Ferns Fade

October 4, 2021

The evening walks might be gone. It rained most of the day today, and looking out at the sky at the dark 6 p.m. sky, I falter and think I may not go out. But I do, down the block, with an umbrella and coat and I remember that it’s always better to go out and walk than not.

October, 5, 2021

Low gray clouds, but the rain has stopped. Only one red eft today. I can stop watching the ground as I walk, and instead I obsess over oak trees and looking for hens at their base. I should have brought binoculars with me because a pile of leaves can look deceptively like a hen from a distance. I have decided they are almost as sneaky as morels are. I try not to stray too far from my path, and continuously re-focus on the trail. It’s a rocky wet path today, and I need to have sure footing. The leaves are starting to fully change now; no longer just a yellowing. Out at the viewpoint, clouds linger on the river, which is a deep jade green today. It all feels close and low. What is this week about? This is my meditation on this walk.  

October 6, 2021

Along with the loud caws of crows, and the cracks of falling acorns, there’s a new sound: geese honking on their way north. The ferns are turning yellow, and some of them are fully rust brown. You can walk through them easily now, when just a few weeks ago I wouldn’t even try. Rain has made everything beautiful, and the many red efts on the trail blaze out their orange color. I walk by purple corts and purple gilled laccaria–you wouldn’t think these colors would happen naturally. A new tree is down and it was a smallish red maple, in full green leaf, looking pretty healthy. It took me a little while to figure out how it was downed. Nothing seemed to take it out, it wasn’t pinned down by another bigger tree, and its leaves were green and healthy. It hadn’t cracked at the trunk, but instead bowed gracefully on the ground. I noticed it had been completely rotted inside, and that it had been growing solely by its outer trunk. It became too weak to hold up the tree, I gathered, and perhaps in a strong wind it was blown over, bending down to the ground. I wonder if it will continue to live in that strange form.

October 7, 2021

It’s been still and warm, damp and humid, and it’s the wettest fall I think I have ever seen. Tonight the sun sets at 6:30, and I am out there on the ridge as it goes down over the yellowing ferns. There is no sadness; the ferns aren’t sad. They aren’t dying, they are just going inside, sleeping, dormant, until it is nice again. I was thinking about how humans don’t stop like this, and that maybe we should. Everyone needs to sleep, we all need to take a day off. 

The mushrooms seem very happy to have all this wet warmth. I found yet another stellar hen of the woods, several clumps surrounding a coppiced oak tree. A few red efts congregated in front of one of the hens. One of the several trunks was down and a hen popped up in the crook of it. It is always a delight to find these beings. I also found more resinous polypores, squishy little nubs climbing over a downed trunk. The woods felt alive this evening, I’m not sure why but I kept on hearing something behind me or over that way, or this way. But I never saw a thing.

October 8, 2021

Gorgeous foggy morning followed by a sunny warm afternoon. I’ve looked ahead in the weather and it doesn’t seem to go below 50 degrees for the whole month of October. In the afternoon, I walked around a great area for mushrooms, and I was not disappointed. I found huge black trumpets like actual flowers. A few lovely deep brown hen of the woods. Quite a few lactarius indigo. And a bunch of things I couldn’t identify but enjoyed nonetheless. Bugs were out too, much to my disappointment. It’s wet and warm, and while that’s good for mushrooms, it’s also good for insects. I found a stinkhorn, mutinus elegans in particular, which are always fascinating. Thin and tapered, red with a sticky brown tip, this stinkhorn is particularly revolting, yet I am always pleased to find it. This one was completely fresh–no flies buzzing around it’s sticky smelly tip yet…

October 9, 2021

Squeezed in a walk in the local small city while my son is in art class. It was warm, and humid with a scrim of pearl gray clouds overhead. Not low clouds, or dense clouds–the sun was able to come through quite strongly. There was a festival where I was walking, so cars buzzed by regularly on a walk that usually is quieter. I walked through a trail worn from people trying to get from a to b, snaking through an intricate rock outcropping littered with garbage. Not taken care of, or respected in the least, I felt pangs of sadness as I walked trhough. Crossed the street between whizzing cars that raced by a blind curve onto a sidewalk that was hemmed in by a rock wall, also covered with garbage. Glass shards sparkled on the cement. 

The desolation in these places is thick and old–huge caverns carved in the rock from some kind of mining from the turn of the last century cordoned off with chain link fence plastered with No Tresspassing signs. Lots of big trees in this small unkempt spot, all Norway maple in one spot, cottonwoods the next. Smartweed clotted underneath–is it dotted smartweed? I continue on the broken sidewalk as cars buzz by and notice a huge old oak tree,  far up a steep neatly manicured hill that leads to an old mansion that overlooks the river. Under it I can make out small brown clumps sitting patiently. Without my binoculars, I can’t be sure of what it is, though I can guess. I sneak on a side path up the extremely steep hill to inspect it. Sure enough it’s about ten clumps of hen of the woods all around this amazing tree., which sadly means the tree is not long for this world.

October 10, 2021

Today was a gloomy day, so when I took a last walk thirty minutes before sunset, the woods felt dark. The deeper I went in, the darker it got. The ferns are all almost all yellow and brown, the tree leaves are at least fifty percent yellow, and the darkness and quiet underscored the season slowly winding down. Chipmunks skittered here and there, rustling in the underbrush to let you know they’re there. Birds flutter in the almost bare thickets, their nests now visible for all to see, no longer hidden away, nestled deep in the prickers and leaves. An acorn or branch drops here and there. The air is rich and mushroomy, and explosions of ghostly white mold cover clusters of fungi. Crows cackle and mutter above, and I can see one chasing another angrily, it seems, high above the thinning treetops. I don’t go too far, it’s getting too dark and eerie, so I head back, the sky opening a little. Close to the water’s edge the reds and oranges circle the pond, and dead trees stand forlornly in the marshy areas, the deeper woods beyond them looking bleak and foreboding. 

Notes: There are so many mushrooms out right now that you might think it would be the week of the mushroom, but I feel you can never tell when mushrooms are going to come out so it may not be a season, in my very humble opinion, depending too much on several different factors. However, there is no doubt that the hen of the woods, or grifola frondosa, is the star of the show this week. They seem to be getting moldy quickly in the warmth, though. I really thought the cold was here, but the warmth lingers…As always, you can write me at julia.c.sforza at gmail dot com.