Giving thanks trailside

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A mossy find

Qarie Marshall offered a sunny weather radio forecast for Thursday—“Turkey Day.” I’m counting on Aunt Paula’s cheesecake and Mom’s mashed red potatoes, with the ruby skins liberally integrated.

Every day is Turkey Day here. Max the Bronze is the current guardian of the farm animal sanctuary flock. Visitors have frequently lost the contents of their pockets to bronze Buttercup. Their wild relatives sway in summer night breeze, perched high in tree tops like giant fruit. They chortle and murmur in the daytime, hidden from predatory eyes in the thickest thickets. A stray feather occasionally makes its way into the Putnam County Master Gardeners’ pollinator patch.

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Cool hat…missing boots

Saturday, we stretched our legs in thanks for a late morning hike. Elisha broke in a new pair of Trespass boots shipped from the UK. His mom Esther shared her lovely Irish accent and details about the clothing line, including the fact that Trespass makes water-resistant onesies.

Type ‘Ohio’ into the company website’s ‘Find a Store’ widget and you get Galway (eh…only 3,426.94 miles away.) Still, the “No Child Left Inside” movement would benefit from a line of puddle-jumping ware.

So, apparently, would my child. Home on holiday, she took off her rubber knee boots (“They’ll get wet, Mom”) to wade in the chilly quarry wetland with a seine in hand. She caught a sample of snails, a beetle and a fingernail clam for us to see. The clam was the size of the second smallest hiker’s pinkie finger. 20181117_112005

The smallest hiker of all slept through the walk, swaddled in his mother’s walking fleece.20181117_105059

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Fungi suspended over autumn leaves

The sun brought out the color in what leaves still hung on the trees. We used honeysuckle walking sticks to traverse downed leaf matter. We gathered a few Osage oranges before the ghosts of mammoths could lay claim to them. I thought I saw a shrike in the back 10 acres. Maybe we’ll see his/her larder—voles impaled on hawthorn spikes—during the 2019 Great Backyard Bird Count.

We saw tracks. They crossed our path in wallows and licks and fur clinging to branches. There were hoof marks, short and long bird toe prints and thin drag lines. The turkeys left the latter two for us to find, surely watching us from a distance that would keep them whole beyond Thursday’s feast.

Color run

It took the dregs of July, the last real rain to percolate through the cracked ground, to get us through three weeks of no rain. A mustard haze hovered over the corn field across the road. Any bit of breeze brushed it into the water pans and left a brown coating on grass that was already crispy. Water in the cabin rainbarrel was conserved used sparingly.

In the floodplain, Cranberry Run didn’t run. Darters, minnows, crayfish and blue gill duked it out in pools, the survivors left to feed the great blue herons by day and raccoons by night.IMG_2139 (1)A week ago, rain–rain we needed so very much–came and went, leaving fungi of all sorts sprouting and the rainbarrel full. The drought dried up the mosquito swarms, leaving perfect conditions for outdoor art workshops. There’s no better time to paint in watercolors than when water drips from the eaves of the shelterhouse, eh?IMG_2122

On August 20, we dug through the kitchen cupboard, the garden and its edges to pool a palette of natural pigments with which to paint still lifes and landscapes. The Saturday class includes individuals from right here in Putnam County to a Tennessee visitor. Using rich colors derived from paprika, turmeric, blueberries and poke berries (plus black coffee, something that’s part of every workshop here), participants developed pieces lush with late summer color. Store-bought paints were also available and most everyone washed the first layer of a second work.

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There were visitors of different species, including an unidentified caterpillar and two haywagons-full of riders shuttled by neighbor Daryl Bridenbaugh. When paints were put away, the creative mood was still fresh. Board President Laura shared a slurry of shredded, soaked paper, mixed in some concrete plus a little dab of this and that so those that could stay onsite could make papercrete containers.

On this last day of August, one pot has traveled home to North Carolina while the others are still drying in Ohio. Instead of yellow dust, there is fog.

And it’s raining.

Living from the dead

Four years and six days ago, we watched a wall of white march across the field, a roaring mass that stretched from north to south as it blew southeast. We weathered the June 29, 2012 derecho from a basement window, watched the trees bend and debris fly over their tops.IMG_1532

In the end, several hardwoods fell on the nature preserve. Only a few fell over trails, so the others remained where they fell to provide habitat and host. We lost more pines than anything, their shallow foundations not suited to the soil and winds here. Four years later, the Fourth of July weekend provided the right conditions for us to break up the dried pine and safely burn.IMG_1533IMG_1540

We moved the brush to cleared ground, shaking loose pill bugs, millipedes and a garter snake that is blind as it prepares to shed a worn skin. Old stumps were broken up to make way for school bus parking. A cluster of mottled gray fingers clutched the base of one; a toe pointed skyward against another. I’ve never seen fungi Dead Man’s Fingers in the flesh before today. Makes the delicate jewelweed blooming in the floodplain that much more brilliant in contrast–but what a thing to see.

Spring 2015 newsletter

2015 Spring Newsletter coverThree workshops await you on the The Quarry Farm this season, including a May 2 workshop that should be of great interest to science teachers and gardeners.

Click on the newsletter cover to the right to read the highlights of what has happened recently on the nature preserve, gardens and farm animal sanctuary, as well as what is to come.

Hope to see you on the trails!

preparing puffball

Gerald Owen Coburn, the man who first set foot to the path that led to The Quarry Farm as we know it, was, at his very core, an artist. It was with an artist’s eye that he looked on absolutely everything, particularly the natural world; a recurring theme in the body of work that he left, whether in paper, canvas, wood or stone. He was relentless in his desire to understand the world that he took to representing, primarily with brush, methodical and nearly clinical in his efforts to that end. And why not? It’s a fundamental truth that among the very many things that art is, it is most certainly science, peeled and filtered and laid out sideways so as to permit viewing from a different perspective.

One of the first Coburn paintings I had the opportunity to see was a watercolor. It depicted a young boy carrying in his arms what I first mistook to be a large stone, bigger than the boy’s head. It wasn’t a stone, though. It was a puffball, a fungus in the division Basidiomycota. To put an even finer point on it, it was probably Calvatia gigantea, the giant puffball, specimens of which commonly grow to a foot or more in diameter. Even more impressive, when they’re immature they’re not only edible, but supremely tasty. Be sure, though, that you are indeed in possession of an edible mushroom before taking a bite. If you have any doubts whatsoever, caution is the word of the day.

While puffballs are agreeable to most types of preparation, I have a fondness for them cut thick, breaded and sautéed. It’s simple, it’s quick and the results are noteworthy. Here’s how:

  • sliced puffballCut the puffball into ½ to ¾ inch slices. An immature puffball, when cut, will have a uniform white appearance. If they’re turning yellow on the inside, they’re too far gone to eat. Make a slit in the tough, outer skin and peel it away. It should come free quite easily.
  • Heat 2 tablespoons of cooking oil (each imparts its own flavor; choose to your taste) in a skillet over medium heat. Alternatively, use melted butter, but do not brown it. Dependent on the amount of puffball you’re preparing, you may need to add more oil or butter to the skillet as you go.
  • breaded puffballIn a pan large enough to accommodate the puffball slices, combine one egg with 1 ½ tablespoons of milk. On a different plate, prepare a bed of breadcrumbs. I’ve developed a preference for making my own, but store bought will do nicely.
  • Dip both sides of the puffball slices in the egg mixture, then dredge them through the breadcrumbs.
  • Sauté each side until golden brown, then drain momentarily on paper towels. Serve hot.

sautéed puffball