Sunday, September 28, 2008

Smaller things

I've long aspired to be a "naturalist hunter" who knows more than just how to identify the prey he seeks. I prefer to be passing familiar with and able to name the various forbs, grasses, trees, bushes, birds and non-game species and would like to know something about their lives and interactions as well. Of course, part of this is in service to becoming a more effective hunter, as knowledge of habitat is closely linked to knowledge of game, but there is more to it than that. Being familiar with the countryside and knowing about it strikes me as both more respectful of game and as adding a substantially to the interest in a day afield. After reading Aldo Leopold's "A Sand County Almanac" back in my teens I formalized this aspiration, though the general interest in things natural has been inherent for as long as I can recall. Consequently, I carry field guides around a lot, although I don't use them as often as I should and I have a hard time remembering the names of flowers even after I've keyed them out. I also count myself lucky if I can name a quarter of the plants or birds encountered in a day.

I realize that no one can know everything, or even most things, about a given habitat. People who spend their entire lives outdoors in formal or informal study still get surprised or mystified, which is kind of the point to the whole thing. Nonetheless I get a fair bit of satisfaction from adding a new bit of knowledge about natural things.

The last few trips out have involved a lot of looking at and trying to identify mushrooms. I've been interested in edible wild mushrooms for a while, but dire warnings and complete unfamiliarity with the fungi kept me from exploring it much. Classes and field events by the local mycological society consistently fell at the wrong time, too. However, after an introduction to the subject by those in the know and some time with the books, I've started looking more closely. A recent trip hunting for grouse (unsuccessful, I'm not sure that this is a very good grouse year) provided a chance to put names to things I've seen before, wondered at, but never identified. For that matter, it also provided a whole other layer of things to notice. Mushrooms (not just animal tracks) underfoot, grouse to look out low down and in the middle distance, and larger fauna out at the limit of sight.

Fall is creeping up- the aspens hadn't gone yellow, but the ferns that grow in this wet corner of the mountain range are crispy and brown and the plants in the draws are getting a little color. The morning started out auspiciously, on the drive up a nice six-by bull elk loped out of a draw and paused on a small ridge a short hundred yards away, posing against the skyline. The weather was almost cool, enough so for easy walking, but Booker still got dry and was grateful for the few springs running now that the afternoon rains have tapered off:

As to fungi, first, a red belted polypore- common and inedible, but interesting, especially if you take the time to look:

Check out the lovely white underside:

Next, a dye polypore:

Also inedible but funky and cool. An earthstar, ditto:

Lots of unidentified fungi, too. Apart from those, a few shaggymanes and puffballs provided a bit of flavor the our grouse-less dinner once home.


Finspot said...

A very wise post indeed! Unfortunately I meet a lot of outdoorsmen (hikers, bikers, hunters, anglers, etc.) who could care less about non-game species in the woods. But you're right: understanding the interconnections makes you a better hunter.

BTW, speaking of fungi, over at Fat of the Land I'm doing a shroompalooza of sorts that should last through the fall.

mdmnm said...

Thanks, finspot!

I've been enjoying your fungi posts very much- lovely photos and great recipes. I'm also a bit in awe of the variety of mushrooms you've hunted up.