The County Forest

I was driving home from an especially wonderful day at Wildwood Glen one afternoon in mid-September and had some time to spare. Instead of rushing home along the county road, I decided to venture through the county forest along roadways that I had not yet driven. There are miles and miles of drivable fire lanes and multi-use trails criss-crossing the the vast and sprawling county forest lands and any vehicle that is allowed on public roadways is allowed to drive these trails.

The leaves of the maples in the understory had just barely begun to let go of their green pigment, and there was still a lot of shrubby greenery on the ground. But the temperatures had begun to drop and fall was definitely in the air that early autumn day. It was time to start scouting for deer hunting locations, and the Ruffed Grouse season was newly open. I had my 20 gauge shotgun ready in the passenger seat just in case.

The rains had been plentiful recently, and the woodlands in the region were filled with dozens of species of mushrooms. I was particularly interested in exploring the forest just west of where my friend John, a retired professor of mycology, lived. He had mentioned many times finding a good number of the mushrooms he and his wife harvested annually not far from his home. I had a feeling that since there were thousands of acres of public land just beyond his backyard, I might find some good specimens along these trails.

I was pleased to find the gravel roadways so well maintained. I drive an old Prius, which still gets pretty great gas mileage, is fairly quiet, and has been a good vehicle for birdwatching, hunting, and general exploration of the great outdoors. But it doesn’t have very good clearance. Even the “driveway” at Wildwood Glen is too much for it at times, since there are a few small maple sapling stumps that need to be sheared off or pulled out. I cringe nearly every time when the front or back bumpers catch them on my way in and out of the driveway.

Still, I try to take the Prius as often as I can, since my other vehicle, a rusty old Suburban, gets about 10 mpg and the radio doesn’t work. I’m one of those boring people who likes to listen to MPR when I’m wandering about the countryside, so the thought of no radio combined with bad gas mileage is a good deterrent for not taking “Sherman” out very often. So I was happy with the well-maintained trails of the county forest.

I entered the forest and soon came to a crossroads where there was a sign posted, pointing one direction for Sweeny’s Bar, another for Haps Landing, and indicating that the Village of Webster was only a few miles behind me. I headed west, and found myself traveling through a delightful woodland with tall, leggy red maples and big-toothed aspen growing close together above a sparsely covered forest floor.

It had been a mostly cloudy day, and the afternoon light was filtered by the still-green leaves and the trunks of the closely growing trees, so these woods were eerily dark, but not at all uninviting. The first thing that caught my eye was a clump of oyster mushrooms growing on a rotting tree stump. I parked off to the side of the trail and grabbed my iphone to get some pictures. Of course, once out of the car, I noticed lots of other mushrooms pushing through the dirt under logs, growing on rotting wood, even on skinny branches four or five feet in the air. A fungi paradise!

Over the next few weeks, I drove through this forest several times, watching the leaves turn and eventually drop to the forest floor, and even hunted there during the gun deer season. Only a few minutes from Wildwood Glen, I hope to do a lot more exploring of these thousands of acres of public land through all the seasons over the next several years.

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