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Wednesday, September 20, 2017



Thursday, 7:30 AM.  54 degrees F at the ferry dock, 50 on the back porch.  Wind NNE, calm at present.  The sky is cloudless with some haze, the humidity 91%.  The barometer reads 30.02" and has begun to fall.  Tomorrow is forecast to be clear and in the high 70's, with continuing warm temperatures and chances of thunderstorms throughout the weekend.
   Virginia creeper, also known as woodbine,  has gotten a late start color-wise this year, but is now busily covering trees and shrubs with its graceful, crimson drapery. It can be weedy, so keep it out of the garden. It is usually among the first plants to turn color in the fall and often dominates the landscape in many places.  It climbs by modified branchlets called tendrils, as do grapes, and is in the Grape Family, the Vitaceae.
    There are at least two species of Virginia creeper hereabouts, Parthenocissus quinquifolia and P. inserta. The genus name translates from the Latin as virgin's vine. They add interest to  rocks, andto tree trunks and other plants as they clamber about, the former by little suction discs on the tendrils, the latter by twining tendrils alone. 
   Virginia creepers are closely related to the cultivated Boston ivy, which is a horticultural derivation of an Asian species, P. vitaceae.  As far as my abilities will take me, I believe the prevalent species in the Bayfield area,  and the one pictured, is P. quinquifolia, but the reference books themselves seem rather confused about the two species, so I don't feel too badly about it.  I am inclined to consider the plant pictured being a hybrid (how's that for spin;  I should run for office).
  Virginia creeper has rather insignificant flowers but bears clusters of attractive, blue-black fruit.  Native Americans had a number of medicinal and ceremonial uses for  the fruit and other parts of the plant and there is some reference to using the berries  for food, but I also see references to the berries being poisonous, so take your pick.  I tasted one today and I think it should be in the later category.
   Folks sometimes mistake Virginia creeper for poison ivy, since they are both vines, and both turn crimson in the autumn, but the former has five leaflets, and the latter three.  Confusing and weedy or not, Virginia creeper has always been one of my favorite plants.


Wednesday, 8:00 AM.  64 degrees F at the ferry dock, 62 on the back porch.  Wind SSE, calm with occasional light gusts.  The sky is cloudy and overcast after a thunderstorm again last night, the humidity is 87%.  The barometer has bottomed out and is beginning to rise, now standing at 29.65".  Today's high will be around 70, with a chance of another thundershower. Tomorrow should be clear, with more thunderstorms again Thursday through Monday.
   Of all terrestrial living things, there are few more mysterious and occult than mushrooms, the fruiting bodies of fungal mycelia that are microscopic and seldom seen in any  other way. Since some mushrooms are edible and very good,  others are deadly poisonous, and many are hallucinogenic, they have always been the creatures of fairy tales, witches plots and the occult.
   Enter one of the most famously, grossly weird mushrooms; the stinkhorn, Order Phallales, family Phallacaea; I won't try to identify this thing I found in a neighbor's yard any further than that.  I have only seen a few stinkhorns, none of them looked alike, and certainly none like this one.  Note the pore at the top from which the spores are dispersed (insects are attracted to the stench it emits and spread the spores).  I don't know if this thing is poisonous, but I doubt anyone would consider eating it anyway.
   Of course, as the song states, everything is beautiful, in its own way.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017


Tuesday, 9:30 AM.  61 degrees F at the ferry dock, 59 on the back porch. Wind SSE, calm with occasional strong gusts.  The sky is overcast and cloudy, the humidity 77%. The barometer is falling, now at 29.97".  The high today will be in the mid-60's; tomorrow clear, with chances of thunderstorms on Wednesday, and Friday and for several days thereafter, as our wet weather continues.
    I have said for years that cold hardy peaches should grow well in Bayfield, which is in Plant Hardiness Zone 4B, particularly near the lake, but haven't tried it myself.  This young tree is growing on Second Street, perhaps a hundred yards from the water.  Will it survive a really harsh winter? I think so, as our climate and soils are very similar to the New York Hudson River Valley, where I know peaches do really well.   This peach tree was planted three years ago, and this is the second year it has borne peaches (two dozen as I counted them).
   Varieties 'Intrepid' and 'Reliance' are hardy to Zone 4, and are also self-pollinating.  Hauser's Orchard of Bayfield carries a few for it's Red Barn sale every spring.  Pick a sunny, sheltered spot near the lake if you are a local, and give them a try.
   Tree ripened peaches are far better than any that are picked before being fully ripe and shipped somewhere.  I sure wish some young Bayfield entrepreneur  would grow some commercially.

Monday, September 18, 2017


Monday, 9:00 AM.  55 degrees F at the ferry dock, 51 on the back porch.  Wind S, light, with occasional gusts.  The sky is increasingly cloudy, the humidity 80%.  The barometer has started to fall, now at 30.13". Today's high should be in the mid-60's, warmer tomorrow, with clear skies; then chances of thunderstorms the balance of the week.
   While driving to church yesterday I spotted these large bracket fungi (also called shelf fungi and conks) on a red oak street tree.   I am sure their emergence is quite recent, or I would have noticed them before.
   There are many different species of shelf fungi that attack living trees and consume the heartwood, and I won't try to be more specific.  The fungal mycelia feed on the woody tissues, the fruiting bodies appearing only periodically to produce spores to infect other host trees.
   Once infected there is little to be done to stop the fungus, as there is no known control, and removing the mushrooms will not help the tree.  The primary prevention is to protect the tree from wounds to the bark, as that is how spores gain access to the tree's heartwood.  Lawnmower and weed eater damage  to the trunk must be avoided, and pruning done properly to assure quick wound repair (oaks should not be pruned in the spring, as that increases the risk of infection by oak wilt). 
   Raising the earthen grade around any tree more than an inch or two will increase the risk of rotting the bark and subsequent fungal infection, and red oaks are in my experience very susceptible to this risk.
   It is always difficult to predict when a tree will be so weakened by wood rot that it will fall or break in a windstorm, but this tree is, or will soon become, very dangerous.
   Bracket fungi are as far as I know are all edible, but I don't find them very appetizing.

Dying Tree

© Rebecca D. Gustavson

An old tree is compared to an old man.

I am an old man and I am dying.
I sit as if I've been forgotten.
I call out to the mountains, but they do not answer.
It is silent; you can hear the crack of my bones.
The bright sun breaks and murders my branches leaving me bare.
It has been hundreds of years since I've been looked at.
I try to grow, but I'm drowned by the sun and my efforts are useless.
I have cuts on my side, and my arms are separated.
Campers come and cut me, chopping my heart apart.
Birds avoid me as if I'm poison.
The young green ones around me laugh and play all day.
I am there, but to them, I am invisible.
I am free, but I cannot move.
I scream, I shout, I reach to the stars, but still,
No one notices.
I am an old man and I am dying.

Sunday, September 17, 2017



Sunday, 8:00 AM.  52 degrees F at the ferry dock and on the back porch.  Wind WSW, light to moderate.  The sky is partly cloudy, the sun shining through.  The humidity is 82% after thunderstorms again last night.  The barometer is 30.04" and steady. The high today and the rest of the week will be in the mid-60's, with mixed skies and chance of rain again by Wednesday.
   Another sign that fall is here is the ripening of mountain ash berries.  Mountain ash, small trees in the genus  Sorbus in the Rose Family, and closely related to apples and pears, are of course not an ash species at all, as ash are in the genus Fraxinus which is in the Olive Family.  The common name Mountain ash relates to its feather compound leaves, which are ash-like in appearance.  The two tree genera bear no other similarity, and scientific nomenclature of plants is based upon flower structure and its evolution.
   The mountain ash species most likely to be encountered are very similar in appearance and use, the most popular being the European mountain ash, Sorbus aucuparia, and the American mountain ash, Sorbus americana.  I find them very difficult to tell apart (although the winter buds of americana tend to be sticky), and the European species is very much naturalized and commonly found growing as a volunteer in the wild around human habitation. For landscape purposes, the two species are very comparable, even the orange, edible (not very good tasting) berries being very similar.  In recent years the most popular mountain ash sold by nurseries is the also-native showy mountain ash, Sorbus decora, which has berries that are red rather than orange.  The Korean mountain ash is sometimes available in nurseries, and is also a very handsome tree.  The European mountain ash has long been called the rowan tree in England.
   Mountain ash trees have great landscape value, as they are beautiful in flower and in fruit, and provide great wildlife food. They are a fine small landscape or street tree.  Many individual mountain ash also have good fall leaf color, and in some countries wine is made from the berries, or the berries are used to flavor a seasonal beer.   Horticultural varieties of mountain ash with truly edible berries have been developed in Germany and Russia, and although I am not personally familiar with them they sound like a good idea. 
   Mountain ash are all small trees or multi-stemmed large shrubs of the far north, the North American species being trees of the Boreal Forest biome; they are semi-shade tolerant and not particular as to soil conditions.
   Sorbus species do have some problems, one being fire blight, which is also a very common disease of apples, crab apples, pears and quince.  Sap suckers, which are small woodpeckers, can be very destructive, drilling holes in the soft bark in order to drink the flowing sap in the spring.  They can girdle and kill trees they take a liking to.
   Knowing the difference between mountain ash (Sorbus) and true ash trees (Fraxinus) is very important when dealing with Emerald Ash Borer, as that pest only attacks Fraxinus species.

 HOW TO MAKE ROWANBERRY WINE (from the English newspaper the Manchester Guardian)

2kg rowanberries, snipped off with scissors, picked over and washed
1.2kg sugar
500ml white grape juice concentrate
Juice of 2 lemons
1 tsp of wine tannin
1 tsp pectolase
1 tsp yeast nutrient
Sachet of white wine yeast
About 4 litres of boiling water

Mashing rowanberries
 Mashing rowanberries. Photograph: John Wright

Put the berries in a food grade plastic bucket and mash them coarsely with the end of a rolling pin. Boil the water then stir in the sugar until dissolved, bring to the boil again and immediately pour over the berries. Cover and allow to cool. Add the grape concentrate, pectolase, lemon juice and tannin. Cover and leave for 24 hours then stir in the yeast nutrient and yeast (activated if necessary).
Cover and leave for a week, stirring every day for the first five days. If your brew has separated nicely into three layers – sludge / liquid / sludge – carefully place the end of a siphon at a strategic height and siphon off the liquid into a clean demi-john – though a bit of sludge won't hurt. Otherwise strain through clean muslin using a funnel. Top up to the bottom of the neck with boiled and cooled water if necessary. Fit your bung and fermentation lock and leave to ferment for a couple of months.
Rack off into a fresh demi-john and leave until all fermentation has stopped for a week, then bottle. Rowanberry wine benefits from a long maturation period in the bottle – at least a year.

Saturday, September 16, 2017




Saturday, 8:00 AM. 60 degrees F at the ferry dock, 60 on the back porch.  Wind ENE, calm at present.  The sky is cloudy and overcast, after a brief storm last night.  The humidity is 98%, the barometer steady at 29.83".  Today's high will be in the high 70's, and there is again a chance of a thunderstorm tonight.  The forecast calls for clearing skies for a few days, then more unsettled weather, with high temperatures in the 60's to low 70's.
   All the rain and humid weather have delayed somewhat the onset of fall leaf colors, and those that have materialized are rather muted.  
   The leaf-peeping season is having a rather subtle beginning:  the black ash in the woody swamps and bottom lands are now a pale, soft yellow; the sumacs are turning their characteristic blood red, as are the red maples; the sugar maples are morphing from green to orange.  The effect is a soft, gentle mix of early colors, as ethereal as the rains and mists they emerge from.
   Whether the colors intensify with the lengthening fall season or whether they remain gentle and discreet is anybody's guess, but they will probably become more pronounced as time goes by.  But they are bound to be beautiful, either way, and with all this moisture the leaves are almost certain to remain on the trees a long time, unless we get an early hard frost or high winds.  But the final arbiter of it all is day length, which will not be denied. 
   Winter is inevitable, and it is not likely to be subtle.

Friday, September 15, 2017




Friday, 8:00 AM.  65 degrees F at the ferry dock, 62 on the back porch.  Wind ENE, very light.  The sky is overcast and cloudy after a  rain shower again last night.  The humidity is 95%, the barometer steady for now, at 29.85".  High today around 65, warming tomorrow and then dropping again, with mixed skis and chances of rain for the week ahead.
   The ruby throated (our species) hummingbirds have evidently left for their annual epic migration across the Gulf of Mexico to South America (some go to Mexico and Central America).  They are usually gone from Bayfield by 15 September, the males leaving first, and I have seen none at the feeder or  flowers on hanging baskets  for some days; Joan says she thinks they all left by Tuesday, the twelfth.  
    It appears the females and immature males migrate after the mature males. Evidently the three or four week trip is taken individually, rather than in a distinct flock. It is a daunting trip for these diminutive creatures,  who have to stop to rest and feed along the way.  The Gulf is 450 miles across, and they must fly it without stopping, often in horrible weather.  Many must indeed perish.
   I am not at all expert in these matters, so double-check anything I may allude to: but it seems hummingbirds and other creatures that migrate do so by the earth's magnetic field, in combination with orientation to the sun at different latitudes.  They will return to Bayfield next spring on or about 15 May.
  Truly amazing!
   To track hummingbird migrations and find out more about them, go to The
Simon Clark Aug 2012
Beating wings,
Beating wings,