We would have gone on our hike today even if it had been raining, since our goal was to find Autumn Coralroot (Corallorhiza odontorhiza), a little orchid becoming increasingly rare in the northeast, before a hard freeze could destroy any evidence of its existence along this trail. We had seen it growing here in September, although at the time we didn't have any idea what it was. Then I saw a photo of it on a Facebook post by A.L. Gibson (who also writes a wonderful nature blog called "The Natural Treasures of Ohio"), and there was the answer to our mystery plant. We next discovered that there was no record of it growing in Saratoga County, so we were determined to collect a specimen (or at least to mark the site so we could collect it next year when it bloomed). But how to find it again, that was the challenge. Not only is it quite small, but its spent flower stalk is also exactly the color of the leaves and twigs littering the forest floor by the brook where we remembered it growing.
So just guess who saw it first. That's right, our eagle-eyed Sue. And she found it growing in a spot we hadn't found it before, as well as in its original location. That woman has the most amazing eyesight! I never, ever would have seen it without her pointing it out.
Sue also spotted this little golden-eyed Wood Frog hiding among the fallen leaves.
Again, it was Sue who discovered and pointed out to me the lovely chrysanthemum pattern on the inside of these acorn caps.
But even I, with my compromised eyes, could pick out the dozens of little Red Efts wriggling across the rain-damp path today. This tiny one was the smallest I've ever seen.
Descending the path toward a small rock-lined stream, we were struck by the lacy loveliness of the understory trees, the golden-leaved Striped Maple and Witch Hazel.
How odd, that, when all the other leaves are turning bright colors, these little scalloped disks (I think they are Water Pennywort) have turned a ghostly white, very striking against the dark green moss.
Ooh, doesn't this look gory! It's a clump of Wood Ear fungus I plucked to take home to add to a stir-fry, and it oozed blood-red liquid all over my hand. (Sue took this photo for me.) What's funny is that, in addition to being an edible fungus quite commonly found in Chinese food, the Wood Ear is also believed to have blood-thinning properties. Could this belief have been suggested by the fungus's own bloody-looking fluid?
More mushrooms, these ones very small (the tallest one maybe two inches) and the most wonderful shade of lime green.
These next mushrooms turned out to be quite a find. I sure wish I had picked a whole bunch (there were lots of them growing nearby), because when I got home and looked up what they are, I learned they are called Sweet Tooth (Hydnum umbilicatum), one of the choicest edibles. And so they were, with a fragrance and flavor similar to Chanterelles when I fried my two samples in butter.
There's a similarly choice and related toothed mushroom called Hedgehog Mushroom (H. repandum), but that one has its teeth descending the stalk and often has a small knob on top. My mushroom has a deep depression like a belly-button on top (hence the specific name, umbilicatum). Maybe with all the rain we are having again, I will find many more of this delicious fungus. I sure hope so.