Backyard Wilderness Blog
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As I form these words, I am walking in a town forest in northwestern Vermont. It is 12 noon on August 20, and outside of these thick, hemlock dominant woods the temperature is 80 degrees with clear skies and blazing hot noonday sunshine. But here, sheltered from Sol's scorching radiation by two hundred year old, sixty foot tall coniferous trees, there are pockets of deep shade where cold mountain streams gurgle along their curvy paths over slippery stones and fallen logs, cooling the air into the low 60's. Everywhere I look there are mushrooms of various shades of red, yellow, blue, brown, purple, and white scattered among half-decomposed leaves, twigs, bark, and evergreen cones and needles, laying upon the sweet-smelling, dark earth. It is a forager's fantasy come true!
Two miles into the forest I come upon a stone wall, five feet tall and almost two feet thick, running as far as the eye can see in both directions. The labor it took to construct this wall! In my mind's eye I travel back in time envisioning early colonial farmers and hired hands, cutting down the gargantuan, virgin trees that once grew on these hills, then working day-in and day-out to clear the new fields of stumps and stones, all to replace the incredible natural diversity that had evolved here over the twelve millennia since the last ice age, with a few cash crops...
Indian Cucumber Root berries, (right photo), begin appearing late July and ripen slowly, turning purple-black through August. They are not edible by humans, but the underground, white tuber of this plant is delicious and refreshing, tasting just like crisp cucumber!
Laetiporus sulfureus, or Chicken-of-the-Woods, above, growing on a fallen oak log. A beautiful, edible bracket fungus!
A reminder of times long past and a different world view, old stonewall boundary markers like this one can be found throughout regenerated forests all over North America.
The beautiful, blue-black berries to the right belong to Polygonatum commutatum, or Solomons Seal. Although the berries and mature leaves are both poisonous, this plant has a variety of medicinal and edible uses, but diligent study and cautious preparation are required!
Mayflower berries, shown above,) start green in June, turn gold with red flecks in July, then ripen in mid-August to a deep burgundy, when they may be eaten.
(See Mayflower blossoms on page 2 of the May blog.)
Golden Spindles, Clavulinopsis fusiformis, also known as Fairy Club Fungus, seems to pop up in small forest clearings everywhere in August. Although not edible, its form and bright yellow color catch attention and are pleasing to the eye!
Cortinarius iodes, the Viscid Violet Cort, left, which has a micorrhizal relationship with deciduous trees is best appreciated for its unusual beauty.