Rainy days mean peaceful days – the trails are desolate and quiet, an unusual though welcome break from the chatter of throngs of summer outers. So it was that I only came across a handful of people during this short day trip.
I set out to one of my favourite spots in the forest, the eastern side Black Oak Ridge (named after the predominant tree). Along the way I could smell a sweet fragrance from the hedges, the aroma of blackberry and wild roses in bloom.
When I reached half-way up the gentle slope of the ridge, the rain was starting to come down a little hard, so I put up my poncho and had a tea break. The trick to getting a fire going in wet conditions is to split the wood you collect, make a few feathersticks from some of the splints, and of course, have dry tinder available – here I am using the bark of a juniper, Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana). This may take some time, but remember, the key to a successful fire is preparation…don’t rush the process.
A few strikes from my firesteel, and away we go!
This is my version of Bushcrafter’s/Woodsman’s tea, using the browse of Canada Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) for a delicious and delicate pine-flavoured brew. Heat the water with the needles and twigs, but do not bring to a full, rolling boil – when it starts to simmer (a “light” boil), take off the pot and let it steep for a few minutes.
The above cook kit consists of an Olicamp stainless steel kettle (1 quart) with a frying pan/cover, and a stainless Emberlit stove. I acquired these as an alternative to my DIY cook set (small coffee can pot and nesting hobo stove), which, while being very lightweight, limits the meals I prepare to “boil-’n-bag” freeze-dried foods. Now, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I want to be able to do more than just boil water, and the Olicamp and Emberlit fit the bill. I paid about $15 for the Olicamp kettle, and I think the Emberlit was $40…roughly $55 total. So far, I am very pleased with both items. I’m not willing to do a review yet, but I can definitely say they are well-made and well-designed. The only disadvantages I notice are that the Emberlit isn’t really compatible with an alcohol pop-can stove, and the whole kit is a bit heavier than my DIY cook set.
While I was enjoying my brew, fog had started to form like a translucent curtain down from the summit. The trees had become lightly veiled, giving the woodland a hallowed, mystical appearance…I felt privileged to see such a sight.
After lounging around for some time, I packed up, and started my descent back down the slope, making my way towards the southern part of the forest. On previous trips, I had seen a group of May-apples (aka ‘American Mandrake’, Podophyllum peltatum) in the area and made note of their location. When I reached the place, I found that the group had grown into a colony.
May-apple has an unmistakeable umbrella-shaped, smooth leafy top, inhabiting moist soils along rivers, lakes, and in wetland hollows. The whole plant is poisonous save for the fully ripe fruit, which is soft to the touch. May-apple is considered rare in upper New England.
Unfortunately, none of the fruits I found were ripe.
Oh well…I’ll come back in a week or two, and by then they might be edible. I decided to head back, this time by a different route, and on either side of the path the dense brush of Mountain Laurel was spotted with beautiful, white flowers.
These thickets are just the place wild turkeys and deer love to roam, safe from human interlopers. And while the blossoms are dazzling, it should be known that honey made from Mountain Laurel pollen is considered poisonous.
I had quite a wonderful time out – a leisurely 5 mile day hike, and the wet weather mattered not…if anything, it made the trip more enjoyable. I really cannot understand why most people are disgusted on every occasion it rains, choosing to sulk at home or run back to the car. For me, it’s a time for cooling-off, taking a step back, and relaxation.