Hunting Chaga in the West Virginia Woods

May 20th, 2015

Chaga looks like blackened wood, or charcoal, when attached to the tree

Chaga looks like blackened wood, or charcoal, when attached to the tree

When pried from the tree the underside of the chaga is a rich yellowish orange

When pried from the tree the underside of the chaga is a rich yellowish orange


It’s a mushroom, it’s a fungus, it’s a parasite. It’s chaga, and it’s plentiful in the northern mountains of West Virginia. Known for it’s medicinal properties, chaga is brewed into tea that some people believe will boost your immune system and fight cancer. I have no experience with that. But I do know it’s fun to hunt, fun to collect and when you drink it, it tastes like the forest.
Chaga grows on yellow birch trees found in northern forests. Here in the woods surrounding Davis, WV, such trees are numerous.
The bark of yellow birch trees isn’t really yellow, more like a dull greyish green. But it’s clearly papery and birch like, and relatively easy to spot. The trees are also found in the woods ringing the Canaan Valley, in Dolly Sods and in much of the Monongahela Forest.
Hunting for chaga requires patience and persistence, and a few tools, as it has to be pried from the tree. To brew into tea, the flesh is then dried and ground into powder, or, if you’re lazy, small chunks can simply be steeped in hot water (not boiled). This is the preferred method of local folks, who have turned many people onto chaga over the years. The resulting brew is an excellent tonic after skiing or exercise. It makes you feel refreshed, and connected to nature somehow. Maybe it’s just the hydration, who knows.
There’s much to be learned on the internet about chaga, if you’re interested. But the most important thing to know is that getting out in the woods, whether hunting for chaga or not, is always good for you. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inonotus_obliquus

ArtSpring 2015 Promises Fun in West Virginia Memorial Day Weekend

May 15th, 2015

Tucker County West Virginia hosts its fourth annual ArtSpring weekend on Memorial Day weekend this year, with art, food, music and fun throughout Davis, Thomas and Canaan Valley.
The weekend’s activities begin Friday May 22nd and continue through Sunday May 24th. A schedule of events can be found at www.artspringwv.com or by visiting www.facebook.com/ArtSpringWV
The weekend features activities for every age and interest. There will be fine art demonstrations, caricature artists, street musicians, photography walks, mushroom walks (led by Chip Chase), food and craft vendors, and much much more. The event was created by local artists to highlight the area’s growing art and cultural scene, which, when added to its outdoor recreation venues, creates a vacation opportunity the whole family can enjoy.
So bring the kids. Bring the dog. Bring sunblock…and a jacket. It’s spring in the mountains…anything is possible!

West Virginia Mine Wars Museum Opens May 16th

May 5th, 2015

West Virginia, and much of Appalachia, has a conflicted relationship with the coal industry. It’s an industry that provided and still provides good paying jobs in an area where employment is scarce. It’s an industry that produced pride, in jobs that were necessary, important and challenging. But the price for those jobs has been steep: death, disease and environmental destruction.
In the industry’s early years the coal companies held much of the region’s political power. Attempts to mobilize miners to improve working conditions and wages were met with stiff resistance. At one point the battles between the two sides became actual wars.
The West Virginia Mine Wars Museum, now under construction in the tiny town of Matewan, WV preserves and interprets artifacts and historical records of the local communities affected by the mine wars, exploring historical events from multiple perspectives through the lives of ordinary people.
The grand opening for the museum is May 16th. You can find out more and even contribute by visiting www.wvminewars.com
It’s an important piece of history. Don’t miss it.

West Virginia Spring: A Sea of Serviceberry

May 1st, 2015

Spring comes slowly in the northern mountains of West Virginia. Near Davis and Thomas, in Tucker County, we endure a lengthy and dreary mud season when everywhere else is in gorgeous bloom. But by late April, and early May, we are rewarded by a remarkable show of Serviceberry trees. Not just a few, either, but a mass of trees whose delicate blossoms dominate the landscape for weeks.
The show is especially lovely between Davis and Canaan Valley, along Route 32, but in truth it’s beautiful nearly everywhere. It’s a subtle show, though,

Serviceberry trees dominate the landscape in Tucker Co, WV

Serviceberry trees dominate the landscape in Tucker Co, WV

Delicate and subtle Serviceberry blossoms

Delicate and subtle Serviceberry blossoms

one that isn’t often (or easily) photographed.
In the mountains we call the Serviceberry “Sarvis” and locals say the name came from the use of these, the first flowers of spring, at church services held by settlers for early circuit-riding preachers. Whether that’s true or not I can’t say. But it’s a good story and one we like to repeat.
The Serviceberry is a valuable tree for wildlife, producing small sweet berries mid summer. Birds, deer, and bear love them, and a small handful will give you a lift when hiking in Dolly Sods.
Still, it’s in spring, when the blossoms come, that this unassuming little tree is truly unforgettable.

Camp 70 Bridge Opens in Davis, WV

October 13th, 2011
This handsome bridge at the end of Camp 70 road in Davis, WV now links CVI property to the Wildlife Refuge

It took awhile but it was worth it. On Saturday, October 15th, at 2 p.m. locals, tourists, politicians, dignitaries and more than one dog will be on hand to cut the ribbon officially opening our new bridge across the Blackwater River.

The bridge was built to replace a rickety but beloved old swinging bridge that townspeople had cobbled together after the flood of 1985, which took out an older bridge that had been used for years.
For awhile it seemed like the project would never happen, and there was considerable distrust and grumbling among the locals who had used the swinging bridge to access nearby biking trails. But sometimes the best things are worth waiting for.
Planning and funding for the new structure demanded cooperation between various government and non-profit entities. These groups included Canaan Valley Institute, The Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge, Tucker County Trails, and the newest group representing the Heart of the Highlands trail system.
The stocky new bridge is handsome, made of steel, concrete and thick slabs of wood, and it sits at a sublime spot at the end of Camp 70. In addition to the requisite hiking and biking, it’s a great spot for bridwatching, fishing, and general riverside daydreaming.
So come out this Saturday and watch the muckety-mucks cut the ribbon. It’s been a long time coming, and I hear refreshments will be served!
 

Bird Banding in Dolly Sods September 2011

September 30th, 2011

Entrance to bird banding station at Dolly Sods

Merlin captured at Dolly Sods and about to be freed

Busy scene at Dolly Sods bird banding station

As if Dolly Sods wasn’t fascinating and beautiful enough, there’s an extra special attraction that happens every year in the fall, when birds migrate. Within the Wilderness Area area across from the Red Creek Campground, bird enthusiasts from the state’s Brooks Bird Club (among others)  maintain a banding station along the Allegheny Front. The fine nets that are strewn along the rock outcroppings temporarily capture migrating birds as they travel up over the Alleghenies on their way south.

After gently extracting the captured birds,  the volunteers who staff the station gather information to identify and track the various migratory species. The afternoon these photos were taken they had caught a beautiful Merlin, a type of falcon with a mottled breast and bright yellow feet.
After the birds are caught and observed some are banded and then released to continue their migratory journey.

The bird banding station in Dolly Sods operates throughout September and early October. It makes a great day trip for visitors to Canaan Valley and Davis, WV. And it’s just one of many fascinating reasons for exploring our beautiful West Virginia highlands.

Nets along the Allegheny Front capture migrating birds at Dolly Sods

Bright Morning Inn Gets a New Look

September 26th, 2011

After 22 years the Inn's sign gets a facelift

There’s nothing like a fresh coat of paint to give a place a lift, and this year, for the first time since the inn was built, we now have a fresh new sign — a hand-painted sign, which is a rarity in these parts. We wanted a hand-made sign to reflect the special character of the Inn, complete with minor imperfections.

The new sign was painted and installed by local handyman Al Pityo. Al is the ultimate jack-of-all-trades:  resourceful and highly creative, and he also has a steady hand. We also had design consultation from local artist Linda Reeves, who chose a fresh but soft color pallette.

There was lots of back and forth about how to make the sign, and what kind of paint to use, but we eventually agreed on good old latex house paint, a decision I hope we won’t regret.

After a few years of winter winds and summer sun we’ll know if we made the right decision or should have gone with one of those stick-on vinyl signs that modern sign guys make. In the meantime downtown Davis, WV will benefit from the beauty of our colorful and charming hand-made sign.

Apples and Cranberries and Pears…Oh My!

September 20th, 2011

Ripe cranberries growing near Davis, Wv

Cottongrass grows in bogs, and often near cranberries

Fall in Davis, WV this year is more fruitful that I ever remember. For whatever reason — the heavy spring rains, the lack of late frost– the fruit is simply everywhere.

In the bogs on the edge of town extending all the way to Dolly Sods are millions (yes!) of plump red cranberries. They’re often found near cottongrass, and they grow low to the ground, which makes for a back-aching harvest. If you plan to pick, bring a small bucket to sit on and wear your waterproof shoes as cranberries are found in spongy wet places.

Ripe red apples near Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge

As for apples, they can be found along the sides of the roads, in and out of town, and just about anywhere humans have ever been. Many of them are poor quality volunteers — suitable mostly for cider. But some of them are wonderful, and you can only know by biting into one. Unfortunately, most are simply wasted, piling up in alleys and yards, or collected to feed the deer. The abundance is astounding, and the waste a little shameful.

Heavy Pears Ripening in September in Canaan

 

I discovered a few amazing pear trees this year, and some awesome cherries. Often these trees are zapped by the frost in late spring, which limits their fruit. But this year, when the mild days came, the blossoms stayed, and we are basking in the abundance of what was produced.

It’s Almost (Always) Snow Season in Davis, WV

November 22nd, 2010

Shovel Ready in Davis, WV

Typical snow trench in Davis, WV

Living in downtown Davis, WV isn’t for the faint of heart. Especially in snow season, where drifts can block the sidewalks, push up against your doorway, and bury your car, and that’s in a good year. Last year’s snowfall was the heaviest in years, over 266 inches, or 22 FEET.

In a place where the snow starts in November and ends sometimes in May, we treasure a good snow shovel. People have strong opionions about which type is better: the scoop or the pusher. At my house (pictured above) the scoop is never put away. It sits there all summer reminding me on our perfect summer days how we paid the price for this heavenly weather in February, and how the next winter isn’t far behind.

At the Bright Morning Inn we use a pusher to clear the sidewalk leading to the restaurant. We use it in the morning before we open, and then several more times depending on the weather. We salt the walk, too, using various products we buy buy the bucketful.

A few of the people in town are fastidious about clearing their snow. But most of us do it halfheartedly, knowing that any amount of effort is never quite enough, and in the end the snow will always win. We figure that the skiers who travel to Canaan Valley

, well, they won’t really mind a little snow here and there.

As November turns the corner we look forward to snow season again, for the crisp air and blue blue skies. It brings out the heartiest souls, mostly skiiers who–for whatever mysterious childhood reasons–approach snow with joyfulness and not gloom. It’s an infectious attitude, and helps those of us who work here smile in spite of the difficulties.

Last Leaves of Fall in Davis, WV

October 26th, 2010

Quaking Aspen beside the river in Davis, WV

Fall in Davis, WV is almost over, at least the leaf show is gone. The few leaves that remain now are the copper-colored beeches and a few stands of quaking Aspen.

Aspen is common on top of the mountain between Davis and Canaan Valley. When the wind blows, and leaves quiver, they make a wonderfully soft sound, sometimes it’s all you hear on a summer hike. In the fall the leaves turn brilliant yellow, and now in late October they’re about the only color left.

Every season is beautiful in the West Virginia mountains. Now that the trees are bare, and we see the contour of the land again, we remember how much we missed the view. But come May, when the leaves appear again, we’ll rejoice at that, too, and go off in search of morels.

The beauty of these mountains exerts a powerful pull, even when the leaves are mostly gone and the only color is what’s left on a small stand of Aspen shivering in the wind.



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