Back to the Beginning...
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Several years ago, a friend asked me, "When are you going to give up this Daniel Boone thing?" I didn't respond immediately, but over the next few days thought a lot about that question...
Every day, millions of people in the modern world wake up, brush their teeth, drive to work and back, watch a little TV, brush their teeth again, then go to bed. They do this day after day, year after year, until finally they pass away. For most of them, nature is just the background canvas for the "stage play" that is their modern life, having little real importance to them. With each passing generation and the growing urbanization of our planet, humans are becoming ever more separated from the natural world. A few years ago, a county in Virginia claimed to have eradicated all goldenrod and ragweed plants in their domain, and even passed a law making it a crime to import either of these two noxious "weeds." They did so with the belief that both of these plants were nothing more than nuisance plants, just hyper-allergenic weeds responsible for the suffering of thousands of residents. While they were somewhat correct about ragweed, later studies have shown that very few people are actually allergic to goldenrod. It just happens to flower when ragweed pollen is at its highest, so was guilty by association. Goldenrod, in fact, has so many healthful properties that it is one of the cornerstone plants used in the practice of herbal medicine; especially for kidney and urinary tract infections. It seems that in the 1980s, the lawmakers of Fairfax County, in their modern day ignorance and separation from the natural world, threw out the proverbial baby with the bathwater. Sad, that when you consider that just one hundred years earlier, the residents of that area were still connected enough with nature that any one of them could have recited the virtues of goldenrod tea from personal experience. Alas, much valuable knowledge is rapidly being lost.
When one becomes interested in wild edible plants, however, this begins to change. At first there is the exhilirating discovery that a few common lawn weeds, like oxalis and sheep sorrel actually taste good! Then, as knowledge begins to increase, there is learning about plant life cycles. Burdock, for example, is a bienniel plant that has several edible parts at different stages of its growth. The first year, the tender young leaves are mild and tasty. Later that year, the roots are a wholesome edible. The second year, the seed stalk, (my favorite part. It tastes like summer squash!) is edible when harvested before the flowers form, then peeled, sliced and boiled. With each new discovery comes a desire to find yet another tasty wild edible, and more and more time is spent foraging throughout the entire year. Over the years, one regains the knowledge of plant identification and practical uses for food and medicines. Also, with so much time spent in the great outdoors, it is inevitable that there will be encounters with wildlife. Believe me, I can tell you from personal experience that it is exciting to lock eyes with a four hundred pound black bear just fiftenn feet away, or to have a young buck jump up out of tall grass a few feet in front of you, and blow in your face. Exciting and addictive! One of my favorite times in the woods was a day with my son, when we sat for nearly an hour conversing with what surely must have been the oldest and largest porcupine in the forest! He sat at the base of a tree just eight feet away,a nd each time we spoke to him, he answered in grumbly, deep bass, porcupine sentences, stay.ng to chat with us until, regrettably, it was time for us to leave the woods. Another time, I found two carpenter ants, one a common worker, and the other apparently a soldier or guard, for her head and mandibles were massive, both diligently working in a hole about three feet up the side of a dead white pine tree. The thing that made these two ants so interesting was their individual work strategies. The smaller worker ant would run into the hollow, tear off a piece of wood with her pincers, run all the way down to the ground and place the piece on top of a small pile, then run back up again for more wood, over and over again. By contrast, the larger, slower moving ant would tear off a piece of wood, walk to the edge of the hollow and drop it onto her pile, three feet below. It was easy to see by the size of the piles that the larger ant was more than twice as efficient as the smaller one. Was sh e more intelligent as well? Did they both start out running up and down the tree until the larger one suddenly realized it was easier to just drop the wood over the edge? Or perhaps the larger one was just plain lazy. Anyway, the point is, there is an incredibly diverse world around us, filled with mysteries and wonderful discoveries.
So, I will say in answer to my friend, that I will give up this "Daniel Boone thing" when I finally pass away and my body is laid in the earth, with worms, insects, and composting micro-organisms, and eventually becomes food for trees, shrubs, wildflowers, mosses, lichens, mushrooms, and all the other wonderful creatures that abide there in the circle of life.
The tree covered in shelf fungi in the photo at right, is an old maple that, slowly dying, finally expired in 1995. The circumference of the trunk was nearly eighteen feet. It was estimated that this tree was almost four hundred years old when it died!
Many hours of contemplation were spent under this old giant, thinking of it as a seedling when the Pilgrims first landed in what later became Massachusetts, as a mature, two hundred year old tree when Lewis and Clark started their expedition, and as a beautiful, huge tri-centarian during the Civil War.
I was sad when there was no more green growth in the spring of 1996. Today, most of its massive branches lay on the ground beside the trunk, growing mosses and mushrooms. The Pear-shaped Puffballs shown on the Edible Mushroom page, were photographed growing on one of these fallen limbs. Through death, life goes on...
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