Days of flowers and fungi, part 1

GroupTwo weeks ago we wore coats down and up the trails to the northeast homestead to find out if the bloodroot was in bloom. The answer was a frosty “no.”

If the bloodroot blooms did weather the April freezes, they were gone by May 2, when naturalist Tammy Spillis led a walk along greening Quarry Farm trails. Armed with field guides and mnemonic devices like “sedges have edges,” staff and registered attendees started down Red Fox hill in a search for wildflowers and fungi.Violets

Our first find beyond a carpet of wood violets was tall meadow rue. “Anything in the buttercup family is poisonous, but they’re good pollinators,” said Tammy.

A sap test on the next find was done on something in the lettuce family, a plant called lion’s foot. A painted turtle raised his head from Cranberry Run, perhaps at the mention of wild lettuce, then swam upstream and away.

One of the preserve’s many corded grapevines, thick as a bodybuilder’s bicep, hung over the creek. “I never cut grapevines down,” said Tammy. “The larger the root going into the ground, the greater the volume of water. What actually brings down a tree is not because the grapevine is a parasite, but because water is heavy.”

She explained that an upper offshoot of a grapevine such as this one, when tapped with a plastic bag secured over the cut, can yield up to a quart of sweet water in a half-hour’s time. “Always keep a grapevine in your woods, just in case your well goes bad,” our guide advised.

Black mustard grew, hot and spicy, near the vine. Kidney leaf buttercup was a few steps beyond. Way back when, certain plants were thought to be a tonic for the body parts they resembled. “As science advanced and they made explanations into the different folklore, they found many of the plants held true to that,” said Spillis. “But many did not. This is toxic. Don’t eat it.”Spring Beauties

She pointed out a native loosestrife, common name moneywort, good for pollinators, flanked by spring beauties. Spring beauties are related to purslane. So let it grow — purslane is high in Omega 3 oils. That means it’s good for you.

Eric, the brewer in our party, was interested in the wild ginger growing on the old quarry’s edge. We first noticed one or two Gingersplants and their burgundy pipe-like flower in that spot a couple of years ago. The warm green leaves have increased in number since then, and new beds are springing up elsewhere in the flood plain. Tammy told us that ants are making this happen.

“The wild ginger seeds have this oily sugar coating. The ants come back for the seeds and move them to their ant colony. They don’t eat the seeds themselves; all they want is the sugar coating. Wherever the colony is, you’ll get another colony of wild ginger. Isn’t that nice?”

It sure is. More good things to come, further up the hillside.

violet jelly, Mother’s Day and a walk in the woods

Violets We’re always looking for a reason to celebrate, here on The Quarry Farm, teasing out any excuse to pull together with friends and family for food and song and conversation, but particularly food. Today, we didn’t need to look far; Mother’s Day is a perennial favorite. So we set up camp in the Seitz Pavilion, the shelter house on the north end of the cabin grounds, and laid out the spread ‘til the tables groaned. There were cold-cuts and salads and chips and dips and condiments, but for the Seitz family, the meal is what you have to wade through in order to get to dessert. Never was there a single family with so many talented bakers. Today’s menu included strawberry cake and rhubarb, cherry and black raspberry pies. Here, then, was one of the many faces of bliss.

When we were done, Anne and I took a short walk back on the quarry so that Anne could pick violets. For the past several years, we’ve made it a habit to make violet jelly and this year is no exception. I hobbled along behind, determined to work off some of the weight I’d just packed on. And while Anne worked, I played, taking quick photographs of anything I found myself looking at.

Painted TurtlesThe quarry itself is one of my favorite places. It rarely fails to offer up something worth watching, a moment worth recording. Painted turtles, sunning themselves on a log, sat still jFrogust long enough for a single image capture. Ranging along the shore, a solitary sandpiper picked its careful way around the quarry while a pair of wood ducks coursed nervously back and forth. A green frog, or possibly a bullfrog, just barely broke the water’s surface, .

While any body of water is tantalizing, moving water is even more so. Cranberry Run, the stream that courses through the Riffleproperty that makes up The Quarry Farm, is a source of constant fascination. At what we commonly call the ford, a partially burned log was caught up in the rocks that create a riffle there. While we didn’t bother looking, there are undoubtedly any number of aquatic insects and other macroinvertebrates sheltering beneath it and the stones that the Little Cranberry swirls over.

There are paths cut through the woods that make up The Quarry Farm. What was once pasture land for dairy cows has worked Virginia creeperits way through a succession of stages that have brought it to its present state, something that is more and more resembling the temperate, hardwood rain forest it once was. Where there were once scrub trees, shrubs and bushes there are now primarily sugar maple trees and black walnuts. Virginia creeper and poison ivy climbs these trees, using the bark as a lattice and creating a curtain of green and red.

Just slightly off the beaten path is the area we call the Cut Off. Sometime in the 1950s, in an effort to move water more quickly away from agricultural land, area waterways were straightened, or “ditched,” as was more commonly said. What is now the Cut Marsh MarigoldOff was an ox bow in Cranberry Run. The county simply recoursed the stream and blocked off the oxbow, isolating it from the stream. Even so, the Cut Off is an aquatic habitat on its own. The tile from a nearby field empties into the old ox bow and keeps it hydrated for most if not all of the year. Here there are all manner of plants and animals that survive despite the damage done to Cranberry Run. Dutchman’s britches and may apples grow along side ramps. Recently, after a trip north to a nursery that offers only native species, Anne returned with a sampling of marsh marigolds that she planted near the water and in a swale that helps to feed the Cut Off. We were pleased to find them thriving.

Jack In the PulpitWhat we didn’t photograph was at least as exciting: a rufus-sided towhee, a common yellow warbler and a black-throated green warbler. There were dragonflies and turtles and dozens upon dozens of plants, some flowering some not, that are only now gaining a toe-hold here on the quarry, plants that we’ve talked about transplanting here that have, instead, and thankfully, arrived on their own. Plants like wild ginger and dragon’s tongue, jack-in-the-pulpit and bloodroot. The plants and animals that make their homes here are, like the stream that runs through The Quarry Farm and the face of the land itself, constantly changing, Even so, it allows for a familiarity that breeds comfort. For that, we are forever grateful and excited by the new challenges and opportunities that every day presents.

Wood Ducks