Tag Archives: black bear

keeper of the keys: day 3

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My new best coffee! I get up at 6 AM to get ready to open the office at 7. It takes me a while to wake up. I brought a bag of instant powdered coconut milk for creamer. Mixed with honey in pressed coffee the flavors astound me! This one cup coffee press it’s great for a single mug.

Checking out gate keys to visitors was easy and I’m surprised most of them want to chat a while instead of rushing to their hunt. It’s a pleasant way to start the morning. I nearly filled the wood bin and then made pumpkin soup for lunch, stirring in coconut powder instead of canned coconut milk. Scrumptious with a mug of mushroom coffee! My husband rolled in with a friend and our 2 German Shepherds. The dogs stay in the van at the ranch so they can’t harass the resident wild turkeys. I made a pot of espresso flavored with coconut milk and coconut sugar and we sat  on the porch in the sun watching wild turkeys in the yard.

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I took a map and keys to 3 gates, locked the house (office inside) and we went off in search of the roads.  We entered Lake Road access gate and found this small ancient dog house nearby. Our dogs are too large to get in. There is a loading chute and corral at the entrance. We encountered a stream crossing right away (no bridge) and looking at the road ahead decided it truly was best for an ATV, not our big wide Chevy Express. Let’s hit the highway for the next access gate.

It was hard to find the Woodhead gate right across from the Woodhead campground. Duh! But the gate is behind a pond and no signs point to it. This road, too is not suitable for a van for very many miles. At least it’s not a steep drop off like Lake Road. Eventually we would have come to a peak and pine forest but I had to open the office at 4 so we turned around. I notice my office hours are the same time as the best light for photos, sunrise and sunset. I’ll be back in my 4X4 truck some other time to capture betters photos.

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Brownlee Dam, the first of 3 dams on the Snake River in Hells Canyon, is just out of view to the right of the reservoir. For this photo I turned around and now we’re looking down hill. I’m in Idaho. The land across the river is Oregon.

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See the road on the Oregon side, pretty high above the water? It’s not Lake Road but just like it. NOT taking the van on it! Looks like fun for a mountain bike. Yikes. When I was a child, not even in school yet, my family would take Grandpa’s Jeep on roads like that pulling a silver camper. What a hoot! Mom was wrong. Dad didn’t kill us all.

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We’re pretty high above the canyon but still can’t get cell phone service here. I thought the Carpathian Mountains were steep when I visited Transylvania but I’m not sure they are steeper than these. Back just in time to open the office, goodbye to my guests,  and I swapped keys for hunters who are staying the week in Hells Canyon, took some phone reservations, and checked in returned keys. I gave one chukar hunter a tour of the bear trails around the house and under the wild orchard and black walnut trees. So much scat! I don’t find any fresh walnuts on the ground. Do you suppose bears or turkeys eat them? They’re a hard nut to crack. Um . . . not for a bear. He stayed and we chatted a while about wild plums and elderberries and recipes for foraged harvests while we watched the turkeys eating grass seeds and apples. They fly up and knock the fruit to the ground and then fight over it.

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I closed the office at 5 and boiled brown farm eggs for dinner from the little Alpine store in Indian Valley. That place deserves it’s own blog post, it’s so eclectic. The sun disappears behind the mountain early so I brought in another load of firewood and put the wheel barrow back in the garage next to the tractors all the while gathering leaves with interesting shapes for water color painting tomorrow. That sound? Turkeys began flying up from the creek to roost in trees above it. I wondered if it was too dark to get photos but digital cameras are amazing at letting in light at twilight. Oh, the sound of these huge wings fluttering! It’s the sort of ruckus that stirs my imagination to write horror stories and paint scenes inspired by great beasts perching above me in the night. That was last night’s entertainment. Look what I can do when there is no distracting TV noise, none here.

And now I’ve edited photos, done some writing, relaxed with lemon-ginger India Tulsi tea, prepared sourdough to proof overnight, and washed my face. Time to do dishes and then go to upstairs to bed and listen to my audio book Far Far Away by Tom McNeal. It’s a dark fantasy, something about a ghost and the Brothers Grimm and lurking evil, in the fashion of Neil Gaiman. If it doesn’t rain much tomorrow I’ll get out and explore more of the Andrus Wildlife Management Area.

 

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Seeking Elusive Morels

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I can’t think of a more fun wild food to harvest than morel mushrooms. The spring hunt gets me into forests early and, though unproductive until the right sustained temperatures range between 40 and 65 degrees, searching for the elusive fungus is a great way to break in new hiking boots and strengthen muscles for more vigorous summer trekking. In the Payette National Forest the morels are ON now.

peek a boo

No doubt I walk past more than I find, like this one I spied playing peek-a-boo with me. Look again at the first photo and you’ll see that its companion was hiding next to it, just out of sight. These two photos are of the same finding, different perspectives. It’s all how you look at it. No, really. Sometimes turn around and look where you just came from. Just by looking back I’ve found deer and whales following me.  (Whales follow my boat, of course; they don’t visit the forest.)

emerging morel

I discovered some just pushing forth through the forest floor, showing that they can grow to full size below warming moist duff as they emerge. This one was larger than a golf ball.

dig in morel

Another much larger one was trying its darndest to force its way through the floor on its side. I helped it, of course. You can see only about a third of it in this photo.

knife for morels

According to Mother Earth News it’s not necessary to cut mushrooms off at their ground level. Pulling up the whole thing has no effect on it growing back next year because mushrooms grow by spore dispersion. I cut them off in the field so they are easier to clean when I get home and to leave a little more nourishment in nature. I carry a soft mesh shopping bag to transport my fine little friends so their spores can fall out to reproduce, assuring more gathering opportunities in the future.

bear

My family taught me to be wary of bears any time I’m in their habitats, especially when gathering mushrooms and huckleberries. This is one of two bears that crossed my acres at dusk several days ago. Neighbors found 2 more, so we had four that we know of in our little area that evening.

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That same day a rancher drove cattle across our pasture and up our creek to the range land above us.

This is probably why so many bears came down at once. Even they don’t want to camp with bovine.

two tired dogs

I take one or two German Shepherds with me when I hunt mushrooms but that doesn’t assure protection. A bear might chase your dog who will run right to you, or run away and leave you with the beast. Mom’s German Shepherd was so brave and persistent getting after a bear in her brush near her pond that it got its tail bitten off. We called her Bob after that. I wear a whistle around my neck but I’ve never had to use it in a bear encounter. If I remember, I sing or hum a little song, or recite poems so the bears hear me and they stay clear before I ever see them. Sea chanties work nicely. My friend, Nancy, bells her dog and it makes enough noise running around to let bears know they’re not alone. My girls are worn out after leaping every fallen tree they could find.

bear tree

With little training I recognize a bear wallow, though an elk had marked it overnight with scat so maybe it was an elk wallow. Uh . . . but it was awfully close to this tree where a bear had dug after insects.

Fresh bear scat

Another clue is fresh scat. VERY fresh! See how wet it is?

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And some  more scat nearby, a little older.

morels

At home, I carefully rinse the catch and then give them a 30 minute soak in heavily salted cool water to dislodge tiny critters that inhabit the fungus. Then I rinse them again, gently squeeze out the water and lay them on towels to dry a little. Mother Earth News says not to clean them and I agree they would feel firmer that way. But I disagree about their bugs and worms leaving with less encouragement.

sourdough and morels

Meantime, I tend to the sourdough sponge so I’ll have fresh bread to dip in the morel drippings later. If I’m going to eat them soon I store them in a paper bag or wrapped in paper towls in a bowl in my fridge. To preserve them for later, I dry the mushrooms by running a long thread through them with a small needle and then hanging them in a sunny window if it’s a sunny day. But it’s raining here a lot now so I filled 2 dehydraters with them and dried them in the kitchen. Fillet large morels lengthwise so they dry quicker.  Mother Earth News has a different method, still without cleaning them first. After drying them I package them in freezer bags or glass jars and put them in the freezer for a couple of weeks to kill any more enzymes that could cause trouble in storage. Then I store them in glass jars or crocks with lids. To rehydrate for use, I put them in a cereal bowl with just enough water to cover them for about 20 minutes. Mother Earth News wants to soak them for 2 hours but that seems way too long. Either way, save the liquid to use in morel sauce and gravy.

saute morels

Skip the onions and garlic. Morels are so flavorful why distract the taste with anything added? I put just enough olive oil in the bottom of a frying pan to coat it, and add a small slice of butter for flavor. No salt or pepper even. Saute on medium heat gently for only about 5 minutes. Don’t overcook or they get tough. The best of the best recipes is to fry a steak in a cast iron skillet first, then remove it and stir up the brownings. Add olive oil if needed, butter if you like. Saute the morels and then remove them from the pan. Stir up the drippings again, and then stir in flour before adding the reserved liquid (above) or some water a little at a time. Keep stirring gently to prevent lumps until you get the thickness you want. Adjust the amount of liquid as you like. Another way is to skip the flour and instead shake a small jar that has a little corn starch and liquid in it, then add it all at once to the pan and stir, stir, stir.

Trilium parasol

I’ve spent valuable hunting and gathering time creating this post so it’s back to the forest I go now. Mother Earth News has more information about morels, though I disagree with some of it. And at the end of their discussion they post more sites about the fungus.