Monday, April 28, 2014

They Can Stay Like This for Three Hours

Maybe because I don't watch TV or hang around children I'm slow to pick up on the latest vulgarisms, but "bumpin' the uglies" was the phrase that came to mind when I happened upon this scene between Three-Toed Box Turtles (Terrapene carolina triunguis) at Babler State Park, but in fact they're creating new life and that's of course a beautiful thing, and the male's immobile expression let me know it was a quite serious and intensely personal matter and I should take my photo and move along. Spring is the time for creating and laying new turtle eggs, preferably in a hole the female digs in deep leaf litter; the warm weather helps incubate them.

Because they are territorial, with one turtle per territory, they can find each other only if their territories overlap.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

"Divine Knows Where to Look" for Morel Mushrooms

My first morel
Because this is the only week of the year to find them, I'd bushwhacked in the woods each day since Monday for those coveted morel mushrooms, employing all I've learned from a year's study and forays with the Mycological Society: morels appear on south-facing slopes, near fallen ash trees, between the "toes" of oak trees, preferably where soil is rich, near water and soon after rain, when the Devil's Urn (another fungus, black and inedible) has popped its top, and, most importantly, don't give up--and today the hours of sweat became worthwhile because in a Babler State Park ravine I found my very first morel, also the day's biggest and best. A few minutes later, my second morel I saw standing like an exclamation mark between the toes of an oak tree. And I found a third and fourth (smaller and older, and not pictured).

Even as I searched I learned. First, that I shouldn't look too hard. Each time I found one, I'd stopped to rest a moment--I insist on sensible rests when hiking. I'd knelt to grab water from my day pack and my eye lit on my first  honey-colored common or "golden" or yellow morel (Morchella esculenta). Using a knife, I carefully cut it free and bagged my treasure in a net hung from my belt. They say "When you find one, look around, because chances are there are more," but a long search in an eight-foot radius turned up no other morels, so I kept bushwhacking among the many fallen ash trees. You all know ash trees because I have shown you the trademark "X" pattern in the bark.

My second morel
Kept going, timelessly, scanning every inch of forest floor. Leaning against a tree about halfway up the slope I briefly rested my eyes, and looked up, and beheld my second morel on the north-facing side of an oak, just as plump and sassy as could be.

A while later the cellphone rang, one of those calls one must take. The topic was North Korean political art (don't ask). For a while I sat on a log, then walked and tripped and fell to my knees while still on the phone, and right in front of me was another morel, this one good-sized but chewed up a bit, and in front of that another: tiny, dessicated, and brownish. When a morel's stem darkens it's no good anymore -- in fact it's poison. But I took it for dissection and study.

After three hours, total distance half a mile, I came out ecstatic. I've waited a long time to be able to tell myself , "Yes, I have found morels. I've been taught, so I know when and where to look. I am not crazy or a faker. I am a real mushroomer. I don't give up." It's the best hide-and-seek game ever.

Before eating, morels are washed to remove dirt or grit, and cut open to ascertain that they are hollow (a trademark morel feature), then parboiled to remove natural irritants. They can then be sauteed or breaded and deep-fried, and a well-taught first-timer eats only a little and waits a bit, to make sure the mushroom is agreeable.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Masterpiece Eggs

Monitoring your bluebird box is a duty, said The Michigan Bluebird Society site; those who don't monitor should not own one because a bluebird box must be clean, dry, safe, free from mites, blowflies, and wasps, not ant-infested, and the owner must check that the eggs aren't broken, and also watch for house sparrows that will fill the box with sticks and thorns. Don't worry, it said, about your "scent" -- birds have no sense of smell. But I read elsewhere that predatory animals can pick up any scent trail I leave going to and from the box, so I do that as little as possible. Today I checked the box responsibly, and for this I briefly removed the nest, revealing these five masterpiece eggs. As instructed, I did not touch the eggs, simply admired them, and replaced the nest. And my cup runneth over: The hummingbirds returned to their feeders on April 24 this year, perfectly on schedule

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Mushroom Identification Challenge #1

Mushroom hunters eye every downed and rotted tree on every forested slope that has what looks like fertile soil (indicated by clusters of growing greenery), and the closer to water, the better. Poking around in the woods I saw no fresh fungi, and shrugged and trotted onward -- "guess there aren't any" -- when I was stopped short by this club-shaped white growth, about four inches long, on an old fallen log. It was fleshy-feeling, cool, dry, and fresh.

Mushrooms are I.D.'d more by their shapes and gills and stems and location rather than their size and color; size and color can vary with age or conditions. This bulbous thing had no shape, no gills, and no stem. Didn't have the mushroom handbook along. Didn't want to cut it and take it home; it was a protected area, and I had no knife or basket with me. So I took photos and at home enlarged and studied them, and downloaded and consulted a mushroom-I.D. app ($1.69 at Google Play, and worth it) I can use next time I'm in the field.

This is a Bearded Tooth (Hericium erinaceus), so fresh its beard hasn't had time to grow long and shaggy. Yes, it's edible, but I was not hungry, and it is good mushroom-hunter ethics to catch-and-release for someone else, or someone hungrier, to enjoy. Looks kind of like a coconut-covered Hostess Sno-Ball. Or a white bath mat.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Valley View Glades in Spring

Valley View Glades Natural Area is the cathedral of glades around here, where on a perfect April day you can see Birdsfoot violets (Viola pedata) and, in yellow, a Hairy Buttercup (Ranunculus hispidus) (see the hair?) and the valley vistas. Glades are stony outcroppings on south-facing hillsides that have their own specialty ecosystem, with unique glade wildflowers and creatures in spring; and in summer, glades recarpet themselves in new wildflowers and creatures: precious native Missouri features fortunately preserved from development and cared for, mainly through the removal of red cedar trees, invasives that threaten glades. Valley View Glades Natural Area is on Highway B in Jefferson County near Morse Mill. The trail, a loop 2.6 miles long, leads the hiker through hill, dale, vistas, and over brooks. You'll enjoy peace and quiet, and feel at one with the universe.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Happy Earth Day

So I'm noticing bird doo splashed on my front screen door, unable to figure out how it got there and accumulated because birds can't sit or  fly above the front door because there's a gable-like shelter over it, a "porch roof" I guess it's called, with floodlights installed beneath. Yet one night, bothered because the floodlights hadn't been working correctly, I lifted my eyes and -- surprise! -- saw that barn swallows had started on a nest, mainly mud blended with a little dry grass, and tightly molded to the floodlight, requiring a broomstick to break it up and knock it off. This was the first time such a nest has appeared. There were no eggs in it. Now I think I should have left it there, because the usual summer tenants just above the front door are paper wasps, and if you knock at their nest with a broomstick you'll do it only once.

Monday, April 21, 2014

What's a Serviceberry and Can I Eat It?

Right now if you look around Missouri, because spring took its time in getting here this year, you might see a tree-like shrub with delicate flowers like this one, which in June bears highly desirable edible berries resembling and tasting kinda-like blueberries. This is a serviceberry blossom (aka "sarvisberry") on its branch. The serviceberry tree/shrub is a member of the rose family, native in most U.S. temperate climates. Birds like the berries as much as people do. The photo of the berries is from Mother Earth News. Now why is it called a "serviceberry"? Wikipedia has the folksy answer:
"[t]heir flowers heralded the roads in the Appalachian mountains becoming passable, which meant that the circuit-riding preachers would be coming soon and church services would resume; also, that the ground was thawed enough to dig graves, and funeral services could be had for those who died over the winter."

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Breeding in the Dark

Spring cleaning reveals that much has gone on in closets, cabinets, baskets, and drawers that I did not have a clue about. Certain items reproduced themselves. Perhaps at your house a similar laxity of morals and discipline among your inanimate objects has caused the same situation. I dealt with them ruthlessly. The culprits at my house included:

Throttled and sent to the cleaners
1. Hangers
2. Gift bags
3. Forks
4. Socks
5. Condoms
6. Hoodies
7. Key rings
8. Lip-care products
9. Pesto cubes in the freezer
10. Spice jars

Also, certain species have diminished, died off, evolved (in the Darwinian sense), ran away, or vanished into the Great Wheel of Karma:

1. Spoons
2. Scissors
3. Shot glasses
4. Pens
5. Drinking glasses
6. Safety pins
7. Ammo

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Why It's Called Hail

Exactly on cue, on April 1 it thunderstormed like crazy. The next day, 100 of us were at a meeting listening to a speaker through shattering bashes of thunder when a strange sudden sound came from the roof. It intensified. Then someone near a window said "Hail." We all groaned because nature, without a care as to who could afford the deductible and who couldn't, was wreaking hundreds of thousands of dollars of damage on our cars and we couldn't do squat about it. Politely waiting until the speaker finished, we then looked outside, marveled, and I photographed the hailstones for everyone who'd need to file an insurance claim.

I wondered why frozen rain is called "hail." As we know, in English "hail" can also mean "greet," "flag down," or "salute," and that particular "hail" is from Old Scandinavian--but "hail" meaning "frozen rain" is from Old English "haegl" from the Old German "Hagel," derived God knows how from a Greek word meaning "pebble," and there's a chance it's from a Sanskrit root meaning "cold."

Friday, April 4, 2014

Home Mushroom Growing: Phase 2

I forgot about the mushroom terrarium I made on March 22 and only today, while sneezing and muttering "*--!*&@! mold," did I remember the damp straw and mushroom spores in the plastic vegetable bag stuck in my darkest closet, and sure enough today it had white fuzz growing in it exactly as the mushroom farmer said it would, and the next step is to give it a little light--not blazing sunlight but perhaps the light from an eastern window, just a few hours of sun, and it is said that lovely oyster mushrooms will erupt from this mess, get harvested and taste real good. Truthfully, I have to force myself to believe this, but I am always game for an experiment that might end in mushrooms -- and by the way, it's almost morel season. I'll finish my taxes this weekend so that next week I may crawl around in the woods with a recycled Easter basket, poking beneath fallen trees in search of rare delicacies.