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Clammy Groundcherries, Everted Opossums, and Art

Sunday, January 18, 2015

I go on to the second barn, but find it full of honest machinery. It's a better barn with a better roof. I guess I like the skeevy one better. It tells more stories. 

I go a bit farther beyond the second barn and see a huuuge whitetail buck in the hidden meadow.
It's interesting how I have come to be able to tell a buck from a doe, naked eye, at such a distance. To judge the relative size of an animal that, through my iPhone, is but a dot, and know that it's really large, or at least larger than a doe would be. And darker. Bucks tend to be darker and bluer than does in fall.

 I long for my telephoto lens. I can count ten points on his antlers through my pocket Swarovski binoculars. 

Busted, he takes off. Wish I could do better than this, but I can't run with a 70-300 telephoto weighing about 8 lb. You can just make out the bone-white tips of the tree of antlers on his head.
Hope he made it through gun, bow, youth and muzzleloader seasons. Oh, and the three-day December shootin' spree. 

Chet and I move on down the road, noting a very nice patch of wild ginger still showing yellow- green! I hadn't known the leaves persisted so long into November. 

At the point on this beautiful road where I can see the little church, I always start to sing "Little Brown Church in the Vale," one of the songs my dad would sing as he took my mom, my sister Micky and me on long drives into the Virginia countryside when we were kids. 

Oh how I loved when he would sing. He could carry a tune, but his rhythm was a little off. It drove my mom crazy. Dale! You skipped two measures!

Of course we all sang along. Micky was really good at harmony.
I strove to be as good as she was.
She also drew better than I did.
Consider these things, how having a talented older sibling can burn a hole in the younger, less gifted one, make her long to excel.
My father knew about that.

It occurred to me as I uploaded these photos that I have never crossed the creek to snoop about in this church. For one thing, it looks like it's locked up tight. 

But maybe it's not. 

Shiver of delight if not.
Big disappointment if so.
I think that's why I haven't tried.
In such a public place my guess is it will be locked and barred. 
I'll get back to you on that.

It sits, a little jewel in the landscape. This spring I will go and see what's blooming around it, 
even if I can't get inside to sing and dream.

In November,  the damp bank of the stream was full of clammy groundcherries, Physalis heterophylla. 

I became enchanted by these members of the nightshade family. 
They were so similar to the tomatillos I'd grown all summer (which I adore; like a crisp, citrusy tomato!) that I wondered if they were edible.

Sites differ on that point. This one (Ohio Perennial and Biennial Weed Guide) states that the plant and unripe fruit are toxic. Yikes. Let me quote them directly: 

 Leaves and unripe fruits of groundcherries are poisonous and even fatal if ingested by humans. However, ripe fruits are not as toxic and can be made into jellies, jams, and sauces. 

Now, would you eat something that was described as "not as toxic?"


Me neither.

I'll settle for admiring their beauty. Don't miss the church, behind...

Ooh, ahh.

I'm going to try one next time I find them. Ain't skeert.

Speaking of not being skeert, I found an unfortunate animal. Do you recognize this foot?
Yes, that is an (almost) opposable thumb. But this animal has not developed an alphabet, 
nor learnt to grow grain.

Still, it is a marvelous foot.

We have not many truly scaly animal tails. By now, you have guessed whose foot that is, no?

If you are easily grossed out, you may want to put your hand over this next photo. I will tell you that this is what a turkey vulture does when it processes a Virginia opossum. Or a raccoon, or a cat or a groundhog. It turns it completely inside out, leaving only a head and the skin, the spine everted, and all the tasty bits gone.

 Which, if you're a Science chimp, you love, even as you gag a little.


here it comes

 So now you  (gag) know. I took the color saturation down a bit.

 It helped.

Sometimes I wonder, if I were some big-deal photographer with a New York gallery show, if I put a huge print of a photo like that up on a well-lit white wall, with a label that said

Requiem: Didelphis

and there were long tables of wine and cheese and some helter-skelter jazz trio playing, would skinny young people in heavy horn-rimmed glasses and long black coats assume they were missing some Greek literary reference they really ought to know, gather around and speak in low tones of the immense loft of my artistry?

Then I trot on

behind my little black dog

who remembers where we parked.

Just below the tiny community hall where he inspected the privacy booths, and we'd voted, first thing that November morning.


Thanks for taking me out exploring with you on this dark Sunday morning! (And yes, the NYC hipsters would marvel at your ironic artistic genius!)

The NYC hipsters may very well marvel at your artistic genius, but I'll bet they wouldn't be so keen on partaking of the cheese after that! Though they might slosh down another glass of wine....

Posted by Anonymous January 18, 2015 at 4:16 AM

Fascinating find, but needs more color saturation, please. I look forward to visiting that NYC gallery. I am certain scat would be included. Thanks for sharing your journeys, Julie.

A friend just sent me a link to your blog and I'm in HEAVEN, if not exactly in the woods with you. Your rambling, stream-of-consciousness observation technique is a pure delight. Add in the self-deprecation humor and I'm surprised that you aren't already "in" with the NYC arty set.

Can't wait to read more......

Not only was I not skeeved out in the least, I didn't even slow down in eating my cinnamon donut. I've also seen enough of stuff like where i live, close up and personal, as it were. I disturb the vultures as they dine, right down the road from me.

PS, thank you, whoever, for doing away with that old captcha. I had to stop posting here as I could never get it right.

Julie, this is an exquisite bit of writing - a perfect blend of poetry, memories, sacred places, science, beauty and gore.

I've eaten "ground cherry pie" that I purchased at the Shekinah Festival in Plain City, OH. The fruits are rather bland, but they taste OK in pie and never made me or my husband sick. A young man from eastern Ohio I met in the past few months was raving about his favorite homemade jam - made from ground cherries. I think their culinary use was once pretty darn common in rural areas, but they're less and less well known now. I grew up in Ohio and only heard of them in the past dozen years or so.

Now I know what those plants are that spring up in the garden, unrequested.

AND you've explained the inside-out squirrel by the side of the road last year. The dogs were very interested in it when we went on walks.

Until this post I had not recognized why so often your adventures leave me feeling nostalgic. Today I realized it is because they take me back to my teenage days when I walked with my dog through the woods, meadows, streams and abandoned byways, explored faded buildings and derelict farms, marveled at the beauty overlooked by others to the point of invisibility. A secret world and all my own. Now it is what I love most about birding.

Posted by Gail Spratley January 18, 2015 at 8:57 AM

I would totally go to that show in nyc!

Love all the comments and that you have at least one new convert/reader: arts4all! And I need to send this one to my younger sister because like one of the commenters she roamed the woods and fields with the dogs. I'm sure she has good memories of those days.

For me the close-up of the foot was harder to look at than the entire body of that opossum! The full body photo had me enlarging it to get a closer look. Ha ha. But I never knew of this eversion thing that vultures do. Interesting.

I'm still laughing at the artist reception gallery. Yer killin me!

So, cloudberries? When I saw the photo, I thought--gooseberries. That's what I grew up calling such fruit. Have a sharp edgy sweet/sour taste. Same thing?

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