Walking in the Woods

My husband, The Woodsman, has dragged me on walks in the woods a few times since we acquired this farm property. The first was a few years ago. We went trudging through the woods throughout our property, looking for … I’m not quite sure what. At one point we were visited by a pileated woodpecker, which was dramatic. These birds look straight up tropical and otherworldly with their bright red and blue coloring. They are about the size of an adult forearm and have that distinct cackle, reminiscent of the old Woody Woodpecker cartoons. So, that was cool.

On we trudged that day, this time in the woods behind our house. There, deep in the woods, we came across an ancient garbage dump where we unearthed some random tin boxes and old glass bottles that looked like a traveling salesman of yore had sold someone some elixirs or potions. Who were those people that lived here? What were their maladies? Indigestion? Snoring? Gas? Lactose intolerance? Who knows … those bottles are now vases for my kitchen windowsill and I think of their original owners whenever I fill them with wildflowers.

Another walk in the woods was in the early springtime. The Woodsman was set on finding morel mushrooms. I know exactly nothing about foraging and frankly, the whole thing scares me. I’m terrified of finding what I think are benign mushrooms only to find myself tripping for days or, you know, dead. So, we wisely enlisted the help of our farm neighbor, Johnny Cash, to keep us from danger. (Johnny knows everything about darned near everything about the great outdoors). We pecked and poked our way through the woods that spring day. I was getting more and more exasperated and bored until I noticed the beauty of the woods in springtime. Ferns and mosses pushed optimistically through the warming earth and the ground was coming alive with vernal energy. Johnny instructed us to keep an eye out for morels at the base of trees. “They look like a dog’s pecker,” he shouted through the stillness of the trees. “Oh, God,” I muttered to myself. “What the hell am I doing? I don’t want to find these infernal mushrooms now.” 

“I think what we need is a good rain and then they’ll poke up,” he advised. Unfortunate wording.

We never did find morels that day, but a few days later, after a good soaking rain, Johnny reported that the morels did, you know, poke up out of the ground. He sent us a photo of some. They are oddly beautiful … if you push that dog wiener image out of your mind.

A morel mushroom poking through the forest floor

A morel mushroom poking through the forest floor

Ginseng plant, berries and all.

Ginseng plant, berries and all.

Recently, The Woodsman was hell-bent on going on a ginseng hunt. It seems ginseng season in Ohio starts on September 1st and goes until December 1st. I was vaguely aware that ginseng has some health benefits. A quick Google search revealed that it is believed to boost energy, lower blood sugar and cholesterol levels, reduce stress, promote relaxation, treat diabetes, and manage sexual dysfunction in men. And, it’s quite valuable, too. A pound of dried ginseng goes for about $500 to $600. “Ok, you’ve got my attention,” I thought. “Let’s find some ginseng.”

So, off we went, The Woodsman, our daughter, Fauna, home for a break from graduate school and me. “We’re looking for a low plant with five leaves that has a little cluster of red berries in the center,” The Woodsman instructed. Trouble is, that describes a lot of plants on the forest floor, except for those telltale berries. We trounced into the woods, stopping every now and then to survey the ground, arms akimbo, when all of the sudden, about five minutes into our hunt, Fauna turns around and says, “Oh, isn’t this one right here?” There it was, the elusive ginseng plant, exactly matching its description. “Well, this is going to be easier than I thought!” I exclaimed. 

We promptly dug around the perimeter of the plant and gently unearthed it, per our googled instructions, plucking and replanting the red berries into the soil. “Onward!” I shouted. “Let’s find that ginseng. Mama needs a new pair of shoes!”

We trudged on for about an hour, poking and searching … finding nothing. We relocated to another section of the woods and, just like she was born to do this, Fauna found another patch. “She’s the ginseng genius! That grad school is already paying for itself!” I shouted as we gently dug those roots up, too. But by then, the oppressive heat of the day started to get to us, and the intermittent rewards were just not enough to keep us going. “It’s hotter than the Devil’s balls,” I said, quoting our esteemed farm worker and aspiring poet, Wonder Woman. (What is it about the woods that evokes off-color metaphors?)

All in all, we netted four meager ginseng roots. I think that will pay for maybe one cheap shoe for mama. But it was instructive and, when Fauna found the prizes, thrilling for a short while. 

As I write, The Woodsman is receiving two shiny new tree stands to install in the woods for the upcoming deer hunting season. Unlike the pedestrian tree stands he has now, which look like old-fashioned ski lifts, these babies look like tiny houses in the air, featuring a roof, a door, and some windows. I fear The Woodsman may take up permanent residence in one. But, given his tendency for snoring, it might not be all bad. He, his ginseng and morel mushrooms might be very happy together out there.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep

But I have morels and ginseng to seek

And miles to trudge in the stifling heat

For other random stuff to eat

(With apologies to Robert Frost)

Ginseng root, found!

Ginseng root, found!