While autumn thinks it’s sneaking up on me, I’m enjoying every day in my garden. After a cool night of steady drizzle, I rushed outside this morning to coat everything in Deer Off again. (I’m not anti-deer, but they have plenty to eat without feasting on the bounty of my hard work. And they are very unresponsive to shouted abuse, slamming windows and doors, and the powerful and well-aimed jet stream from my garden hoses. The bums.)
Things get a little wilder toward the end of the berm, where the yarrow grows. This area gets less water, and except for the berm and my pots, our entire property is xeriscape. In other words, it requires very little water. We’ve had so much rain that the irrigation system is off, aside from the occasional sessions on my garden, and I try to be a good steward of this most precious resource. (Pass the wild hickory nuts. And if you’re not old enough to remember Euell Gibbons, you probably shouldn’t be reading this blog.)
But toward the house, where three 12-foot floor-to-ceiling dining-room windows overlook the blossoms and mountain range to our south, things become a bit more cilvilized. A dozen foxglove popped up in July, having cowered in the earth during our drought, and the bees from the apiaries over the ridge behind me are gluttonous. Their buzzing song accompanies my gardening, and I try not to think about getting stung, reminding myself that they have other things—like collecting pollen—on their minds. Four hollyhocks pierce heavenward, and I’m eager to see how they look (probably like ineffective sentinels against the . . . deer) in the grand scheme of a garden that really has no grand scheme whatsoever, other than containing what I like.
And my delphinium! Aside from the unfortunate fact that they emit a siren song to . . . deer, these flowers enchant me. While bees don’t seem to care for the tall spires of blue, purple, and white, hummingbirds swarm around the blossoms every morning, dipping in and out as they look for nectar. Bears like the commercial sugar mix that people dangle in weird little hanging plastic decorative pot-like things, but we’re discouraged from using them. My more natural approach attracts plenty of the migrating birds.
Lambs Ear and non-invasive daisies; geum in orange, yellow, and red; some funky red plant (also a deer-magnet) that blooms tall and whose name I never remember; and yarrow in every color known to the gardening world blanket the berm. The foliage is getting so thick that I’m having trouble planting my feet without squashing something, but I tiptoe daintily through everything, arms waving when I lose my balance—a berm is sloped after all, thank you so much— with the agility of a rampaging elephant, leaving just a little death in my wake.
Ranchman the Superhero (my husband), inspired by my raving about ‘shrooming, decided to take a break from his other athletic endeavors (never marry an ex-rancher; they’ll run you into the ground) so that I could introduce him to the fine art of mushroom foraging.
I also suspect that he had pinned his hopes on another fine mushroom savory tart.
Foraging is cyclical. The boletus (porcini) harvest is pretty well over, although we managed to find small ones that will top a homemade pizza this evening. Plenty of poisonous (or at least, highly sketch) mushrooms enticed us, but I went with the if-it-has-gills, leave-it policy. Most gilled mushrooms will trigger a visit to the ER, and who has the time for that?
We discovered that I seem to have an inner radar for porcini. He makes a beeline for poisonous, but pretty, mushrooms. (Another quote from my late mother: “Pretty is as pretty does.” And these pretty little darlings will trigger a long season in the nearest restroom.) Once he recovered from his passion for beauty, he discovered his perfect fungi: the Hawk Wing.
This brown-and-white mushroom with scalloped marks grows quite large and also grows on our land. I’ve been threatening him within an inch of his life if he unleases the weed-whacker on our back-meadow culinary delights.
We found probably a hundred Hawk Wing and harvested quite a few. The large ones can become bitter, so we focused on smaller ones. We wandered, generally never leaving each other’s sight (we’re in the boonies, after all, with bear and cougar), but I’d hear his clear call, “mussssssshROOOMS!” through the trees.
As we foraged, so did the squirrels. I missed the photo of a squirrel carrying a fungi twice his or her size—dinner was on its way to the den. I saw signs of new burrows and wondered if they were made by chipmunks or pine martens. A lot of industrious work was apparent on the forest floor—telling me that I’m not the only one dreading winter, and making preparations.
The forest held other delights as well. Lichen and mosses were beginning to turn frosty, indicating the seasonal change into which we’re tiptoeing. Wildflowers, not as abundant as earlier in the month, graced small clearings. Everywhere I looked, the earth was preparing to be covered in deep snow by Christmas. At 10,000-plus feet altitude, winter is serious business here. We hit three spots that I’d foraged earlier in the month and found a new cluster that has potential for early August.
With all that looking down, carefully searching for small, bulbous brown, white, or pink tops pushing through the conifer-needle carpet, our necks were sore and we were ready to call it a day. But the day itself was so beautiful that we took the long way home, choosing a National Forest road over a second pass, moving slowly, rocking and rolling through ruts and washes in a world that’s starting to show signs of the next seasonal change.
We’re down to the wire here, and I’m wondering how many more fishing trips, rounds of golf and mushrooming, and days in the garden are ahead of me before things slow down. But slowing down is good, too, because it brings Thanksgiving and Christmas, and family and friends, and all the cooking that accompanies autumn. So I guess that I’m kind of like that little squirrel, thinking ahead and preparing for the future.
But if I ever encounter a mushroom twice as big as me, you can bet I’ll leave it for Ranchman to carry. He’s a steady beast of burden, and I feed him well!