What happens when you fling a pair of Carharts overalls over the cob wall in winter and leave them there until early summer?
Something find it cozy and starts a family. In this case, no baby robins, no nest of startling disease-carrying but totally adorable deer mice, no. We got Yellow Jackets.
I admire these brightly dressed and fierce carnivorous pollinators. From a distance.
Yesterday, upon removing the overalls from the wall, the wasps flew out, past Nathan (owner and disturber of Carharts) and unleashed their rage on our sweet bulldog, who had no idea where the attack came from and why.
Luckily, it was not a big, well-established nest (yet) and he escaped with just a few stings. But he cowered in the kitchen with the rest of us for what was left of the afternoon. Nathan was stung a couple of times. I ran at the first sign of buzzing.
Every time we opened the door, huge guard wasps would hurl themselves toward us, so we had to slam the door shut while they buzzed angrily against the glass.
We re-watched season one episodes of Game of Thrones, roasted coffee, made jam, then dinner, still the wasps stood guard. Finally, the rain fell harder, the sun moved off of the property and they settled… back into the wall. But they let us walk by (even the dogs) with just an increase in buzz volume and pitch as long as we keep walking.
We were hoping the disturbance would make them want to move away, But they seem perfectly happy in our cob wall. A whole matriarchal society that I have to slaughter. Sad, but we must finish the walls this summer, wasps or no.
In our 120-square-foot kitchen, near the east-facing window, just around the sill, rages an epic battle.
Foolishly, we insulated our tiny kitchen house with pink foam board. If you ever want to build a DIY ant farm, use this stuff under the plexiglass. Ants, particularly wood ants, love it. It is pretty, carvable, easy to haul, easy to clean. (Okay, I do imagine that beauty is important to ants on some level.)
Each spring, the ants start showing themselves by way of scouts, busily searching, communicating with others and poking around with a clear purpose. Then others, that seem to be on vacation, wandering and resting lazily along the walls and windows, or following their own pheromone trail around and around a flower pot. Just when they become a little much, they decline and almost disappear. A little while later, the male wasps show up.
You wouldn’t know by glancing at them that they were wasps, but upon closer examination, you would see the slender neck and distinctive face, antennae and legs of a wasp. They are tiny and black with pale blue abdominal stripes.
They swarm around the window, waiting for the young females to hatch, just like the parasitic wasp, Ichneumonidae, only these are much, much smaller. The only time I saw one land was on the window, with a trapped female on the other side of the glass.
When the females hatch and mate, they fly away. And the ants come back. We find this fascinating. We watch the cycles with wonder. On the outside, amazing creatures come and go, creep and fly, guard and fail; while inside the walls, unimaginable horror and carnage is taking place.
It causes ripples of internal conflict between the baser pity for the ant/disdain for the wasp and the higher all-immersing awe of Nature and her curlicue shaped laws.
We are experiencing an abundance of mushrooms! Everywhere I look, shrooms are looking there phallic little heads from under the carpet of wet leaves; or springing from stumps; or decaying beautifully along paths.
Are we a bit concerned that honey mushrooms, a parasitic species, are everywhere we look? Yes. But we’ll take that concern with a little salt and sautee it in bacon fat for our Sunday stew. (Honey Mushroom and Chickpea Stew with Cabbage, recipe follows.)
Spider Spring is a spongy little corner of the Oregon Coastal Range. And each time it rains, layers of mycelium blossom into strange and beautiful, occasionally yummy, fungi.
Honey Mushroom Chickpea Stew
Cut one or two pieces of bacon into a hot stew pot. When it behind to render fat, throw in mushrooms (stems removed, caps brushed and gills cleaned of all needles and soil). Cook until mushrooms release moisture and the moisture is evaporated. Add chopped onions. Cook until soft. Add fresh fennel and cumin seeds. Add 4 cloves or so of chopped garlic and a chopped jalapeno. When garlic and herbs become super fragrant, pour in a quart of broth (chicken or mushroom). Simmer for 25 minutes.
Add a quart of water and soaked chickpeas (1 1/2 cup, dried) to the soffritto. Cook for 2 hours. Add 1/2 pound bacon (Irish or Canadian). Cook for 1 hour more. Add a small head of cabbage (or less) and cook for 1 more hour. Taste, correct seasonings. Eat it up! Yum.
The Deer (or fawn) Mushroom, Pluteus cervinus, grows on wood and looks a little like polished wood grain.
It is edible! We haven’t tried them yet, so I’ll update when we do. It does looks just like its poisonous relative that grows from the ground, so we will only sample ones that are obviously growing on wood. On Spider Spring they are growing in clumps on an old vine maple stump.
As the name implies, deer love them. But that’s not why it’s called the Deer Mushroom. The creamy white gills have antlers! They have special cells that grow out and split. The spore print is pinkish or peachy colored, so the gills become pink with age. Deer Mushrooms are beautiful. Even if they weren’t food, I’d feel lucky to have them growing on our property.
Boletus chrysenteron, the cracked-cap bolete, is not poisonous. But it is slimy and unappetizing when cooked. A troop of these grow along the path from the driveway to the yurt.
Their cracked surface and yellow tubes distinguish this from other boletes. The spores are a brilliant greenish yellow. The cracked-cap is an interesting little fellow.
This picture of beautiful fly agaric, or fly amanita, was sent to its by Nathan’s mom in northern Wisconsin. It is psychoactive and poisonous. Mostly it is awe-inspiring.
The Lobster Mushroom (Hypomyces lactifluorum) is a parasite. It needs a host, usually Russula or Lactarius. It covers the host with pimply, orange (orange-red, purple-red, sometimes yellow-red) tissue. It transforms the host mushroom into a firm, thick-gilled fungus.
We found this one, enveloping a Russula brevipes (short-stemmed Russula) along the Drift Creek Falls Trail last weekend. After looking up the Russula, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for it. Not because it had a parasite, but because it is much hated.
The broad cap pushes up the duff in a way that makes Bolete-lovers salivate. When they lift the needles and leaves to find a plain old, not-so-yummy Russula, their disappointment leads them to label the poor little brevipes “mundane”, “tedious”, even “vulgar”.
I found the common mushrooms beautiful with creamy gills and dirty, broad convex cap and curled under margins. They were fun to discover poking up from under the fir needles. But they were dazzling in their red Hypomyces lactifluorum armor. Delicious, too.
I get just about all my information about species and identification from Mushrooms Demystified (Arora, 1979). General mushroom knowledge from Mycelium Running (Stamets, 2005).