Thursday, April 30, 2009


When it became clear last fall that we had an abundance of fabulous fungi around here, I started hoping that some of them would turn out to be morels. Well, sing hallelujah, they're out there!

OK, so we've only spotted this one so far. But where there's one, there must be others. And if it ever stops raining, we'll go hunting in earnest.

Morel Mushroom

For those who may not know, the morel is a delectable little morsel of a mushroom found in the woods in spring. I had heard about them all my life, but had never found or tasted one until this week.

The hubby and I were out poking around, he prospecting for firewood and me hunting for wildflowers to photograph. From up on the path: "Hey Vic, look at this thing." He always spots the neatest stuff, so I hustled over, took one look, and stopped dead in my tracks. You coulda heard the angel choir from a mile away. Oh yeah baby, that's a morel!

We left it there while we finished our expedition, intending to pick it on the way back. However, our son was away that day. We knew he'd be interested too, so we noted the spot and waited a day. (They spoil quickly once picked.)

I ended up on Sunday afternoon scrounging around the pasture path in the rain looking for the thing. But it was worth it.

Yellow Morel Mushroom

My sources say that morels are to be washed in cold water, sliced, and sauteed in a little butter. A dash of salt, and that's it. Our morel was maybe three inches tall, if that, and they're hollow, so we aren't talking a lot of meat here. Once cooked, there was only enough for one little taste for each of us. We gathered around the plate with salad forks, laughing at the silliness of it all, and divvied up our prize. (Picture the fossa pack in the movie Madagascar gathered around the salad bowl, tossing and salivating over the littlest lemur.)

The mushroom lives up to its reputation. The flavor is intense, like no other mushroom I've tasted. The texture is fresher, with none of the rubbery quality of button mushrooms or portabellas.

I can see now why people hunt them so eagerly, and why the best spots are closely guarded secrets. Our place fits the description of likely places for them to grow, and I'm hoping the woods will yield a few more of these little gems.

Click Here: Nature Notes.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

A Door Closes, Another Opens

Yesterday afternoon, we left our younger son with college friends at Ball State. He is planning to transfer there next fall, and we had gone to attend an informational program for transfer students. It's a bittersweet time when your last child is teetering on the edge of the nest. I had a hard time leaving him there, even for a couple of days, and
I was anxious about him driving all the way back alone on unfamiliar highways.

So there we were, the hubby and I, driving home. Just the two of us, each wrapped in silence, exploring the empty space that our children occupied for 25 years.

We had passed through a little town called Wabash on the way down to the school, oohing and ahhing over the wonderful old buildings along the way. It was still early afternoon when we passed that way again, and my husband suddenly turned to me and tapped the brakes. "Wanna stop?"

Well... sure. Why not?

We got off to a rocky start, turning the wrong way into a one-way street, but managed to tuck ourselves into a parking spot before hitting anything. I grabbed my camera and off we went to see what we could see.

Turns out, there was more to see than we could get around to. I snapped a few shots of the downtown and some architectural details before heading for Jack Francis Antiques store on the corner. Three elderly gentlemen sat visiting just outside the door, one of whom turned out to be Jack Francis himself.

His clothes were comfortably rumpled, and his standing shock of gray hair seemed confused as to which of several directions it ought to go. His clear eyes twinkled, and his face creased in a smile as he stood to shake hands. "Welcome to the biggest junk pile in the county! I see you've been taking pictures of my buildings," he said. "What do you think of them?"

Thinking he was simply taking a proprietary interest in his town, I told him I loved the place. "Five of 'em are mine, you know." He proudly pointed out which buildings he owned, and over the course of the next hour regaled us with local history (Did you know that Wabash was the first American city to have electric lights?), family history, and ties to people and places we knew in common. He ushered us through two of his shops -- one for junk (he was right about that) and one for coins. He runs the coin business on eBay. Not bad for a guy over eighty.

He collects everything, but especially bottles and books. "Do you like books? I have over 40,000 books. Most of 'em are over there." And he waived us across the street to The Reading Room bookstore.

The Reading Room is a bibliophile's paradise. The place is absolutely bursting with books. Old books, new books, common and rare. Books packed into a dozen wall-width, mile-high shelves, books camping out on the floor where the shelves can hold no more. Books stacked in teetering towers on every surface and peeking out of bulging boxes, plotting their escape.

We were met at the door by the proprietor, who is a dead ringer for Kurt Vonnegut and has probably forgotten more about books than you or I will ever know. He too was eager to talk history, especially Native American history of the area, and kindly provided us with a walking tour map.

I came away with copies of Wicked and The God of Small Things, two books I've been wanting to read. Had I not been in shock over the financial part of the Ball State presentation, I would have needed a wheelbarrow to get back to the car.

Sunday came, and our son made it home just fine. He had a wonderful time with his friends, and he's eager now to be on his own. The house was awfully quiet without him, and I'm sure my husband and I will grieve a bit when he goes away in the fall. But thanks to the kindness of new friends in lovely old Wabash, we're also looking forward to the freedom of being a couple again, on the road and out for adventure.

If you're in the area, don't miss Wabash. And if you're looking for a rare or out of print book, try The Reading Room.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Dark Side of the Moon

I've always been in love with the moon. But only now, after all this time, have I become attuned to it.

Everywhere I have ever lived there have been street lights. Every night was like every other: uniform, sanitized, conveniently electrical. Completely disconnected from the natural world. I never knew the seasons of the moon, the monthly ebb and rise of it, never felt its rhythm like a slow beating heart.

Our bed now stands between two tall, east-facing windows that overlook a forest. The former owners left only a set of sheer curtains on them, so the room is bathed in sunlight at dawn and moonlight at night. Before lying down, I feel compelled to brush back the gauzy veil and to wonder at the ancient, mysterious radiance.

When the moon is full, sleeping in that room is like lying in a luminous, silver cloud. The trees and even passing clouds cast magic shadows that drift around the room and echo through strange and wondrous dreams.

Other nights, like this one, when there is no moon, the darkness is absolute. It is a blackness that seems to have weight and substance and will, a heavy presence pressing against the windows, seeking entry, a chink, some small drafty crack. On nights like this, I imagine that I can see the darkness seeping in like restless smoke, sniffing about in the corners, gathering in pools on the polished floor.

Light and dark. Magic and menace. Pleasure and panic. Round and round and round she goes. Where she stops, nobody knows.

*Photo from NASA archives.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Nature Notes: Wildflowers

Out at the end of the driveway a community of wildflowers is growing. You don't see them from the car; you have to get out and really look. If I hadn't stopped to look around when I got the mail I never would have noticed. I had to enhance the photo so you could see them in among the oak leaves.

The larger ones are cut leaved toothwort, which is an awfully ugly name for a such pretty little flower, if you ask me. The star-shaped ones are called spring-beauties, claytonia virginica according to my wildflower guidebook.

I don't know what the spotted leaves are or whether they're planning to bloom, but they're attractive, don't you think?

Click Here: Nature Notes.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Nature Notes: Tomato Talk

Sorry I'm late. It's been one of those weeks. I didn't get a chance to stalk bugs or go swamp stomping this time, BUT ... I did find the first tomato!

Does that count?

Tomatoes hold a special place in my heart. When I was a kid, I lived on the banks of a river. Between the house level and the river, there was a wide bank, a ledge of rich soil where my grandfather had a vegetable garden. He grew corn, beans, peppers, melons, asparagus; all the usual summer crops were there. But the best of all were the tomatoes.

You see, in that garden Pop had a little stone shack that he'd built himself. There was a fireplace in it and one castoff easy chair that always faced the fire. There was a trap door over a small hole below the wooden floor for a glass jug of cold water, with a string through the handle for hauling it up. And on the work table under the sunny corner windows, just to the left of the fishing rods, there was always a tin mug for the water and a salt shaker for tomatoes picked straight off the vine. Many a happy morning was spent there with Pop in that tiny world apart.

And there was nothing like the taste of my grandfather's Big Boy tomatoes. The pop of the skin as your teeth broke the surface, the intense scent and tang of their flesh, and the gush of sweet juice, so much of it that some always escaped to dribble down your chin. Maybe they've been sweetened by nostalgia, or maybe we can't grow them like that anymore, but I have never since tasted tomatoes as luscious as those were.

Needless to say, when I spotted these sturdy Big Boy plants in a garden center three weeks ago, there was no question that they were coming home with me. Never mind that we were still getting snow, and that I would have to defend them against the cat for however long it took for the weather to settle. Too bad for the hubby who didn't want them, too. The Big Boys went in the cart, alongside a couple of cherry tomatoes and a rosemary plant, the first of my herb-garden-to-be.

All of them currently reside in the ruined roasting pan I told you about at Thanksgiving, which has proven to be an excellent thing for holding plants and for hauling them in and out of the house until they can be set out for the season.

The little tomato in the photo is only the size of a large marble. Still, it was a moment of pure pleasure to find it there. I know Pop would have smiled too.

Michelle, thanks so much, again for hosting this meme. And thanks especially this week for featuring Havenwood in your blog!

Here's the link back to the main event, everybody. Please play along next time!

Click Here: Nature Notes.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Happy Easter!

Happy Easter

I hope all of you out there are enjoying a day filled with friends and family, sunshine and goodies. Happy Easter, Happy Passover!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Nature Notes: Dirty Sexy Honey

Thursday! Time to grab the camera and head out of doors for a visit with Mother Nature.

Waking Onions

On the way out, I opened a cabinet door in the garage to check on the produce situation for tonight's dinner. I keep onions and potatoes out there in the winter. They last longer. However, despite the dark and chilly location, the onions have gotten wind of the fact that spring has sprung. Fortunately, they haven't told the potatoes.

I roamed around a little bit, but as far as I could tell there wasn't much new to see this week. I settled down on the deck to enjoy the sun and just watched for a while.

The red tailed hawk perched on a fence post once. He was too far away for a decent photo, but I smiled to see the arrogant tilt of his head as he surveyed his kingdom, and the lazy beat of his wide wings as he glided away.

The frogs' mating season is still in full swing, though they chorus much more in the late evening and night than during the day. From the sound of things, they are prodigious at procreation. I still haven't managed to upload a recording, though. Maybe next time.

There is always a flock of robins here now, a regular robin rabble. I never knew they hung out in numbers that way. They come late in the afternoon to the same part of the yard that draws large numbers of deer. I don't know what the attraction is, but something must be different about that patch of grass.

Which led me to check out the grass. It's full of weeds. I don't mind in the least, and I have no intention of attempting to grow a lawn out here. Why would you want plain old grass anyway, when you could have chickweed:


Check out the bottom-most flower in that cluster above, would ya? I've never seen anything so serious about getting pollinated.

Heading around to the front yard, I passed these tiny, blue-flowered weeds growing in the stone mulch by the walkway.

Corn Speedwell

It took some time surfing around the Web to identify it, but it would appear to be a kind of veronica, or speedwell. There are over 500 kinds, so I'm not sure which one it is. Veronica is both a medicinal plant and a noxious weed, native to Africa and Asia. It was brought here for rock gardens and, as so often happens with these things, it escaped and is running amok. Regardless, this one is safe with me.

The light was too harsh in this photo, so I went back to try again when evening came. Sadly, the little blue flowers were gone. Either they close up at night, or they only last a day. Somehow, that makes it even more charming in my book.

On to the front yard, where that pussy willow I showed you a few posts ago has become a suspiciously allergenic-looking mass of yellow fuzz.

Pussywillow Pollen

And it is attracting bees like you wouldn't believe. But weird bees. They aren't honey bees, or bumble bees, or those little sweat bees, or even anything waspish looking. As I approached the bush, I became aware that I was being accompanied by hundreds of these little guys, all making ... well, a beeline for it.

Even stranger, they didn't seem to be landing on it, as you'd expect, or flying away again, though I assume they were collecting the makings for weird-bee honey.

They stayed very high, almost as if they were just gathering around to admire the thing. I did try to photograph them, but since they wouldn't come close, land, or hold still they're just dots in the images. Click the photo for a little bit better look.

It's amazing what you can see, even when there's nothing to see, isn't it?

Check out what everyone else found at Michelle's meme. Just click the link and you're there.

Click Here: Nature Notes.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Nature Notes: Grand Dad's Toes

Grand Dad's Toes

Grand Daddy

Plain and Fancy

It's Thursday again already. Time to take a walk and see what there is to see. Like, for instance, tree bark.

There aren't many really big trees on our property. Only the ones too gnarly for logging have survived the buzz saw; the forests are studded with the stumps of their betters. Those that remain have distinct personalities.

I think of the top one here as Grand Dad. I believe it's a white ash. He's a good three feet in diameter, and has skin like an old elephant. The texture is amazing, striated on one half and shot through with ragged diamonds on the other. At the base is a large burl that looks like a big toe. If you look closely to the right of it, you can see the other toes in the base of the tree, like a foot peeking out from under a robe. Well. That's what I see, anyway.

The third shot is a study in contrast. The rough tree is a younger white ash. The smooth one I had never noticed before. Research revealed that it is an American hornbeam, A.K.A. musclewood because it resembles sinews and muscles; A.K.A ironwood because its wood is dense and heavy. Apparently, excellent tool handles can be made from it and hornbeam charcoal can be used to make gun powder.

*Stop by at Michelle's place, Rambling Woods, for more nature stories and photos, OK? Click Here: Nature Notes.