Thursday, April 25, 2013

What Mayapples Can Tell You

Out on the morel-mushroom foray last week I made sure to join the group led by the man who'd been hunting mushrooms for 60 years because one must listen to one's elders. He pointed at a galaxy of mayapple plants in the middle of the woods and said, "That doesn't mean there's mushrooms there, but it does mean the soil there is rich." So it's a good sign that mushrooms could be nearby.

Could be near, because we didn't see or find any. Coincidentally on my own personal three-hour mushroom hunt on the Divine property today I didn't find any morels either. But I saw and traipsed through dozens of mayapple galaxies in search of my prize, and also experienced in the wild what my elders had told me:
  • Look near deadwood, particularly downed and rotting ash trees.
  • On downed and rotting trees and branches, the presence of Devil's Urn mushrooms that have popped open (pictured) is a sign that it is morel season and they could be near. Seeing Devil's Urns told me I was indeed looking in the right places, even if morels weren't there.
  • Most fungi require a soil temperature of 50 degrees or more. (It hasn't been warm enough.)
  • It's best to hunt on a slope, preferably a south-facing slope. In fact, don't bother looking at all for morels anywhere there is not a slope.
The previous tenants of this property said they invited a morel-savvy European to comb the woods for morels, but he found none. But now that at least 12 years have passed I gambled that there had to be some on 100 acres. I didn't find any today, but the journey, and the education, was my reward.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Living in the Moment

Frenchman's Bluff, a 120-foot-high cliff of limestone, overlooks the Cuivre River (pronounced "Quiver") Valley near Troy, Missouri, in the Cuivre River State Park. The Frenchman's Bluff trail, a 1.5 mile hike, runs first along the lovely Geode Creek inside the woods, and then emerges to this vista from the cliff top. Right now, bluebells and yellow bellworts in full bloom decorate the trail. The Cuivre River is about 40 miles long and empties into the Missouri River.
After a difficult week (for all of us; suffering seems epidemic) I've been doing my best to "live in the moment," just be alive and appreciate all I have and the human and natural beauty around me. It's hard, I complained to a more spiritual friend. She said, "Living in the moment is easy. It really is. It's just that we're doing all this multitasking and thinking ahead about what needs to be done and where we need to be next, and we've programmed our brains that way, and we have to re-program them to live in the moment. That's why it seems hard at first, but keep trying."

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Morel Hunting Tip #2: Proper Gear and Dress

Mushroom hunters, not just morel hunters, carry wicker or balsawood baskets for their finds. As they carry the woven basket through the woods, spores from the harvested mushrooms are free to leak through the gaps in the basket and settle in the earth in order to make more mushrooms. Clever, eh?

This hunter is dressed for the early morning during spring turkey season, in a hunter orange jacket. He is also tick-aware and uses duct tape (what else!?!?) to seal his pant legs all the way to his shoes. Along with his basket he carries a stick -- just one -- to poke at the forest floor, especially around dead or fallen trees.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Morel Hunting Tip #1: Find Your Own Ash

Morel mushrooms love to grow around fallen and dead ash trees, and an ash tree can be identified by the striking "X" pattern in its bark. This is a fallen ash tree, so you see a horizontal version of the pattern. No, there weren't any morels here--yet. Morels like the soil to be warmed to about 50 degrees before they "fruit," and it's been too chilly. So if you like morels, go locate your ash trees (especially on a south-facing slope), and poke with a stick in the leafmeal around their trunks and roots every day for the next week, provided the temperatures warm up a bit.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Devil's Urn Mushrooms

Looking like a dead man's fingers and toes, crawling up from under -- creepy fungi! There's actually another mushroom called Dead Man's Fingers, but "these ones" (as we say in Missouri) are Devil's Urns (Urnula craterium), the first I've seen on the property. Their rubbery "eyeballs" pop open eventually and they turn into little empty black bowls -- inedible.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Hummingbirds Are Here

Ever since the big snowstorm three days after the spring equinox, it's been so windy and stormy that the house (and the car!)  feels like a schooner in heavy North Atlantic seas. Today was drippy and dreary. But today the season's first hummingbird drank at my nectar feeder! Knowing that my favorite birds don't usually show up until the wonderfully green and floral dates around April 24 -- but pining for them like a lovesick teenager -- I put up the feeders April 1. Still -- today, a full week early, was the great day! It was a male Rubythroat. I will get his photo and show you his glorious colors ASAP. In the meantime, this is the glory that was ten days ago: my favorite flower, the crocus, during the thaw. The signs of spring come and go so quickly. . .

Thursday, April 11, 2013

That Sound of an Oncoming Train. . .

The weather man said afterward that the storm had 100-mph winds. When that horrible onrushing-train sound that means a tornado arrived and persisted about 7:45 p.m. last night, I took cover in my 5 x 4.5-foot bathroom, with my laptop and phone. That's probably how the Apocalypse will find me: Huddled in the can, not with family photos or a bankbook, but with the tools of my trade.

Tornadoes touched down east and north of here, wrecking 100 houses, but no one died. The storm came in darkness and left in darkness, so dawn was everyone's first chance to see the damage. The roaring winds tore off the top of the tallest and oldest cedar on the cliff edge behind my house. This exposed the tree's rosy  heartwood, both sad and very beautiful. The brave tree, to its last moment, kept the house safe. Now we must face future storms without it.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Lucky Lager

About once a season I clean out the road shoulder and pick up trash that high water has left at creekside on the Divine Property. Here's today's take:
Lucky Lager Beer, while still purchasable in states that border on Canada, has been scarce in this area since 2005. It's a Canadian beer company bought out several times, and around 1978 during the "generic" craze, Lucky was said to be the generic beer in those cans that said simply "BEER." Lucky Lager bottles and especially their caps are collectibles, but this is a mere can. My haul is mostly cans and bottles, and sometimes a soccer ball or a patio chair, but the vibrator found today is a first. I wonder what story it would tell if it could. I believe someone used the Prestone bottle for target practice.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

The White Carnation Story

I've been shy about it for four years, but now I'll tell you I'm a cancer survivor who was cured but must visit the cancer center quarterly to get checked up on. It's a lovely building but the waiting room is soccer-field size and always jam-packed with cancer patients, all kinds, all stages (except kids) and their families. Our number always appalls me. In the elevator there I have been surprised to meet friends who were coming or going. In the waiting area a nurse rings a brass bell when somebody goes into remission, and we all applaud and cheer.

But the hundreds of people, just the number, depresses and grieves me, and it's not a happy place, and I'm always alone when most people aren't, and the water cooler is always empty, and although I like the staff (they saved my life) I dread going there. Did you know there's a national magazine just for cancer patients? They've got lots of copies in case you want to take one home (I don't).

My appointment was March 14. There was no room for me to sit. I was standing with my back to a wall when a group of very young women came in, all giggling and whatnot. They were college girls. "We're such-and-such sorority," one of them said, and they shouldered through the crowd handing everyone a white carnation. I got one too.

Very surprised, I said, "Thanks.  Do you want a donation, a dollar for your club or something?"

"Oh no," said the girl. "We're just handing out flowers."

"Why?" I asked, because this had never happened before.

"To cheer you up," she said.

I had to turn away because I about burst into tears right there.

Carefully I brought the carnation home and although its edges are brown now I keep it because it reminds me: No kindness is ever wasted. As Scouts we had to go sing Christmas carols in nursing homes, and in school collect for clothing drives, and in college serve at soup kitchens, and do things for other people not so fortunate as we. I used to think it was useless and embarrassing, and that sending cards or visiting was tedious, and couldn't see the point of calling to say hi, and very often I have thought my kindness and good intentions wasted, that I had cheated myself, that nothing had been achieved. I bet those sorority girls thought "Now this is such a stupid idea. I'm soooo embarrassed. This can't help anybody." Now that I'm on the other side, I see: Oh no; none of that is true at all.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Erosion Control on the LaBarque

LaBarque Creek has changed over the years, and the side nearer the highway, when it was in full flood, eroded way into the clayish soil until there was a 6-foot dropoff at the creek bend. A daydreamer walking in that meadow (formerly a baseball diamond) could have taken a step like Wile E. Coyote and plunged right into the drink. The Divine property is adjacent to newly public land, and the Missouri Department of Conservation came to here to stabilize this creek bank. Concerned about the same erosion, Demetrius and I had tried to plant native trees there some years ago. We had the right idea but wrong approach.

First, the conservation people cleared that meadow of its cedars, which are invasive and non-native trees here, but instead of letting 'em lie, anchored them to the creek bank sidewise and halfway in the water, as you see in the photo. They act like tree roots, capturing natural debris that helps rebuild the creek bank, while serving as habitat for fish and other water creatures. They filled in some of the slope with dirt. And then some volunteers planted, like, a thousand willow trees which will grow quickly and further stabilize the creek bank. You can see the willow slips, just about six inches tall, in the meadow, planted in rows, croplike.

This is green creativity at its best!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Frankly Scarlet

Below the cliffs is -- well, I call it "the secret pond," but it's a swamp. Before greenery and thorns and mosquitoes emerge from its muck I always visit seeking signs of spring. Today I saw neon-red scraps among the downed oak leaves. Thought it was Coca-Cola cans; instead, it was a mushroom I've never seen before. Found mainly on the East Coast and in the Pacific Northwest, and "on fallen hardwood branches in wet places" according to the Audubon Field Guide, this is the Scarlet Cup (Sarcoscypha coccinea), "one of the first mushrooms to look for in spring." Check! Now it's spring here for sure.

Happy birthday, Demetrius; you would have turned 65 today. I wish I had seen the baby picture you said was taken at age 1 with your hair in long dark curls and posed with an Easter basket.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Off the Road

A female acquaintance went hiking in an undeveloped area technically off-limits. Her phone didn't have much juice, but on impulse she took it along in case she wanted to take photos. She was having a good walk when she fell, breaking her femur. Alone with an almost-drained phone battery, she kept trying to call her family. Finally her son answered. He thought she was joking. Because, and only because, they'd trespassed on the place together not long before, the son was able to drive out and find her.

I said, "She didn't dial 911?" I was told that it did not occur to her to dial 911. I said, "But you can dial 911 even with a dead phone, or so I heard."

That is false. You can't dial 911 or anything else with a dead phone. The truth is, if there's juice in the phone you can dial 911 and any cellphone tower in range, even if you're not their customer, must connect your call. If there is no juice in the phone or no tower within range (as sometimes happens, even here) you can't reach 911 or anybody else.

So please leave a note or a phone message telling somebody where you are going. Hike with a buddy, or at least carry a phone with full battery power, and don't hike anywhere you don't want 911 to have to come find you.

Having said that, I now announce with pleasure that there's enough springtime daylight to take walks after supper. This photo was taken walking west on Doc Sargent Road at 7 p.m. At quarter to 8 it is still not totally dark. Oh wonderful April!