Weekly Walk: Puff balls popping up along the trails

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Ellen Davis | September 15, 2015

The Weekly Walks for September 8  and  9, 2015

The 4 p.m. Tuesday hike,  reported by Norwin Watson:     

This was a muggy overcast day; the temperature was 75 and the radar had shown no rain in sight though it had rained the night before. Only two other regular hikers appeared, and shortly after four o'clock we set off on the horse trail heading counter-clockwise around Lake La Grange. Standing water forced us off the trail temporarily twice before we reached the intersection with the Ice Age Trail. As we passed between the cornfields, we noted that it looks like it will be a good harvest.

Approaching the lake, we passed and greeted two young girls who had left the trailhead at the same time we did, but hiked in the opposite direction. Two young men – runners – passed us next. Three fishermen were trying their luck in the lake. Continuing south along the lake, Ed spotted some puffballs (edible ball-shaped mushrooms) beside the trail. We stopped to pick three of the best ones (hard and firm, with a solid white center) to cook and eat.  

As we reached Russ' bench we were rewarded with a nice cool breeze. New England asters were blooming now, adding a touch of bright purple to the prairie. Back at the trailhead, Ed and I decided to donate our puffballs to Jake, who was happy to accept them. It was an interesting but muggy three-mile hike.

The 10:30 a.m. Wednesday long hike,  reported by Barbara “Barb #4” Roeder:

Long-hiker Lynn Larson reported that the gentians were in bloom, so 14 hikers headed for Palmyra on this lovely 70-degree day. We found the trail and discovered that the grass was still very wet, but our spirits were not dampened as we saw a stalk topped with bright red Jack-in-the-pulpit berries almost immediately. And a bit further on, shelf mushrooms (still attached to the tree) had been creatively etched with autographs.  

Soon the bottle gentians appeared – again and again and again. It was a wonderful display of rich bright blue amid the goldenrod and asters. Then, as we rounded a corner, the fringed gentians appeared. We continued through the flowers and the butterflies to an oak savannah cleared by an Eagle Scout, then down to a small pond where toads were having fun in the sun.  Back at our cars, we shared our appreciation of this small spot of nature.

Our gentian hike was only two miles, so we re-grouped at the Emma Carlin Trails to take the Ice Age Trail to forest headquarters and the Nature Trail past Shelter #2 to Stute Springs then back to our cars, adding another 3.6 miles to our hike. This hike featured mushrooms. We saw many different kinds, but the star was a puffball the size of a basketball. Norwin, our fearless leader, just happened to have a saw in his trunk to slice this delicacy to share with several brave hikers willing to prepare it for supper.  

Lunch, the culminating feature of our hikes, found us back in Palmyra at the Main Street Cafe enjoying comradery and conversation.
The 10:30 a.m. Wednesday short hike,  reported by Ellen Davis:

Having heard a rumor than Jake had come home with three puffballs after the hike on Tuesday, I asked how they had turned out. He replied that he had only cooked one so far and that it was acceptable, though there could possibly be room for some minor improvements in cooking technique. Not sure whether or not that was a challenge, but we agreed to a hike on the horse trails and set off on the access road east of Lake La Grange. We also encountered standing water in the low spots, but were soon heading uphill on the Moraine Trail.

There were 12 short-hikers today in our group, including two returning after a summer of absenteeism due to golf. These trails are wide, scenic, and very confusing to those of us not familiar with them. And none of us – except Jake – are familiar with them. We watched for signage. Most of it seemed to indicate that we were heading for Palmyra – or that we were back where we had been 20 minutes before. We watched for puffballs. We found a toad. And an incredible array of fungi in a myriad of shapes, colors, and sizes – including ghostly white Indian Pipes. But no puffballs. We heard a pileated woodpecker in the distance.  But still no puffballs....

Back on the access road again, we began our journey back to the trailhead, disheartened by our lack of puffballs but buoyed by the anticipation of lunch at the Country Store. It was a pleasant, relaxing, conversational 2.7-mile hike.  

Happy trekking!
Respectfully submitted,

Ellen Davis

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