Archive for the ‘Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge’ Category
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
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,
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.
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.
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.
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.
Early spring on the Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge reminds us that the refuge is largely a wetland…what they used to call a swamp. When folks in the lower elevations celebrate redbuds and dogwoods, here in Davis, WV, on the edge of the refuge, we delight in skunk cabbage, and the sounds and sites of many mating frogs. Any puddle on the refuge teems with frog eggs now, and then tadpoles, and then the ground is alive with them. Tiny at first, they head into the woods to offer succulant morsels to their many predators: birds, fish, turtles, snakes…just about everyone finds them appetizing.
Early spring is also time for the annual Woodcock Roundup, where birdlovers come together to identify and count this unusual bird whose mating dance is one of our area’s earliest harbingers of spring. This year the event takes place on Saturday, April 17th at 6:30 p.m. and will be led by refuge biologist Ken Sturm. Be prepared with walking shoes or boots and dress for the weather.
Celebrate this special time of year at one of the most beautiful places in West Virginia. As John Denver once said, it’s the place where you belong.
before the town of Davis was built, these Allegheny highlands were home to a magnificent conifer forest. Help restore the majesty of that primeval forest by participating in this tree planting project on April 10th and 11th. Meet at the Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge Visitor’s Center at 10 a.m. and join a team of hearty souls as they plant spruce and/or balsam fir in early spring. Sponsored by the Refuge, WV Highlands Conservancey, Dominion Power and partners in the Central Appalachian Spruce Restoration Initiative. For more information contact Susan Moore at the Bright Morning Inn 304-259-5119.