An au­tumn walk in the woods

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - LIFE - Bob Bey­fuss Gar­den Tips Bob Bey­fuss lives and gar­dens in Schoharie County. Send him an e-mail to rlb14@cor­nell.edu.

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.

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