Thursday, September 30, 2010

A Walk In The Woods

Word was the woods were filled with Indian Pipe, Monotropa uniflora, in exuberant quantities, unlike never before. I headed out -on and off the trail. From the trail, I observed a little patch here, a little there. It was only when I went off-trail that I saw how extensive the slopes were covered with the myco-heterotrophic, chlorophyll-free flowering plant. I just discovered this plant for myself last year in Forest Park, so I have little sense of how unusual such a large population is.

But Rex, having been a woodsman all his life, assured me that he has never seen so much Indian Pipe in any of his woods. This patch was right beside his trail, the oak leaves piled high from a recent oak death above the spot.

Rex, who keeps his trails open to his neighbors, excitedly put up a sign identifying the mysterious plant for neighborhood walkers. I was excited to see his sign, I love signs -tell me more.

This is Hogpeanut, Amphicarpaea bracteata, swamping an area of the woods where a few large trees came down and let in some sunlight. I thought it was a weed, possibly invasive. Instead, it's native to eastern woods, edible, fixing nitrogen in the freshly sunlit soil, and probably is invasive to any garden given half the chance.

Indian pipe, caring not for photosynthesis, crops up even under the hogpeanut.

Adjacent, in the clearing, new oaks grow on the fallen.

And asters.

This clearing, towards the western boundary, is wet, causing much of the trees to fall over in storms. This maintains the clearing, allowing the sun lovers to grow.

Upslope and westerly, the woods abruptly ends at a fence line. Here, goldenrod.

Standing at the edge of the woods, looking northwest, we stare into the top edge of the gravel pit -so called because it was actually an active gravel excavation pit in the past. On the slope into the woods, piles of glacially rounded stones, and some chunks of concrete remain from those active days. Now the pit is covered with birch trees, some cedar, a very different plant community than just 100 feet to the east. No water stands in the pit, it seeps straight into the greater area aquifer.

Walking along this trail, on the northern boundary, we enter a valley with sloped sides.

The recent heavy rains unleashed a torrent down the northern slope. It's hard to make out, but a cleft in the slope, center top, is where the torrent ripped through purely black soil, washing this light gray clay onto the valley floor. It swamped everything in its path. Rex says it will kill the trees growing here. The cleft has been growing every year and there is no will to try to slow the water down that pours through here during heavy rains. There is no humus, no undergrowth to slow the moving water. This is a glacial landscape in flux, hills filling basins.

The red dot you may have noticed in the previous photo was a cluster of berries, the fruit of Jack-in-the-pulpit, Arisaema triphyllum.

First they are green.

Then mixed, finishing up red. These seem to be the only plants that grow in the deep shade under the maples.

Rex is always clearing the fallen twigs and timber, making piles he promises one day to burn.

There are about 8 piles now, all taller than me.

The southern exposure, which faces the large wetland, is occupied by an army of Buckthorn, Rhamnus cathartica. Can I make the greatest claim for invasive species management? That is a whole understory of buckthorn is really boring to explore. All green, all the time and nothing else.

I don't remember what these berries were attached to.

The occasional woodland sunflower.

The occasional woodland ladybug.

The occasional marble. I always find marbles when I am gardening.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Batali's Green Tomato Spaghetti

The question was what to do with all those green tomatoes. The answer: Mario's green tomato spaghetti.

What I had: mint, basil, parsley, garlic, green tomatoes.
What I didn't have: parmigiano, arugula. Trip to Golden Farms -baby arugula, perfect. Uh, no, not that parmigiano. Oh well, use the pecorino Romano I have in the fridge.

The 5 green tomatoes, 1/4 cup of mint, basil, and parsley and two small cloves garlic thrown into the mini-processor and chop chop, grind grind. Salt, pepper (he says generously). The red bits were from a semi-ripened tomato.

Cook ye spaghetti. Toss the whole mess into the hot pasta with a 1/4 cup of XV OO.

Plate er up and grate some cheese. The fruity-nutty flavor of parmigiano would have been better than the salty kick of pecorino Romano on this dish. Why don't I have any in my fridge?

Thursday, September 23, 2010


I thought Marie had a recipe for beef with horseradish, but it was lamb with... Before I looked it up, I was at our local pantry and saw horseradish, and by God, they all looked like this! Really, this is what it looks like before it finds its way into a jar? Now, what do I do with this? Keep it clean.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Dream Repair

For those of you dreaming of building a big house in the suburbs, or the country -a few words of advice. In order to build out the attic with a half bath, or to have a carpeted room over the garage (a little bit of hers/his?) or even to find a way to get a double sink full bath with whirlpool and shower, do not, simply do not sacrifice the quality of your materials and shuck the value of time worn techniques. No, it doesn't matter that your GM or your carpenter tells you he can do without the house wrap or tar paper. Don't listen to him when he tells you he can save you a bundle by using half-inch OSB and staples for the sheathing. And simply walk away, or better -give him the hand, when he lets you in on a little known secret in siding technology that will save you so much that all your dreams will come true.

Because this is what happens. In 10 years. An OSB sheathed and sided house in a cold and wet climate is a sin. Forgo the house wrap, and you'll be sent straight to hell. Having saved so much on these items, you decided then to build the house extra large. It's a good thing the siding is so cheap because you now have even more surface area to cover with it. A house built this large is not a throwaway item, but it doesn't matter, because your rationality was clogged by your outsized dreams, your magnificent belief in the power of house and home.

Over the last four summers, my wife and I have been replacing the siding and sheathing on Rex's house. For the record, he did not build this house -he bought it from those who did (divorce, ugly). He bought it for the woods; the house he has changed not one bit from the day he bought it 9 years ago. Sometimes I fantasize that this house would burn down, replaced by insurance money that would build a smaller, well-built house. But Rex is too old for all that turmoil. He's happy that we work on the structure, staving off more costly repairs.

On this day, although we had greater goals, we ran out of materials and called it a year. It was hot and humid, phantom mosquitoes biting along with the real ones. Southerly flow, storm's coming. Let's hit Little Long before the rain. As we rolled from the concrete pad, we were amazed by the hundreds of large dragon flies circling and spiraling the front yard. An event.

The phenomena continued on the road to Little Long Lake. In some spots, birds flocked to wires, apparently to catch dragonflies. The roads here are dirt and gravel and this one is being widened and paved.

The water was cold -at first. A slight breeze was being pulled in by the thunderstorms to our east. The rain never came. We were the only swimmers. There was a man with a dog fishing in a boat.

Can you see the fish?

You can see the watermilfoil, Myriophyllum spicatum. Imagine it like underwater mint.

Little Long has little of houses on it. To the west is an esker. The trail I imagined last year passes by the lake along the esker.

Purple Loosestrife makes its appearance in many, but not all, of the marshes around here. It's a wonderful addition where it is spotty, undoubtedly part of how it perseveres. Rex says it is declining in the area, but I am skeptical.