A blog focused on nature, science, environmental topics, and happenings at the Pocono Environmental Education Center (PEEC).

A Naif in the Forest by Darrell Berger

Wing Tips to Hiking Boots: Musings of a New, Full-Time Poconos Resident

This photo was taken during last winter’s late storm that dumped over a foot of snow on our part of the forest, and knocked out electrical power for nine days. About an hour before the seventy mile-per-hour winds began, seven crows visited our bird feeder. Here are two of them.

In the years we have been out here, we had never had any crows at our bird feeders, though we have seen them near the road several times. Neither have we seen them since. Without being terribly superstitious, I admit that seeing them gather at our window just as the storm was gathering, seemed a bit ominous, foreboding.

That is, I think they were crows. I believe ravens are much bigger. There is also a variety called Fish Crows, found near fresh water. These are a bit smaller than regular crows and have a slightly more complicated call. I welcome readers to render verdicts as to crow specificity.

In this case, regardless of size and sound, these visitors were indeed harbingers of disaster and, to say the least, sudden tumult and change. This has long been the meaning given to unexpected appearances of crows or ravens. They are said to foretell, if not death, then at least difficult transitions. At best they take on the persona of trickster, bringer of surprises of “the joke is on you” variety. The old cartoon characters Heckle and Jeckle continued that tradition. Though they were officially magpies, they always seemed like crows to me.

The most enduring example of this symbolism is the raven in the library of Edgar Allen Poe as he contemplates the death of his beloved. Mr. Poe, however, was of such a determinedly morose disposition, he might have beheld a kitten playing with a ball of yarn and proclaimed, “Nevermore!”

I will watch my bird feeders carefully this year. Will crows again appear? What will be the circumstances of their arriving? What follows on the wings of their visit? If it’s another two feet of snow and nine days without power, I’m bringing in a scarecrow next winter!



A Naif in the Forest by Darrell Berger

Wing Tips to Hiking Boots: Musings of a New, Full-Time Poconos Resident

Readers of “Naif in the Forest” will recall my recent difficulty identifying mushrooms. This time I am 100% positive this photograph is of future Shiitake mushrooms, species Lentinula edodes, strain West Wind. I know because I planted them, or rather, plugged them. Note several roundish, waxy-looking circles. The wax seals a plug, about an inch long, that is hammered into the logs after holes are drilled using a special drill bit.

We tried this a few years ago, with minimum success. I think we left the logs a bit high and dry. This time they are in an area that is better shaded and stays damper. Now we just wait until spring.

Shiitakes are not native to our forest, though, I am assured, this plugging method has met with success locally. They are native to Japan and Southeast Asia. Their first mention in Japan was about 900 years ago, and they have been grown and categorized in America since 1877. There are all sorts of medicinal claims for Shiitakes, both from traditional Chinese medicine and current scientific studies. They are a good source of B vitamins, strengthen the immune system and increase energy. Stinkbugs and stilt grass came to America from Asia as unwelcome invaders. We’ll take all the Shiitakes we can get.

Among the many things I had never imagined myself doing was hammering mushroom spawn into logs after drilling several hundred holes precisely for this purpose. As an avid consumer of Shittakes, I undertake the task eagerly at my wife’s suggestion. This did, however, activate my long-standing difficulty in following directions, no matter how simple. 

Once I determined which setting on the drill actually drilled into the wood, I was fine. Due my extreme left-handedness, I almost always inadvertently tighten a screw before loosening; turn a drill to the wrong setting before I find the correct one. I have no learning curve on this. I make the mistake, again and again, correct it, and then do fine. I define fine as “no blood shed.”  Watch this space for signs of Shiitake success or failure in the spring.



A Naif in the Forest by Darrell Berger

Wing Tips to Hiking Boots: Musings of a New, Full-Time Poconos Resident

This week’s photo is taken twenty feet from the edge of a nearby creek. The brush is flattened in an almost circular pattern. I suggested to my wife it might be a crop circle where aliens had landed.

However, she was a chemistry major and is prone to scientific explanations. She said they looked like where deer had lain. They were indeed deer-size. Subsequent visits showed it to be not only a deer bed, but also a deer lavatory. I had not noticed such clearings before. I have spotted a higher number of deer recently. It is reasonable some would choose to relax here.

Three deer have visited us so often I can recognize them. One is a fawn, who cavorted joyously while mom seemed to say, “Focus! Time to eat.” We responded with more deer repellant and netting to protect our garden, which proved as futile as always.

I had never asked myself, “How do deer sleep?” A quick web search explained that this clearing was indeed a likely deer bed. Deer rest when they feel safe, sometimes returning to favorite sites. They seldom sleep for more than a couple minutes at a time, and often for only a few seconds.  They can also sleep standing up and with their eyes open. They often sleep during the day, grazing at night.

They have adapted to being hunted. The automobile is their most treacherous predator, coming upon them very fast, making no forest noises, no natural odor.

I’ve been seeing deer around here since I arrived, as we all do, but this was the first time I had seen an area where deer slept or rested. I can now recognize such an area, and not confuse it with a UFO dock. Maybe, just a little and very gradually, I’m becoming less of a naïf in the forest. However, I suspect the depth of my ignorance has barely been plumbed, as future entries will demonstrate.



A Naif in the Forest by Darrell Berger

Wing Tips to Hiking Boots: Musings of a New, Full-Time Poconos Resident

This photograph is blurry. He ran when an object several times his size, wielded by a being of unimaginable power and intent, hovered over him. He was the season’s last stinkbug.

More precisely, he was the season’s last Brown Marmorated Stinkbug. I think. There are a many varieties. This one came to American in 1998, first seen in Allentown, PA, and has since widely dispersed. Marmorated means “veined like marble.” His back looks like a shield from a warrior on “Game of Thrones.”

When threatened, rather than bite or sting, they secrete an odor often compared to coriander. Why this is considered malodorous, I don’t know. What enhances the taste of Blue Moon beer might be offensive when secreted by a bug.

Stinkbugs are also called Shield bugs. Stink or Shield ? If one is inundated with hundreds of them, as sometimes happens in the fall, then their secretions might seem noxious. When viewing the creatures one at a time, their beauty emerges: the complex symmetry of their intricate marbled shields.

Stinkbugs have no commercial value; nobody developed an advertising campaign for them, like when Chinese Gooseberries were rebranded to Kiwi fruit and the rest is marketing history. Stink/Shield bugs suffer the fate of anything found by humans in quantities large enough to inconvenience them. The smell begins not to entice like coriander, with lemon pungency, but to stink. Their beauty becomes invisible. They are perceived as invaders and the most important thing is simply to be rid of them.

How many stinkbugs make an invasion? When do they begin to stink? The one I tried to photograph seemed only to want to live and be left alone. Yet I know if confronted with hundreds in my basement I would think and act differently. The Brown Marmorated Stinkbug and the Human Being are both invaders of the forest. Both ought to tread through the forest softly, doing as little damage as possible. In this respect the bug exhibits what the human has yet to learn.



A Naif in the Forest by Darrell Berger

Wing Tips to Hiking Boots: Musings of a New, Full-Time Poconos Resident

The fall colors had been disappointing. Endless rain and cloudy days are not conducive to fall colors. Our terrible summer, which followed a spring too late to earn its name, which followed a winter where we lost power for nine days, was ushering in an autumn that was not going to be in any way redemptive.

Additionally, I wasn’t in the forest for the middle of the month. By the time I returned last week, I had missed a peak that I could not confirm had even happened. I was frankly a little disappointed at the so-called wonders of nature.

Last week I walked with Violet the Corgi, intentionally to find what vivid colors of the year I might salvage. A bit of sunshine broke through, for which I was more than usually grateful, it being so rare of late. I discovered, much to my relief, that fall colors were indeed everywhere, wonderful as always.

They were a bit past their peak, but so am I. They might not be as vivid as usual, but for this year’s lack of showiness, there was textured ochre in endless variety. The further we walked, the more colorful it became. Here was a tree quite spectacular. There was a sprig of red, contrasting vividly against the pines. Our driveway was golden. A drive to Milford presented a number of huge trees, any one of which deserved their own filming and framing.

Maybe the fall had been a little disappointed in me. “Hey, buddy. We did our thing,” said the forest. “We turned from green to all the usual colors, and you weren’t even present for the show. You show up in the bottom of the eighth, don’t expect to see every hitter.”

There are a few days left of fall, and even more before winter really asserts itself, I hope. It’s not enough for the colors to appear, it seems. I also need to take the time, focus my attention, to see them.



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