Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Things popping up at Cherry Lake

The wet earth this spring has stirred to life some things I do not always get to see on the prairie, and in the coulees and wetlands at Cherry Lake.

The photo above shows a mushroom, verpa Bohemica, sometimes called "Early Morel" that I found in mid-May in a deep, shaded ravine on the north side of our land. The glade was covered in wood violet leaves, just emerging cow parsnip, and a liberal sprinkling of bud scales sticky with resin from balsam poplar twigs in the canopy. At first I thought they might be a kind of stinkhorn, which is another even more phallic fungi, the one that Charles Darwin's daughter, Henrietta, is said to have purged from local woods, to protect the chastity of her servant girls.

After searching through field guides, I realized that I'd missed a chance to taste another kind of wild edible mushroom, one that is said to be tasty, and harmless to most people, though some apparently react by losing their coordination. There were dozens of these fungi jutting up impudently from the winter-worn earth and trumpeting the fecundity of spring. Just as well I didn't try eating them, perhaps--I am uncoordinated enough without ingesting the complex chemistry of a dubious fungi.

The other wild thing sprouting forth in profusion this spring we have fed on several times. At first, sauteed in olive oil, garlic and lemon for two different meals and then in a wonderful quiche that appeared on our supper table last night.

our youngest, Maia, holding the season's bounty

Stalking the wild asparagus on a nearby abandoned farm site (location guarded with the greatest of secrecy), has become an annual May and early June outing at Cherry Lake. This spring we were able to harvest a crop twice, though we could have done three. Shameless as trespassing berry-pickers, we eat a few fresh as we search through the undergrowth for each stalk leaping up to get some sun, but the feast begins when we make it back to the kitchen and grill or fry up a batch.

This is a bad image of another surprise at Cherry Lake: a snowy egret.

Last weekend, we had several young families out for a campout (including the family belonging to Erin Knuttila, who sometimes reads things in this space). We went for walks, let the kids touch frogs and snakes, paddle canoes alongside beavers, and cross a stream from log to log. At dusk as we shared supper, I saw a large white bird with no black on its wings crossing the lake to the south. Through binoculars I could tell it was an egret, likely a snowy, by the speed of its wing-flap, but it was too far for me to see the yellow socks that set it apart from other egrets.

Then the next morning, as we all returned to the valley after a car tour of the upland prairie seeing Sprague's pipits, bobolinks and ducks, the egret flew across the road in front of us and landed in the creek's marshy margins. We jumped out of the vehicles and stood there, watching the angel-grace of a large white bird taking the air.

I tried to get a photo but in my excitement, I had the auto-focus set wrong and botched the opportunity. Still, the fuzzy photos do show the diagnostic yellow.

Surprises like these--a thrust of fungi, a bounty of asparagus, an egret--wake us up to miracles and mysteries whose lives are more entangled with our own than we can ever know.

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