on Tuesday morning, the sun rising over ZK as I made my way to the tofu truck for my C’ville delivery.  I’ve been mostly AWOL from the journal since then, but as my work situation becomes less crazy, I’m hoping to get back into the swing of things.Image

July 13 – zip, slip, and flip

Man oh man just another gorgeous summer day in certral VA!  We’re expecting a return to regular summer heat soon, but I’m going to enjoy every one of these cool days for everything they’re worth.

Today, I drove a vanload of Twin Oakers (kids, parents, and friends) to an old soapstone quarry south of Charlottesville for a “zip, slip, and flip” party, and a fantastic time was had by all.  I guess it would have been all-right even if it was 100 degrees, since we spent most of the afternoon in the water, but I’ll never complain about a day in July that’s overcast and tops out in the low 80’s.

Some images/obervations from the party:

first off, the guy who was throwing the party was living in some amazingly productive chanterelle woods, and didn’t even know it.  He had people parking right in the middle of a patch; many had been smashed flat by cars– the ones below narrowly avoided a similar inglorious fate.Image

The guy throwing the party was an architect, and he had built a tiny house made entirely out of glass at the top of the cliff overlooking the quarry.  Here’s the view from his “window.”Image

As we walked down the path to the swimming area, we passed chanterelles by the hundred clustered along the path.  The photo below is one of about four clusters that you pass on a walk of maybe 200 yards.Image

The party featured two aquatic amenities– a zip line (more on that below) and a water slide.  And I can tell you, this slide was every bit as fun as it looks.  Yee-haw!Image

One side of the metal zip line was attached to a tree about halfway up the cliff, and the other side was attached to a tree on the other side of the quarry.  You could choose between handles and a seat, and ride all the way across if you wanted, although most people took the zip line about halfway then plunged into the water.Image

Look it’s me on the zip line!Image

My 4-year old son was determined to get in on the zipline action.  Some people might think he’s too young for this sort of activity; those people don’t know Sami, who’s about the most fearless 4-year old I’ve ever met.Image

Once his younger brother had given it a go, my older boy Zadek was right behind.  The rock in the background is soapstone, which has been mined from this area since the 1700s, and is much valued for carving.  This part of Virginia is riddled with old soapstone quarries, most of them filled with water now, and the property was filled with soapstone sculpture.   You can also see part of the glass house at the top of the cliff.Image

Later in the afternoon, I heard rumor of another smaller quarry just down the hill.  I went exploring and came across this sight.  Such a beautiful spot!  I had to try jumping off of the ledge back there, which was super fun, but extremely difficult to get to.  You either had to climb up the side, through bramble and crumbly gravel, or lower yourself down from the top with a rope (which I did)– there was no easy way to get to the ledge, but it made it even more awesome once you were up there.   Such a fun day!Image

July 12 – summer in Virginia?

I had a hard time falling asleep last night, various life stresses running through my mind.  Laying awake, listening to the rain on the leaves outside as it slowly, steadily increased from a light patter to a steady pounding, distant thunder coming closer– not the usual charging stormclouds accompanied by a wall of rain and wind crashing through, but a slow patient advance.  Around 3 in the morning, several lightning bolts slammed down close to the house, with a tremendous crash that awoke the whole family.  It was still raining a few hours later when I had to get up to go let the chickens out.  A couple photos of my bleary early AM walk through the rain…

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The cows seem quite happy in this weather.  I think they (like me) vastly prefer it to blazing sunshine and clouds of bugs.

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Just another fantastically green day here in central Virginia.

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I’ve been coming to terms with the idea that this summer, for the first year of my life, I’m not going to make it up to my childhood home in Maine.  The idea of spending more of the summer right here at Twin Oaks has partly been shaped by this journal, but it has definitely helped that I really haven’t suffered from the heat yet this year.  Today was almost absurdly pleasant– overcast and in the high 70’s most of the day.  If it was only like this every day in Virginia, I’d never feel like I had to leave during the summer.

On my afternoon walk down to collect eggs, passing the old chicken yard which has grown back into a thicket of chickory.  Their pretty blue flowers were out in great masses today, individually the plants don’t look like much, but a solid quarter-acre of them is quite impressive!

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We’ve all heard of “Endless Summer,” but I think I prefer endless spring.

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July 10 – 11 – rain, and what the rain brings

And, just like that, we’re back to the relatively cool, wet weather we’ve been enjoying for so much of the spring and summer so far.  On Wednesday afternoon, while I was working on a recording project, a storm rolled in from the west, with an impressive display of lightning and thunder.  Although that storm didn’t bring much rain, it was the beginning of the most recent climactic turn; it rained off and on all last night, and was still coming down when I woke up this morning.

Which was a bit unfortunate, as I had for several weeks been planning on spending the day at White Oak Canyon, one of the most impressive bits of Shenandoah NP, and the location of my absolute favorite swimmin’ hole in Virginia.  If ever I was looking forward to a hot sunny day, this was going to be the one.  But it wasn’t to be, and I wound up spending the day at home, gardening in the drizzly morning, and hanging out with the boys during the cloudy afternoon while they drew comics and I thought about mushrooms.

For it was indeed absolutely prime mushroom weather– overcast and humid, the ground saturated from all the recent rains.  Once I made sure the kids were settled and entertaining themselves, I set out to visit some of the nearby chanterelle sites, and quickly filled a basket– they were popping up all over the place today (I didn’t take any photos, as I figured you’ve mostly seen enough chanterelles).  Not far from Nashoba, I did encounter this large polypore, which I believe is another hen of the woods (or Matsutake) .  I harvested the tender outer tips, and I’m looking forward to trying some out when I get a chance tomorrow morning.Image

Later in the afternoon, I drove the boys to town to run an errand.  These days, I can’t help myself from continually scanning the side of the road for edible mushrooms, there are just so many of them growing everywhere.  Mostly I don’t stop, but this particular patch of chanterelles was just too tempting to pass up– my son Sami was interested too, and wanted to come out and help me harvest them.Image

Yet another giant patch of chanterelles, on the side of the road just a couple of miles further up.Image

Later in the afternoon, I worked out a childcare trade which gave me a bit of free time to do a bit more exploring and gathering.  I set out under cloudy skies, with a continuous rumble of distant thunder.  It seemed like there were storms all around Twin Oaks, but all afternoon, we never got more than a drizzle.Image

(which was in fact the case– I checked the weather map after I got back, and saw that although it didn’t rain much here today, other nearby parts of central Virginia got 2, 3, and as much as 6 or 7 inches of rain this afternoon.  Check out this map, Twin Oaks is about halfway between the + symbol for the town of Louisa and the symbol for highway 64, in the grey ‘rain free’ area)

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but back to the hike– as expected, I encountered an amazing quantity and variety of mushroom, edible and otherwise.  I remember that as I was planning this journal, I wanted to be sure to make note of the appearance of non-edible mushrooms, and not just focus on the ones I can eat.  Although I’ve tried to stick with that, this time of year, there are just too many species, too much diversity to keep track of what is what.  There’s just so much growing out there!  There’s a species of coral mushroom (white coral?) which is growing all over the woods, sometimes in great abundance…Image

…there are weird tan boletes that instantly stain dark blue when cut open.Image

…there are indigo milk caps that emit a dark blue ink when cut or picked….Image

…there’s a rubbery-textured hollow mushroom that feels almost like a morel…Image

..there are inedible peppery milk caps growing everywhere, huge mushrooms in crowded white clusters…Image

..and then there is this mushroom.  It’s another one of the milkcap mushrooms (Lactarius genus) , which are so abundant this time of year.  But it’s clearly a separate species, one I hadn’t noticed before today, and I found three of them this afternoon.  It’s brown, and kind of smooth-capped, and when cut, leaks abundant amounts of white fluid.  A small cut from my Swiss-army knife causes the mushroom to lose about 8 drops of fluid, much more than any milkcap I’ve seen before.Image

Here’s another one, which I’m starting to think is a voluminous latex milky (L. volemus) .  It’s one of the most widely collected edible milk cap mushrooms, one of the one’s I’ve been excited about finding and eating this year, but as usual I want to do some thorough research before I go about eating anything new.  Image

This was the third one I found– I tried taking a photo before I picked it, but it came out blurry.  I tried doing a google image search for the species, and many of the photos look quite a lot like what I’m finding.  I guess the next step is to find some more and do a spore print.  Image

this photo could be entitled “too late.”  Some tasty puffballs, long past their edible time under a mushy wilted oyster mushroom. Image

So, here’s the day’s haul– to start with, I found too many chanterelles to fit into one bowl–that’s probably 8 pounds of chanterelles right there.  I’ll be cooking lunch for the community tomorrow, so I think I’ll just go ahead and sautee them all up in a fry pan so everyone can have a taste.Image

And here are my non-chanterelle finds: at least 3 species of bolete on the left, hen-of-the-woods in the middle, two types of milk cap on the right, along with a piece of what I think might be an edible hedgehog mushroom.  Clearly I am going to have to some more research– culinary and otherwise.  I think that it the challenge of this summer and fall is going to be not picking more quantity and variety of edible/questionably edible mushrooms than I can research, identify, and cook up.Image

Even without all the chanterelles, that’s one full basket!Image

July 8-9 – random rambles and summer wildflowers

And summer continues, each day much like the last.  We’ve had some overnight sprinkles, but none of the drenching storms that were an everyday event just a couple of weeks ago.  Sunday was a trip to Gainesville (Virginia not Florida) where my Klezmer band played at a farm just outside the DC sprawl, but unfortunately I neglected to bring a functional camera.  Monday morning was a stint in the garden, weeding tiny broccoli and less tiny leeks, uncovering full-grown onions from a bed fully overgrown with weeds, marking straight rows in the just-tilled loam in preparation for the late corn planting.

Monday afternoon, in between various commitments, I managed to slip away for a while.  I wanted to get a better photo of the daylilly explosion down at the pond, as I was unsatisfied with the previous one.Image

Alongside the daylillies was this pink compound-type flower, which was a favorite of several species and many individual butterflies.Image

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Walking through the field, noting that the horse nettle is in flower.  This plant is for the most part a terrible pest, inedible to animals, unwelcome in hayfields (where it turns the hay prickly and painful to work with), and a bane to barefoot walkers.  If I could, I would eliminate it from our fields, but since I can’t, I will appreciate its delicate light purple flowers.Image

In the woods, the time of the puffball has begun.  I saw the first ones about a week ago, and day by day I’m seeing more and more of them, sometimes singly and sometimes in groups.  The boys especially like finding them and checking the middle to see if they’re white and edible, or if they’re turned gray or black.Image

Today, I was able to finish my tofu delivery before lunch, allowing a couple hours for further exploration in the woods park below Monticello.  It was an odd day, the sky cloudy but more blank and colorless than grey and ominous.  It wasn’t especially hot, but extremely humid and muggy, the air thick and unmoving.  I walked a couple of miles, and though I was mostly in the shade and not exerting myself too strenuously, I was instantly soaked with sweat.   It seemed like it had rained more recently in Charlottesville, as the ground was pretty wet today and the forest smelled like rain.  Here’s the little monument and the view right from the parking area.Image

Similar to the last time I hiked in this area, I had my most interesting fungal encounter just a few minutes from the car.  This odd orange bulbous protrusion was growing from the base of a pine tree right next to the path.Image

Here’s a close-up of it.  I’m not quite sure what it is!  It was soft and squishy, and bruised dark orange in the spot where I touched. it.  My closest guess is an immature Berkeley’s polypore, although that usually only grows from deciduous trees.  Just another one I have to try to ID when I have time to get on it.  Image

Oddly, that was the only mushroom of note I discovered all afternoon.  I’m not sure what in particular causes the dearth of “charismatic fungus” in this particular patch of mature deciduous forest, if it something in the soil or what, but it certainly is odd, especially in comparison with the relatively fungus-filled woods around Twin Oaks.  One thing that I did find, in great and glorious abundance, was Wineberry (Rubus phoenicolasius), a nonnative berry which was growing all over the place today.Image

Or, I should say, I’ve been watching this particular plant all year, noting its abundance in the Monticello woods, wondering what it was, and waiting for it to fruit to see if it’s any good.  And I have to say, it is quite good.  The berries are much like raspberries (in fact, another name for it is wine raspberry), but the flavor is milder, both less sweet and less tart.   On this trip, the berries were ripe and growing by the hundreds and thousands all along the trail, all through the woods.Image

This is what my hands looked like for most of the time I was out today.  I think I ate several hundred berries this afternoon.  By the time I got back to the truck, my stomach hurt from eating so many berries.Image

This is an interesting spot.  Last winter, in December, I encountered a chunk of dead tree covered with oyster mushrooms on this very spot.  I had to negotiate a couple of vines to get to them, but it wasn’t too difficult.  Today, it was impossible to even see the piece of stump for all the thick vegetation, such a contrast between the seasons here in Virginia.Image

The trail, as always in this area, was pleasant enough, but without finding any mushrooms, I found myself moving pretty fast, allowing my mind to drift as I cruised along the red clay path.Image

Mostly, as I hiked, I thought about the distribution of species within their range.  Clearly, there are a lot of plants and fungus that can grow anywhere in mid-Atlantic deciduous woods.  But that doesn’t mean that in any particular patch of deciduous forest you’re equally likely to find any or all of the species that could be growing there.  Is it a matter of microclimates, land use history, soil type, or just chance that causes particular species to be abundant in one bit of woods, and absent in a (at least superficially) similar bit of woods.  Fueling this train of thought was my observation of at least three species of wildflower that grew abundantly in patches here and there in the woods today, that I never see in the woods around Twin Oaks.  The first was this five-petaled light purple flower (ID unknown), which I saw first growing under a stand of pine close to the road, then again further back in some deciduous woods.Image

The second was a spike of orchidlike flowers on a leafless stem, which was similarly abundant in one small section of the forest, but I didn’t see them anywhere else (nor have I seen them in the woods anywhere else in Virginia).Image

Here’s a close-up.  It’s quite a pretty plant.Image

The third was a plant that greeted me as soon as I stepped out of the woods into one of the meadows scattered throughout the park.  It looks like some sort of tiger lily, although not one I’ve ever quite seen before.  There were many of these plants in the meadow, and the flowers were really quite stunning.Image

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Even the tightly twisted unopened buds of this flower were amazing-looking.Image

When I saw “meadow” on the map, I thought I might do some off-trail exploring, but what meadow actually means, this time of year, is a mass of waist-high greenery crawling with ticks and underlaid with a solid layer of poison ivy.  Not the sort of place you’d want to step off-trail.Image

Looking up at the mountain atop which Monticello sits, in the humid Virginia haze, another view that seems like it could be straight out of a tropical rainforest.

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In a corner of the meadow was a small stand of milkweeds, covered with flowers.  Although it only covered a few square feet, the patch of milkweed was swarming with butterflies and other insects, far more than the larger, more showy flowers.Image

As I watched and photographed the butterflies, I was startled to discover this odd bug.  It’s larger than any bee I’ve ever seen, but not quite large enough to be a hummingbird.  It looked to me not unlike a flying black and yellow crayfish.  I can’t say I’ve ever seen anything quite like it before.Image

Seriously, if anyone’s ever seen this bug before, I’d appreciate some info on what it is. Image

Did I mention the wineberries?  They were ridiculously abundant, and did I ever eat a lot!Image

Just before heading back to the truck, I passed a stand of thistle plants in full flower.  Like the horse nettle, the thistle, is a thoroughly unpleasant and nasty sort of plant that just happens to have a really cool looking flower.Image

Here’s a close up.  I hate stepping on these plants, but do appreciate their “bad-ass” aesthetic.Image

The last wildflower that I encountered in abundance was a patch of Queen Anne’s lace– I’ve been seeing plenty of it around Louisa county and central Virginia, but for some reason, it only was growing here in one spot, and there was a lot of it growing in that one spot.  Image

And those are today’s unsolved questions of the day– why was there so much Queen Anne’s lace here, and not in any other part of the meadow?  Why are there so many mushrooms in the relatively young forests of Twin Oaks and so few in the far older woods near Monticello?  Why is the understory in one particular acre of woods thick with a particular wildflower, which appears nowhere else along the hike?  I’ll probably never figure it out, but now it’s late and I’m going to bed.Image