It’s been summer for a little over a week now. On the quarry, and elsewhere in the region, I suppose, that means raspberries. Here they’re mostly wild and black, though there are a few domestic red raspberry brambles planted in the big back field nearly two decades ago. Now the picking of raspberries, dependent on where it is that they’re being picked, can involve some little bit of a blood-letting. Here, along the wildest areas of The Quarry Farm, that is certainly the case.
There are the brambles, of course, with their little thorns that snag cloth and skin. And then there are also the multiflora rose bushes, the thorns of which are a bit more than little and, consequently, do a bit more damage. Hawthorne and honey locust trees have thorns that, for the unwary, can prove literally life-threatening: honey locust thorns can grow to as long as five or six inches, come in clusters of ten or twelve at a time and are as sharp as needles. But botany is only one aspect of the blood bath. Mosquitos range in clouds of hundreds, along with midges, horseflies, deerflies and a host of other little biting beasts.
But the berries themselves make the challenges worthwile, not to mention the sights that come along with the raspberries. Things like dragonflies and damselflies seesawing back and forth as they chase their meals, those same pesky insects that are intent on syphoning blood; little black toads that scurry from spot to spot; robberflies pursuing the same kinds of prey as the dragons and damsels, but in a much more “point A to point B” kind of way; turkey vultures soaring across skies of blue and grey, catching thermals and various drafts that send them scooting to the horizon; and ropes of grapevine and poison ivy.
The berries, though, are the goal, and this year’s crop is bountiful. Speaking of which, the telephone just rang and it seems there’s a pie cooling on a counter not too terribly far from here.
Time to go.
If you’re lucky, we’ll save you a piece.
Carrying tussie mussies
Although the air is hot and dry and the fields are gasping, this same daytime heat and cool nights kept the mosquitoes at bay long enough for Ottawa Elementary third grade to spend some time on The Quarry Farm before summer vacation begins. Teachers Kelly Nienberg and Vicki Otto blazed the trail for what we hope will be many field visits by local schools.
We only had this group for an hour and a half, but while they were here they made fresh, fragrant tussie mussies of mints, lavender, rose and oregano. Also called nosegays or posies, tussie mussies are small bunches of flowers or aromatic herbs that have been given as gifts since Medieval times. ‘Nosegay’ is probably the best label, because they likely gave the recipient something to bury their nose in to hide the fact that the giver (and themselves) didn’t bathe very often.
Posing on the porch of Red Fox Cabin
After tussie mussies were stored for the bus ride back to school, kids, teachers and chaperones walked down the hill and up the hill along floodplain streambank, meeting Nigerian dwarf goats Marsh and S’more and Buddy the donkey along the path as the trio worked their day jobs eating invasive plant species. They watched and heard bullfrogs, leopard frogs and Blanchard’s cricket frogs (unless the frogs saw them first) and sampled wild strawberries.
Some caught a glimpse of a mother woodduck as she fled the scene. They saw the difference between poison ivy and Virginia creeper. They learned that nature provides a cure for many of its thorns, like sowing anti-itch, astringent jewelweed right next to poison ivy.
Cookies and lemonade cooled all hikers as they gathered off the porch of Red Fox Cabin. Some bundled fresh garlic from the cabin gardens to take home. Someone even snacked on a garlic bulb (we know because we found it, bite out and all.) Before boarding their bus, the students presented a donation to help support The Quarry Farm. We hope they come back and see what comes of their good works.