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

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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

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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

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

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