The Orphaned Woods: Puffballs

It was late summer, Jon wasn’t home and I was sitting on the back porch eating lunch when I heard the tree fall in the woods.

I’d heard a tree fall once before so I was familiar with the sound. But this time there was no cracking or braking, no rumble as it hit the ground.  There was nothing violent about its descent.   It came down slowly, the sound of it falling softened by the branches and summer leaves of the surrounding trees.

It felt gentle. I thought of that trust exercise that people do when they intentionally fall back into someone’s arms, believing they will be caught.

That afternoon when I went for a walk in the woods, there was the big old apple tree, dead for as long as I can remember, laying across the path.  It had toppled from its rotted roots.  It just couldn’t stand upright anymore.

Since then the dogs jump and I step over the fallen tree.  It’s thick enough that I’d have to cut it was a saw to clear it from the path.  Each time I pass it, I think that maybe next time I’ll bring my bow saw and cut it up.

That hasn’t happened yet.

Today, just before stepping over the fallen apple tree, maybe because of the snow topping it off like a hat, I noticed the puffball.  It was about the size of one of my dryer balls and when I bent down to look at it then take a picture, Fate checked it out too.

Fate sniffing the puffball

I didn’t know much about puffballs, except that the first time I kicked one by mistake, a brownish puff of smoke came out of it.

Since reading about them, I discovered that the big white mushrooms that grow in the pasture are puffballs before they turn brown.  They’re basically mushrooms without the stem or gills.

Their spores are the brownish “smoke” that comes out of them.  So when I kicked that puffball, I was actually helping to spread its seeds.  If some animal doesn’t step on them and break them open, their outer skin eventually cracks or breaks off exposing their inside.

Even a drop of rain can kick up the powdery spores and release them into the air.

When I was in kindergarten we took a walking field trip to Duffy’s Park, a few blocks from the school.   It was just an open lot of grass with some trees on one edge. Miss Corin, my teacher, picked one of the dandelions that grew there.   She plucked the yellow petals revealing their fluffy white seed roots.

It seemed like magic to me when she told us that the yellow dandelions turned into those white balls of fluff that I made wishes on.   That I was actually spreading the seeds when I blew on them and made a wish.

I never made the connection between the big round mushrooms growing in the pasture and the brown or purple puffballs I also found there.  I obviously didn’t learn my lesson in Kindergarten but it’s finally sinking in.

Some plants and flowers can be unrecognizable in their many stages of development and throughout the seasons.   The bark on a Black cherry tree looks completely different when it’s young than when it’s old.  And there are so many variations of pine and oak trees I can’t imagine identifying them without being able to also see their leaves, pinecones, and/or acorns.

This spring I’m going to keep an eye on those big round white mushrooms that grow in the pasture.  It might be like watching grass grow, but I’d love to witness their gradual transformation into puffballs.

I’ve also read that some of them are edible.  But I’m not ready to go there yet.

The inside of another puffball I found in the woods.  This one was about six inches round, exposed and already rained on.

Fate knocked the Puffball with her nose, breaking it open.  So I gave it a squeeze to see the spores drift out.

My New “The Orphaned Woods” Words

I sat up and looked at the clock.  The days are getting longer, but I’d swear it’s darker at 7am than it was just a week ago.

I woke up thinking of my Orphaned Woods words.  I lay in bed picturing them.

The way I had stitched the word “Woods” was just right in my first attempt.  I liked the hickory bark and acorns.  And I could see the word “The” as a tree and branches.  Sandwiched between the two, the word “Orphaned” needed to be different, softer.  A contrast to the solid ends above and below it.

I was eager to get up and get the day started.  Excited to get to my studio and create the new words for my “Orphaned Woods”.

I was sure it was no later than 6:30, but the clock said otherwise. 7am and just getting light out.  Still I’d get an early start.  In the past couple of weeks, I haven’t even woken up till after seven.

I was in my studio at 9:30 after morning chores, breakfast and a ride into town to make a deposit at the bank.

The words swirled around in my head, begging to be let out. I chose the nubby, off-white canvas for backing then wound a bobbin of maroon thread and started on “The“.

I still wasn’t sure if each word would be in its own separate bubble or if I’d piece them together.  So I decided to stitch each one separately.  This also freed me up to not have to worry about the spacing of the words.  I could make a mistake on one word and start it over without having to redo any of the others that came before it.

It came easy and I enjoyed creating all the small details.

Once I got the words done I pulled seven or eight pieces of fabric from my stash for the background.  I chose the insects and leaves because I liked how it evoked images in a field guide.  Organic and orderly at the same time.

It was dark when I left my studio at 5:00pm.  And I thought again about how the mornings seem darker even though it’s staying lighter a little longer at the end of the day.

Don’t ask me to explain it, but it’s true.

I found the article,  “Why sunrise gets later in early January, even though the days are getting longer” in The Washington Post.   I read the article twice and still don’t get it.  But you can read about it for yourself.

And even though I still don’t understand why, what amazes me is that it took me almost 57 years to realize that it happens.

The Orphaned Woods: Rosa Multiflora

“For there’s an immense intellectual pleasure involved in making identification, and each time you learn to recognize a new species of animal or plant, the natural world becomes a more complicated and remarkable place, pulling intricate variety out of a background blur of nameless grey and green.”
 Helen Macdonald “Vesper Flights

I know what the thorny bush is in the summer when it’s covered in white flowers and growing out of control.  “Pull those bushes out”, my neighbor told me when we first moved the farm, “they’ll take over the whole pasture”.  He called it an Irish Rose, an invasive species that the early Irish settlers brought with them.

That’s the story anyway.

Dense and prickly, the thorny vines reach out clinging onto anything they can.  They pick my hands and stick to my clothes when I cut them down.  The sheep and donkeys don’t eat them, (although I’ve read that goats will) so when they grow along the fence they’re good reinforcement.

The bouquet  in our bathroom

On the Winter Solstice, when I made a small bouquet of red berries for the bathroom,  I wondered what the berries were, but didn’t associate them with the invasive rose bush.

Then, yesterday after reading Helen Macdonald’s essay, Field Guides in her new book “Vesper Flights“, I was inspired to look at my own Audobon Society Wildflower Field Guide.

Macdonald writes about the importance of Field Guides as opposed to just using Plant Identification Apps.

She points out that Field Guides give a whole context for a plant or animal.  And how looking at the pictures and reading about a plant or animal, even before you actually find it in nature,  can help you identify it through familiarity and context.    Macdonald started reading field guides when she was a kid and they helped her became aware of the subtle nuances between species.

A photo is only a two-dimensional image, but coupled with information helps round out an image and make it more recognizable.

After reading Macdonald’s essay,  I made myself a cup of tea, sat in the wicker rocker next to the woodstove, and looked through my wildflower field guide.  Each time I recognized a plant in a photo, I read about it.

I wasn’t trying to memorize all the names or the information.  I was just getting to know and understand better the plants I was already somewhat familiar with from seeing them.

And this got me thinking of the red berries in my bathroom.

I hadn’t seen them in my field guide.  They were not in the section with the other red berries.  So I put a picture of them into the PlanetNet app and there they were… Rosa Multiflora.

When I saw the name, I remembered seeing it in my Wildflower Field Guide next to the photo of the thorny invasive bush that “would take over if I let it.”  A little light went off in my brain and I got an image of the same bush I had collected the branch of berries from a few weeks before and then what it looked like in the summer, full of white flowers.

It turns out that the berries aren’t berries at all, but a “many seeded hip” as I read in my field guide.

In that moment, Macdonald’s essay proved true for me.

I never associated the invasive sticker bush and the little white roses with the hard, deep red “berries” before.  I never paid that much attention to them.

I learned from my field guide that the bush was originally from Eastern Asia, not Ireland.  I’m guessing that the association of Ireland and this invasive plant came from the stereotyping of Irish immigrants in the mid to late 1800s.

I also learned that the rosehips are edible.

But the hungry winter birds know all about that.  This morning I went back to the Rosa Multiflora and saw that at least half of the rosehips were gone.

Rosa Multiflora growing in the pasture. Many of them eaten by birds.

The Orphaned Woods

Since deciding to have a feature on my blog called The Orphaned Woods about my walks in the woods behind the farm, I’ve been thinking of an image to go with it.

Last week I started a quick drawing of what the words might look like if I stitched them on my sewing machine.  But I never finished it, I just lost interest.

Today, as I was tacking my Shirts and Skirts quilt, I go the urge to try it directly on fabric.  So I found a piece of green fabric, chose yellow thread, and started sewing.

I thought I might have to cut out the words and move them around or straighten them, but it just flowed. I tried to keep it loose and unselfconscious, not fretting or overthinking each letter.   And when I was done I was happy with how looked so far.

My plan is to keep working on it until it feels finished.  I’m not sure where it will go from here.  But I’ll use it as is, and as it evolves,  to write about my walks in our Orphaned Woods.

And now that Jon and I are self-isolating, I’m sure to have even more of them.

Full Moon Fiber Art