An autumn walk in the woods
I was not at all happy to have to deal with last Thursday’s (Oct. 27) snow/sleet/ice/rain storm that made driving very tricky and also took down lots of the remaining leaves. It seems too early for fall to end and much too soon for winter to arrive.
We had a beautiful fall season and the snow seemed to signal an early end, much to my dismay. Nevertheless, my friend Lester suggested we go hunting on Friday, the final day of the fall turkey season. The snow, which remained un-melted at altitudes above 1,000 feet, would make for easy tracking should we come upon a trail of turkey tracks. I was planning on staying indoors all day Friday, to sulk, and think about my upcoming migration to Florida, but the enjoyment I get from tracking made me change my mind. Fresh snow ensured that any tracks we found could be followed and fall turkeys can sometimes be walked up to.
We left Lester’s house at noon, going off in different directions, planning to meet up in the woods in about two hours at a place we call the “pincher” spot. After more than 30 years of hunting these woods, we share a dozen or more well-known landmarks spread out over a few hundred acres or so. The pincher spot is a crossroads of three, well-used deer trails in a mixed hemlock/beech forest where
a triple-trunked, oversize, red oak makes a comfortable backrest for a long sit. I have spent many hours sitting at the base of that tree. To get there is a pretty hefty hike, uphill mostly, for a half of a mile.
I know a half-dozen different ways to get to the pincher spot, featuring several different forest types along each route. I decided to walk up through
the mostly white birch woods, in the hopes of finding Chaga, if not turkeys. Chaga (Inonotus obliquus) is an interesting fungus that grows on the trunks of all species of birch, as well as beech and hop hornbeam. It is highly regarded as an herbal remedy, immune stimulant and it makes a tasty tea that even I like.
It took me about an hour and a half to get to the pincher spot, and I did not spot a single Chaga on the way, but I did see several stumps sprouting lots of turkey tail (Trametes versicolor) , which is another medicinal mushroom I collect.
I filled my pockets with the turkey tail and waited for Lester at the pincher tree. The forest surrounding the pincher tree is very different today than it was
20 or 30 years ago. The forest then was a mix of mature beech, big sugar maples, red oak and a few large hemlock, but now the large maples and oaks have been harvested and the mature beech have succumbed to beech bark disease. Beech bark disease kills the trees slowly, but, before they die, they send up dozens of root suckers. When the surrounding trees die or are harvested, as is the case here, the beech sprouts form almost impenetrable thickets that I refer to as “beech hell.” Sadly, the pincher spot will soon turn into this forest type.
It was much too cold and windy to sit for long in the snow, waiting for Lester so I followed a logging, skidder trail and worked my way down the mountain. I was cold and pretty
unhappy at the lack of any sort of activity, animal or fungal. About halfway down, I finally spotted a Chaga on a paper birch tree, and, much to my surprise, I had remembered to bring my folding saw and I was able to harvest it.
A few minutes later, I spotted fresh turkey tracks heading back uphill. I followed them for awhile until they petered out under some maple trees where the snow had melted. It was getting dark by then and with my pockets filled with turkey tail and a couple pounds of Chaga in my back pack, I decided the afternoon hunt had been a success after all.