Monthly Archives: September 2013

September 24 – here comes the fall

The past few days have continued on much like the rest of September– after a damp Saturday, maybe about an inch of rain all in all, it’s back to dry sunny warm days and cool nights.  Looking at the extended forecast, it doesn’t look like much will change for the next ten days.  Foggy every morning, sunny every afternoon, low of 43-46 every evening, high of 73-76 every afternoon, no chance of rain on any of the days.  Consistent and pleasant, if a bit dull, and a bit disappointing for someone who is hoping to find fall mushrooms.

Going back to Sunday morning, a beautiful morning indeed.  The day dawned bright and sunny, the world twinkling and scrubbed clean by a day of rain.  The first sight I saw was the overgrown asparagus in our back yard covered with moisture from the evening, glowing in the early morning sunlight.Image

During the night, spiders had woven enormous webs all over the back yard, and they were also festooned with dew, shining in the bright sunlight.Image

Was there an unusual number of spider webs, or is it always like this and it’s the combination of overnight rain and morning sun that’s making them all look so dramatic this particular morning?Image


It was quite uncanny…Image

There were masses of what looked to be spider silk on the ground, although I’m not quite sure what they were.  The sunlight reflecting off of all the trapped moisture almost gave it a prism/rainbow effect, quite pretty.Image

Early in the morning, I was going to get some milk, and I came across this odd pinkish/orange fungal-looking protuberance on a live tree.  I’ll keep an eye on it over the next few days and see what it grows into.Image

The rest of Sunday was dry and sunny; whatever system had dropped its rain on us was fully over.  The next day, I took a couple of walks in the woods, one with my son and one alone, to see if the combination of a day of rain followed by a day of sun would bring up more mushrooms.  For the most part, it was a pretty disappointing walk; even with an inch of rain on Saturday, there wasn’t much coming up.  I saw this patch of young mushrooms just off of my backyard, but once I got further into the woods, there wasn’t a whole lot to see.Image

All of the dry sunshine has been good for the fig trees, and we’re continuing to get several ripe ones each day.  Unlike last year, there is no one time when they all ripen at once, no one day where you can stuff yourselves with figs until you can’t eat any more.  Instead, each day we’re going out and picking a small handful of ripe ones.  There are lots of people snacking on the figs; even with five or six trees in the yard, there never seems to be enough.Image

I explored the morningstar back yard, thinking that Saturday’s rain might have brought up even more honey mushrooms.  It seemed like the ones that came up a few days earlier were the only ones there, and there weren’t any fresh new ones.  I was able to pick a small basket full of edibles in good shape, but most of the ones I found looked like this– rotten, or smushed, or both rotten and smushed.Image

Here’s an interesting find.  I just started seeing these plants, which look like indian pipe, but are bright pink, unlike the pale white plants I’m used to seeing.  I remember seeing them last fall as well, I’m not sure if the’re just a pink variety of Monotropa uniflora, or whether they’re actually a different species.Image

here’s a close-up.  Quite pretty.Image

Later in the afternoon, I had some time to myself, and I took a bit of a stroll on my own.  The woods didn’t seem to have much new to share with me, it was nice to stretch my legs and get some fresh air after all of the indexing I have been doing, but for the most part the quite forest just seemed to be the same as it’s been for the past month.  I had been hoping that the rain would have pushed up some new edible mushrooms, but despite the ground still being pretty damp, this single bolete was the only large fungus that I saw on the walk.  I will have some more free time this Thursday, and I will go for another stroll on that day to see what’s new.Image


September 21 – Autumnal Equinox

Autumn equinox, officially the end of the summer and beginning of fall.  Our year has turned three-quarters of the way ’round, and we’re entering the ‘dark months,’ when the night surpasses the day in length.  The sunsets have been getting earlier for three months now, the sunrises later.  But at this time of year, the rate of change, the loss of daylight with each passing 24 hours, is at its greatest, and it seems as though each day is noticeably shorter than the past.  Already, the sun is setting immediately after we finish dinner, the long post-dinner twilight pond-swimming sessions are in the past, and the wheel of the seasons keeps rolling.

Saturday started out cloudy but dry, like most days in the past month.  But there was rain forecast, and there certainly seemed to be rain in the air.  Even through this dry spell, the ground has been coated with dew every morning, wet enough to soak your socks and shoes should you be so foolish as to walk through the early morning grass.  Although it hadn’t rained in weeks, there was still enough accumulated moisture on this metal fence to create some early morning droplets. Image

As I drove into Louisa to do Saturday morning chores for the community, I was surprised to discover that several trees have already started changing color in earnest–seems like autumn hasn’t just come to the high country of West Virginia, but is starting to take hold here in Louisa County as well.Image

At lunch, someone started asking me about all of the mushrooms in the Morningstar yard.  I was confused, as I hadn’t seen any, but right after lunch, I went to check them out, and sure enough the honey mushrooms have begun to explode all through the grassy yard.  Last year, I picked hundreds and hundreds of mushrooms from the same two-acre stand, where several large old trees had been cut about 4 years back to make room for an orchard and solar clearing.  I’m guessing these honey mushrooms are feasting on the enormous root system decomposing beneath the grassy lawn. Image

There were lots and lots of honey mushrooms, many of them freshly grown and in quite good shape.Image

I picked a bunch and cooked ’em up for a post-lunch snack.  I’ll be back on Sunday afternoon to pick a bunch more for community dinner.Image

As the afternoon progressed, the cloud cover grew thicker and darker, and soon enough we were enjoying a steady light rain, which lasted all afternoon and evening.  I was thankful for the rain, and took advantage of a lull in my relentless indexing schedule to take a stroll around the damp community.  Passing by our summer flower gardens, it seems that this flowerbed is weathering the change of seasons quite well.Image

This flowerbed, at the entrance to the driveway of the community, also looked quite bright and cheerful.Image

I assumed that a couple hours of rain wouldn’t be enough to push up many mushrooms (not yet, I’m guessing that Sunday or Monday will make for some fruitful picking), but I wanted to continue my Reishi tincture project, so I explored some spots in the woods “across the road,” where I’d seen Reishi mushrooms earlier this year.  And I found them, right where I thought they’d be.  This one below was growing on a stump with several bug-filled, partially decayed specimens–I probably should have done the harvesting about a month ago.Image

And this was my most productive stump– five usable individuals from the same stump!Image

This is what they look like when they first emerge.  I’m not sure if this one will grow larger this fall, or if it was just late in emerging and this is as big as it will get this year.  I left it, and will check on it again in a month or so.Image

I still had an hour before dinner, so I took a delightful stroll in the wet woods, thoroughly enjoying the long-awaited rain.  It seems like the deep woods are always the last to show changes in the season; the forest trees are the last to grow new leaves in the spring, and the last to change their leaves in the fall.  It certainly looked nice and green in the forest today.Image

Because it had been so dry lately, and because I was wearing long pants and proper shoes, I was able to explore the flat swampy bit of the forest close to the river.  Earlier this year, it had been a swampy thicket of poison ivy, boggy and buggy.  I found the going much easier this afternoon.Image

At the base of a large oak, I saw and smelled an enormous disgusting mass of rotting Jack-O-Lantern mushrooms.  These poisonous mushrooms are sometimes mistaken for chanterelles by the unwary, but I can’t imagine anyone mistakenly eating them when they look like this. Image

I walked through the woods to the edge of one of the cowfields, then walked through a part of the field that was always too boggy to cross when I had explored there before, to the edge of a fenced off part of the field that is being slowly reclaimed by nature.  Several years back, the state offered us a tax break if we allowed some of the lower-lying areas of our cow pasture to return to a natural state as a riparian conservation buffer.  State workers came in to fence it off and plant some trees (most of which didn’t make it).  And now the riparian area is a thicket of wildflowers and shrubs, surrounded by the close-cropped grass of the cow field.Image

Here’s another picture of the riparian area, thick with end-of-summer wildflowers.Image

And in this picture, you can see the contrast between the “conservation” zone and the “feed grass to the cows” zone.Image

As I walked through the woods back to my house, I came across a surprising lot of oyster mushrooms that had recently gone by.  If I had discovered this dead standing tree a week earlier, I would have quite a haul of oysters!Image

In a remote corner where the cow fields and forest came together, I saw a waste pile where a large blown-over tree had been stripped of its branches in order to drag the main trunk to the woodyard to be turned into firewood.  The pile of branches were covered in oyster mushrooms; many of them were old and withered, but I found enough young fresh ones to make for a tasty treat.Image


I also came across this enormous amanita, one of the largest I’ve ever seen around here.  I tried to take some photos to show just how large this particular individual was, but I don’t know if they do them justice.  The top of this mushroom was about the diameter of a dinner plate, and the stem was thicker than my thumb.Image


As I tramped through the rain at the edge of the field, our cows watched my every move, curious as to why a human would be out there with them in the rain.  The cows seem much happier in the cool and damp; they are far better equipped to handle cold and/or wet than hot and buggy.Image

As I walked up the driveway towards home, I took a couple more photos of the community as it appears from the driveway on a damp equinox day, the final photos of the summer. Image


And that wraps up Summer of 2013.  Next stop…fall!

September 20 – Friday dry day

Recently, I saw a page from the Washington Post weather report that described the past week as having had no weather at all, which seems an adequate description of September so far.  It hasn’t been especially hot or cold, mostly cool at night and warm during the day, mostly pleasant without being anything remarkable or exceptional.  Above all, it’s been dry.  Aside from a single five-minute storm on one day, and an hour or so of half-hearted drizzle on another, there’s been almost no rain for a month.  As you can see below, the fields and trees are still looking mostly green, but there’s definitely a dustiness over everything.Image

Over the past week, I still haven’t had time to do much focused exploration in the woods, but I’ve been able to keep my camera on me as I’ve gone to and fro about the community.  This time of year feels like a period of suspended animation, nothing really seems to be growing or changing much.  The annual plants are beginning to wither and brown as the shortening days and lack of rain take their toll, but the first frost is still a while off.  The corn plants in the garden have begun to turn brown as well, although we are getting more corn this month then in any time this year.  In general, that’s been the case, with our crops yielding up more and more food as the plants themselves begin to wither and die.Image

Some other things I’ve come across, in no particular order:  on Thursday, as I was making my way along a path, I looked down and saw this green pine cone stripped of its…what do you call the parts of a pine cone anyways?  Pine scales?  Cone bits?  It was probably done by hungry squirrels, to get at something tasty in the middle, I’m guessing.Image

While the leaves are mostly still green, here and there we’re starting to see the first signs of autumn colors.  Mostly in the form of dead brown leaves, but occasionally I’ll come across flashes of red and yellow.Image

Friday morning, as I was letting the chickens out into their pasture, I took this photo of our lower fields and pastures, retaining the look of summer despite the chill in the air.Image

Turning the other way, I shot this view of the sun trying to break out of the early morning clouds.  Most of our mornings have been cloudy, and most of our afternoons have been sunny.  It’s been surprisingly repetitive and consistent, the same weather day after day ever since last Thursday when the heat broke.Image

As most of the other spring and summer wildflowers have faded, the goldenrod has taken over all along the sides of roads and fields.  It is by far the most abundant wildflower, always a bittersweet flower for me.  When I was a kid it signaled the end of summer fun and the return to school– even now as an adult who generally prefers fall to summer, the sight of goldenrod still gives me a feeling of faint subtle subconscious dread, even though I consciously know that I’ll most likely never have to go back to school.Image

Close-up of goldenrod, quite pretty when you look closer.Image

As we haven’t had a proper rain in weeks, there aren’t many mushrooms out there–walking through the woods, I’ve seen close to zero new fungal growth, less than I was seeing in February– and this is mid-September, supposedly one of the best times of year to gather mushrooms!  A couple of days ago, I was talking to a friend about making Reishi tincture; from the liquor store in town, I bought some 100-proof vodka (which is supposedly the best for making tinctures), and poured it through a charcoal filter several times.  Then I went out to hunt Reishi, which take an entire year to grow, so are less affected by seasonal drought.  I was able to find a number of ones quite close to my house.  Their colors are much more muted than earlier this year when they were bright and shiny, but they are still attractive mushrooms.Image

Here’s another stump with a bright young one and an older one, dull and beginning to fall apart.  I harvested the younger one and left the older to spread its spores and ensure the future spread of this fascinating species.Image

This one wasn’t too big from side to side, but it was nice and thick.  It went into the basket as well.Image

When I got home after about half an hour of looking, here’s what I had gathered.  Enough to start my tincture, I suppose.Image

With a sharp cleaver, I cut them into bits, and put them in a jar with the filtered vodka.  I liked the way the chopped-up bits of mushrooms looked, so I took a picture.Image

The mixture began to turn brown almost immediately.  I’m planning on leaving it in a dark, cool place for a couple of months, adding additional mushrooms as I find them.  Then I’ll strain it and decant it into small jars, where I will use a dropper to administer myself the bitter, potent essence this winter when folks around me all start getting sick.  I’m curious to see what difference, if any, it makes.

September 16 – summer’s end

Just a moment ago, I was talking with my partner Mala, discussing how difficult it is to regain momentum on a project once it’s been lost.  It’s been over a week since I’ve sat down to update this journal; some days I feel like I could just call it quits, that maybe I’ve written as much as I have to write.  But I don’t think I’m quite there yet, life is still going on all around, and I think I have to re-commit to seeing this through until the end of the year.

This past week has definitely had an end of summer feel to it.  As recently as last Thursday the weather was as hot and muggy as anything we experienced in mid-summer.  It’s been over a month since we’ve had a good drenching rain, and it’s finally starting to show up in the vegetation, or maybe all the plants are just looking kind of beat because it’s the end of the season.  Here’s a shot that I took just a couple of days ago, you can see that the overall aspect of the trees is still quite green, although it’s more of the muted darker greens of late summer.Image

For the most part, I haven’t been in the woods much.  Partly I can blame it on work; yet another index, blah blah blah.  But I could make time if I really had to.  Mostly, it’s been the heat and dryness that’s dampened some of my enthusiasm for exploring.  I’ve been a bit disappointed that this drought has overlapped with what should be one of the best times of year for finding mushrooms.  For the most part, as I’ve walked around the community, I haven’t seen much new growth, although there certainly has been some here and there.  Like these Grisettes…Image

..or this impressive flush of oysters I found on one of my most reliable logs, in the woods just behind our dining hall.  So there have been a few ok finds, but I’m definitely looking forward to getting a proper soaking and seeing what comes up.Image

This past Thursday, September 12th, was the day the season broke.  It was the last of the really hot dry days, with thunderstorms threatening all afternoon.  Finally, right around dinnertime, we got about 5 minutes of wind and heavy rain, then another 15 minutes of drizzle.  Just enough to dampen the dry ground, but in a matter of minutes the temperature dropped about 20 degrees.  That day felt very much like summer.  Every day since has felt very much like autumn.  Since Thursday night, I’ve been sleeping every night with the window closed, I brought a comforter to the bed, and have been using it!

All summer, some of us had been planning a return visit to the quarry south of C’ville, for some swimming and zip-line adventures.  After a couple of false starts, we finally made it happen last Saturday, just a couple of days after the end of swimming season.  It was a clear sunny day, windy and cool, and wasn’t about to spend the day at that quarry without swimming, although I must admit we had to force things a bit.  The quarry was every bit as lovely as it was earlier in the summer:Image

When I was there earlier, there were dozens of people in and out of the water, and most of the quarry fish were well out of sight.  On this peaceful afternoon, with just a few of us there, the fish were numerous and curious.  Image

I tossed some bits of hamburger bun to the fish, and they went crazy for it!Image

There were several enormous koi carp deep in the pool.  They came close to the surface when I was feeding the fish, but never came all the way up.  It made me think that maybe there might be some even larger ones that just stay way down at the bottom!Image

took a short walk through the woods to the lower quarry, which is even more visually striking, but it was too cool a day to jump in.Image

I was hoping to find some mushrooms, but they were all dried up and shrivelled.  I did come across this very impressive purple wildflower growing right on the edge of the trail.Image

Here’s a closeup of the same flower.  Pretty!Image

And on the way back, I came across several of these mottled red leaves, a sure sign that autumn is right around the corner. Image

Despite the chilly air temperatures, we all took advantage of the zip line–wicked fun!  The water actually wasn’t all that cold, but it was pretty nippy when you stepped out, especially if the wind was blowing.Image

The owner of the quarry is an architect, who is designing a building for a nearby community (which is how we know him).  The wood and glass building at the top of the cliff is his office, or his “un-cubicle” as he calls it.  It’s really the most lovely office you could possibly imagine, with floor-to-ceiling windows and a view out over the quarry.  And if even that is too much indoors, he can take a few steps out of his door to this little sitting area.  Not bad…Image

September 8 – spore printin’

The few days since we got back from Louisville have been as hot and dry as any this year– we were actually having a bit of a late summer heat wave/drought!  We got a decent evening rainstorm last night which should help out, maybe push up a few more mushrooms, but up until then, things were starting to look a bit parched.

On Sunday morning, I went for a mushroom walk with my son Sami.  Our goal was to find as many different kinds as possible–whether they were edible or not– to find ones which were relatively young and in good shape and lay them out on black construction paper to make spore prints.  Since it had been so hot and dry, we weren’t able to find a whole lot of young fresh mushrooms, but here’s what we were able to come up with after 20 minutes of wandering in the woods.Image

Later in the morning, I drove to town to pick up some things for dinner.  All the way to Louisa, the road was lined with countless thousands of these bright yellow wildflowers.  There were so many that in places it looked like continuous stripes of yellow along both sides of the road.Image

Lots and lots of ’em!Image

Back at Twin Oaks, I pulled over to get a closeup of the flowers, to aid in identification.Image

After doing a bit of research, I’m thinking that what we’ve got here is Jerusalem Artichoke, which in addition to being incredibly abundant, apparently also has an edible root.  Maybe I’ll try digging some up this afternoon to try it out.Image

I had been planning on checking out the spore prints in the evening, but at the last second I was given a free pass to a local music festival, so that’s where I went instead.   While I was there, it rained pretty hard at Twin Oaks (although fortunately not at the festival), and I was pleased to come home to find the ground damp and the air filled with sweet fresh post-rainstorm smell.

This morning, I went to check out the prints, only to find that Sami didn’t want to wait, and had taken all the mushrooms off the night before, so they got a bit messed up (nonetheless, I appreciate his 4-year old enthusiasm).  Here’s what the page looked like this morning.Image

And here’s a close-up of one of the better-preserved prints:Image

The previous morning, we had encountered a flush of oysters and decided to leave them to grow overnight rather than pick them when we didn’t have time to cook them.  This morning, I went out to harvest them for breakfast.  Lovely oyster mushrooms!


On my way, I passed the polypores growing out of the stump.  I had suspected that they might be beefsteak polypores, and as they have grown, it indeed appears that’s what they are. Image

I harvested the smaller one on the right, and peeled off the slimy skin on the underneath, revealing this cool shell-like pattern.  This specimen was young, fresh, and quite good even without being cooked.  Altogether it made a tasty addition to a lovely breakfast of toast, fried oyster mushrooms, and a big orange tomato plucked from a plant right outside our back door!Image

September 5-6 – home again, again

We arrived back at Twin Oaks on Wednesday night.  Over the past few days, in between unpacking, getting back into the work scene, and spending time with some old friends who are visiting the community, I’ve had a bit of time here and there to get out and do some obervating.  Here’s some of what I’ve seen, in no particular order:

In the West Virginia Allegheny highlands, summer had already begun to turn into fall, with touches of yellow and orange in the trees.  Back here in central Virginia, it is still very much summer, and aside from the odd withered leaf here and there, the trees are still quite green.  On my first morning back, I took this shot of the thriving rows of corn and sweet potato in our garden, against a decidedly summer-y background. Image

That first Thursday, like all the days since, was sunny and dry, not at all humid, and pleasantly warm.  In a way, it’s ideal weather, just hot enough to splash around in the pond, and only uncomfortable if you’re in direct sun during the middle of the day.  At night, it’s been cool enough that I’ve slept with the windows closed and, just last night, I even broke out a comforter to drape over the bed!  But, back to Thursday afternoon….

For some reason, at Twin Oaks, you tend to see lots of snakes, mostly black snakes and copperheads, in the late spring/early summer– May and June– and not so many the rest of the year.  This year was no different, so it was a bit of a pleasant surprise to come across this little green guy slithering across the path right in the middle of the Twin Oaks courtyard. Image

Here’s a close-up.  Such a handsome fellow!Image

I called the boys over to check out the snake, and they were suitably impressed.  I like the idea of raising country kids who aren’t fearful of snakes/bugs/bats/etc., and aren’t filled with the desire to shoot them on sight, but basically appreciative and empathetic to the various critters who share our home.Image

Thursday wound up being a very pond-y afternoon, with most of the community kids– and many of the parents– enjoying a long afternoon jumping in in the water.  I didn’t take any photos while I was down there (too many nekkid folks), but got this shot as I was heading back up the hill, which captures well the pleasures of late summer.Image

Friday morning, and I was up very early in the morning to let out the chickens.  The early morning light was quite lovely, as this photo attests.  Every year, one of our older members grows a banana tree, which gets larger and more impressive all through the spring and summer.  Then, every year before it can actually set fruit, it gets killed by frost sometime in October.  At this time of year, it gives a cool tropical look to our Virginia farm.Image

The fig trees in our backyard started to produce copious amounts of ripe figs while I was off in Louisville.  I was hoping to come home to a crazy overload of figs, but it seems like voracious packs of kids and other communards have been keeping up with the ripening, watching the trees closely, and picking each fruit as it turns big and purple.  It seems like this year the fig season won’t come to a glorious climax, as it has in the past; rather we’ll just keep on eating them as they come ripe, and everyone will get some.Image

Next to our fig trees is the kiwi arbor, which is also laden with fruit.  I’ve been keeping an eye on the kiwi fruits, ready to pounce as soon as they ripen, which is just now beginning to happen.  Here are some beautiful little kiwis, right on the edge of edibility:


…and here is one which was ripe enough to eat.  Just this morning, I found two of them, so it looks like kiwi season is going to officially begin any day now.


On Friday afternoon, and again this morning, I was able to take a couple short walks through the woods to see how things have progressed in the ol’ fungal kingdom.  It seems like it hasn’t rained much if at all while I was gone, and the forest floor is dry and crunchy.  Although there seems to be a little bit of new mushroom growth, mostly I am seeing the same ‘shrooms that were around a week ago, but kind of dried out and looking the worse for wear:


I didn’t see any fresh, new chanterelles, but did see many of these little red ones, looking as though they’ve seen better days.


And, in several places in the woods, I saw (and smelled!) nasty black mushy piles of rot where large numbers of mushrooms had grown, died, and decomposed.  I’m guessing it all happened while I was gone, as it seems like I would have noticed the clumps of mushrooms when they were growing.  This is just one photo– I saw at least five clumps like this just in the woods immediately beyond my yard.Image

As far as fresh new fungal growth, I encountered many large boletes, which were for the most part foul-smelling and did not seem likely to be edible…


Also, this beautiful red aminita growing out of its volva like a baby bird hatching from an egg– also inedible but quite pretty:


..some sort of tongue-like fungal growth sprouting from one of the tree stumps that I innoculated with oyster spawn earlier this year.  I’m not sure what this is, but I’ll be keeping en eye on it as it grows…


…and a choice clump of what I’m almost entirely sure is Amanita rubescens (the Blusher mushroom) .  This is one of the few edible Amanitas, and I’ve been seeing them all over the community this spring and summer.  I’ve been avoiding eating them, due to being extremely wary of eating any form of Amanita, but the more I read about this species, the more sure I am about my identification, and they are considered quite a choice edible.Image

So I went ahead and harvested a couple of the best-looking caps.  I’m going to make a spore print so as to help me be 100% certain of my identification, then when I’m satisfied I know exactly what I have, I’m going to try cooking ’em up.  Wish me luck!


Outside of the many types of mushroom I encountered, I’m definitely noticing that the vegetation on the trees is starting to look pretty beat-up.  Most of the leaves, which came out in mid-late April, have done their photosynthetic job, and it’s increasingly looking like the the trees are ready to let them go.  From the looks of this tree (and many like it), it won’t be long before we start getting some fall colors here in central Virginia. Image

but for now, I’ll sign off with this purty photo of the pond, clear, cool and refreshing on a picture perfect early September day… Image

September 3-4 – driving home

I did something kind of foolish on this most recent trip to Louisville– I brought my camera along, but neglected to bring the spare battery or my battery charger, so almost immediately after arriving at my friend’s place in the city, the battery crapped out.  So, no pictures of my own for the rest of the trip, although I was able to go online and steal a few photos, which give a pretty good idea of what I saw over the past few days.

My weekend in Louisville was about reuniting with old, dear friends from college, and since that was my priority, I didn’t do much in the way of nature observation.  A few things I did notice– first, that it was quite hot in Kentucky, well over 90 degrees for the first few days I was there, hotter than anything we’ve experienced in Virginia this summer.  And, to start with, it was pretty dry as well, as the yellow, parched look of the vegetation could attest.  By my second day there, we started getting some incredible afternoon and evening thunderstorms, with lightning crashing down all around, torrential rain, and branches blown from trees.  One of my good friends, who had traveled all the way from Oakland for the trip, was delighted to get to experience some real southern summer storms.  Although the first storm was the most dramatic, we got some rain on all the rest of the days, and by the time I started home with my family, the temperatures had cooled off considerably and the ground was much soggier.

We took off on Tuesday morning, headed back to Virginia.  The first day we mostly stuck to the highway and tried to cover as much distance as possible, so that we could spend Wednesday cruising around and enjoying ourselves.  We ended our day in the Monangahela National Forest, in the central east part of West Virginia, close to the town of Richwood, at the Summit Lake campground, chosen purely on the basis of its name.  And Summit Lake was indeed a delightful destination– this site has loads of pictures of the lake, mostly later in the fall when the leaves are really changing colors.  On the day we were there, one day after the Labor Day crowds had departed, and we had the lake nearly to ourselves.  There was just the slightest hint of fall colors to the forest, and it was just cool enough to put on long sleeves as I cooked our dinner out on the boat dock.  For dessert, we found several autumn olive bushes, laden with ripe fruit.  While they aren’t as tasty as blueberries or mulberries or the like, they still made a nice fresh treat.  The lake in late afternoon looked much like this photo, although the fall colors weren’t nearly so far advanced:


That night, we tented out in the campground near the lake.  It’s unfortunate that so many national forest campgrounds have hard gravel pads to pitch tents on, which really aren’t comfortable at all if you’re actually sleeping in a tent.  We were able to find a soft grassy area by the edge of our site that wasn’t too steeply sloped, and everyone slept reasonably well.  In the morning, our first stop as we headed on down the road was the Falls of Hills Creek scenic wayside, which is a really delightful stop, with a short but very steep trail leading to three separate waterfalls along a creek, which plunges into a narrow stony canyon.  The ground in the forest was soaked with recent rains, and I came across a lot of mushrooms, both familiar and unfamiliar.  One of the craziest looking types was what I’m pretty sure is the “sharp scaly pholiota”, which is edible, but easily confused with the poisonous “scaly pholiota.”  Seems like it’s not worth the risk to eat them, but they were really interesting-looking shrooms.


The topmost of the three waterfalls wasn’t much to look at, but the middle and lower falls were much more impressive.  This photo, which I found on the internet, was very similar in season and water volume to the day we were there.  As far as waterfall scenery goes, I’d definitely give the middle falls an 8 or 9 out of 10.Image

The lower falls were even more impressive, with the water pouring off of a lip down into a bowl.  These falls are nearly 100 feet high, just a beautiful location.  This is another photo I found online, which shows the beauty of the location, although the day we were there, there was a lot more green and a lot less red and orange in the trees.Image

Just before turning back, I noticed a bear’s head tooth mushroom growing on a log, the first one I’ve seen this year.  It was a little one, which looked just like this one.  I didn’t pick it, as we weren’t going to be firing up the stove anytime soon, but if you ever find one that looks like this, it is an excellent edible, not likely to be confused with anything else.Image

Our next stop was the Cranberry Glades boardwalk trail.  This is a fascinating botanical find, a series of open boggy areas that sit in a high plateau at about 3800 feet elevation.  Many of the plant and animal species are more commonly found in New England and Canada; many of them are at the absolute southern limit of their natural range.  You can take a half-mile walk on a boardwalk that passes through some of the bog forests and through the open glades, with beautiful views of the surrounding mountains.  By the time we got there, in early afternoon, it had turned into a glorious early September day, sunny but not too hot, and our hike looked very much like this photo, which I also stole from the internet.  Image

The region is named after the abundant wild cranberry plants which grow in the glades.  We were able to find lots of wild cranberries, although it was still too early in the season for them to be any tasty.  The little white dots in the photo above were cotton grass, which was quite abundant; there was also a lot of purple mountain aster in bloom along with several colors of jewelweed.

Afterwards, we just spent the rest of the day driving through the fantastic mountain scenery of the Monongahela National Forest (in WV) and George Washington NF in Virginia.  I wish my camera had worked, as it was a very scenic drive on a perfect, clear day.  We took a few stops here and there, most notably at the Tea Creek Campground, where the boys and I took a dip in a mountain stream that wasn’t the one pictured below, but sure looked a lot like it.


And, by 8:30 in the evening, we were back at our Twin Oaks home in Virginia, where my tale will continue, just as soon as I get around to writing it…