It was all supposed to work out so perfectly. After a Wednesday taken up with various unpacking and childcare activities, catching up in this journal with the past few days, Thursday was going to be perfect. First day of the month, first full day home after a week away, it was going to be a primo day for exploring and observating. First, though, I had to take care of an unusual non-standard tofu delivery.
As I set out to load the truck early in the morning, the first sign I had that it was going to be a good day was this beautiful flush of oysters, of the white “angel’s wing” variety, just across the road from our dining hall. In fact, it was one of several flushes of this mushroom I saw throughout the day; I spotted a couple of them from the window of the tofu truck. I picked these, and some of the ones I saw on the side of the road, and gave them to the guy at the Hibachi Grill too cook up for lunch– yum!
Soon after I got to town and began delivering the tofu, disaster struck. During one of my first delivery stops, as I stepped awkwardly over a pile of crates in the back of the truck, reaching for a hard to reach stack, I felt the familiar sickening crunch in my lower back that meant that I had just lost a week of my life. The pain and stiffness grew throughout the rest of the day, and by the time i parked the truck in the afternoon, I was barely able to walk home. I spent the next several hours on my back slurping down ibuprofin, all thoughts of exploring and adventuring (or anything else fun or productive) out of my head.
After dinner, we had a good and satisfying thunderstorm, with loads of lightning and thunder and rain. We’d had some light showers over the past couple of days, but this was the first real downpour I think we’ve had in a few weeks. I was sufficiently numbed with painkillers that I was able to take a very slow walk around the back yard and through the closest bit of woods, knowing it might be my last chance to get outside for a few days. The first thing I noticed was our tomato plants, which over the course of the previous week had grown so large that three of the four of them have fallen over. I had noticed this yesterday, and planned on re-staking them today; clearly that’s not going to happen for a while.
The recent burst of ripe figs seems to have been something of an anomaly. I examined all of our trees pretty closely, and while I didn’t see any ripe ones, there are certainly a whole lot of small ones biding their time.
The “butterfly bush” (which I just learned is actually called butterfly bush) continues to be a favorite of the local microfauna.
After a circuit of the back yard, I tottered out into the woods for a very short walk. After heading all the way up to New York and back, I had a newfound appreciation for the beauty of the forest in my own back yard. Even after being up on the Appalachian Trail, I cant say I was more impressed with the woods anywhere I visited than with my own little bit of Central Virginia.
I passed several flushes of white oyster mushrooms, but no chanterelles or any of the other species that were so common when I left. It seems like each type of mushroom has its own time, or maybe its own perfect conditions, when it is fruiting abundantly, then it dries up (or rots) and clears out of the way for the next species.
In a part of the woods used as a logging yard, I saw lots of this invasive grass, which I’ve now learned is Japanese stiltgrass, and it is indeed an unwanted invasive exotic plant. This time of year, I’m starting to see it everywhere, forming dense mats through which nothing else can grow. I even thought about doing some hand weeding of it, but in my current state, I can’t imagine bending over and ripping grass out of the ground.
Before walking out, I had decided not to try to pick any of the mushrooms, to give my pore old back a break. But then, just before heading back inside, I came across this beautiful bi-color bolete, in perfect shape. What a specimen! I had to make an exception for this one– I must have made a ridiculous sight, painfully shuffling down to my knees, slicing off the mushroom, then staggering back to my feet, unable to bend at the waist more than an inch or so. I actually found a couple of these (so I thought), and harvested them both.
Just before heading back inside, I came across this flush of orange mushrooms, which I believe to be the dreaded “Jack-O-Lantern” (O. Olearius) This mushroom, which can be confused with a chanterelle by those not paying enough attention, is one of the most common culprits in mushroom poisoning. A few years ago, several folks I know at Acorn community ate a bunch of them, thinking they were chanterelles. Apparently, they even taste good! But, although they aren’t deadly poisonous, they will result in several days of intense cramps and gastronomic distress. I’ve read that they won’t kill you, but they might make you wish you were dead. As important as it is to identify the tasty edibles, it’s equally important to identify the “look-alikes,” so you don’t pick and eat them by accident.
By the time I went indoors, it was just a few minutes before the sun was going to set, and the clouds were beautiful and bizzare. I called the boys out to have a look, and the older one noted that they resembled the clouds that kids draw. He’s got a point there.
When I went inside, I examined more closely the two mushrooms I picked. The one on the right was indeed a bi-color bolete, a perfect specimen of one of the most tasty mushrooms out there. However, as I examined them, I remembered that my guidebook warns “B. sensiblis, reportedly poisonous, has a brick red cap and stains blue instantly. ” Hmmmm…. I cut them both in half, and indeed the one on the left, with a brick red cap, stained blue instantly. A reminder, in case I ever needed one, that just because you find two similar-looking mushrooms growing next to one another at the same time, you can’t necessarily assume they are the same species, and it’s important to individually identify anything that you intend to eat.
And now, it’s Friday evening, and I’m ling in my bed at the end of one of the most depressing days I can remember. So far today, it’s been nothing but weakness and discomfort– even a short walk through the back yard like I did yesterday seems an impossibility. Hopefully things will improve over the next couple of days, but I’m afraid that this journal will be in limbo for a day or two, at least until my back recovers sufficiently to step outside. So that’s that for now, and hopefully I’ll be back to observatin’ and journalin’ as soon as my unreliable body allows.