Tuesday, September 28, 2010
A Back Bay Ramble
Dark, windy, and hot, with intermittent brief showers: It seemed almost tropical today, especially when I was pushing my sweaty way through towering stands of phragmites along the back bay of Moreau Lake. It felt like walking through sugar cane in the Caribbean. Peering up through the feathery phragmites heads, I could see swirling crowds of geese sailing in to join the honking throngs afloat on the water. Despite this heat, the geese sure know it's autumn and are gathering in migratory flocks.
Phragmites is a horribly invasive plant, crowding out our native cattails and other shoreline plants. But one of our native plants is happy to make use of its canes to climb on, and that's Groundnut (Apios americana). There was lots of it growing among the phragmites today. I'd read that this plant produces edible tubers along its roots, and today I lifted a few roots from the muddy ground to see what they look like. Sure enough, there they were: brown lumps the size of pecans strung along thready roots.
These tubers, which are said to be highly nutritious and taste like potatoes, were once considered a staple food for many native peoples, who apparently can eat them with impunity. People of European descent, however, sometimes experience allergic reactions to them. Which is not surprising, since they are related to peanuts, also an allergen for certain people. I'm not allergic to peanuts, so I'm thinking I might try them, if I can find a source that is not on state park land. (All plants are protected from foragers here in the park.) While searching the web for methods of preparation, I found an interesting article from Orion Magazine that contains lots of fascinating information about this native foodstuff. You can read it by clicking here.
Speaking of native foodstuffs, the acorn crop is amazingly abundant this year. Every path is pebbled with them, so a walk feels like having shiatsu massage to the soles of your feet.
The acorns in this photo are not the kind you would want to eat, however, since they are Red Oak acorns and bitter with tannins. The White Oak acorns are sweeter and don't require boiling in several changes of water to make them fit to eat. By humans, that is. I'm sure the deer and blue jays and bears and squirrels are having a feast this fall.
As this photo shows, somebody's been eating these acorns.
The sky grew darker and darker as I continued around the lake, and raindrops dimpled the water from time to time, although for only a moment each time, so I didn't really get wet. One of the great pleasures of walking in autumn is that the trees brighten the landscape even when the day is dark. In fact, I think the colors glow more richly under a cloudy sky, without the highlights and shadows to interfere.