Fun Gal


So I’m heading off to Mt Rogers for the umpteenth Naturalist Rally today, drizzles notwithstanding, and at the end of a two hour drive, hope to have a bit of dry skies to do the traditional loop around the Grindstone Nature Trail. That was the first place I ever discovered ramps, though I did not know what it was in my hand until I scratched-and-sniffed the odd looking oniony thing. Always scratch and sniff, or you’ll miss a lot of worthwhile detail in nature. (Don’t do this with salamanders or poison ivy. Caveat emptor and such.)

This is also the place where I became a stand-in hike leader in 1975 when the scheduled tour leader had an accident on the way to the rally. My biology students vociferously offered me as a volunteer when the call was made to the gathered crowd that Saturday morning (with light snow, as I recall) at the old CCC hemlock-bark-sided edifice that was the center of activities back then.

I went on to lead the same hike for ten years–until we left Virginia for Alabama (PT degree) and North Carolina. I’ve lead it once since we’ve returned, and try to walk it for old time’s sake ever year I’ve made it back to the rally.

So what field trip will I sign onto in the morning? Maybe the wild foods trip to learn some new medicinal and food uses of familiar plants.

But the more I think about it, with all the rain we’ve had lately, it’s the mushrooms amongus that ought to be happy and growing vigorously. And Becky Rader, a very knowledgeable and capable teacher, will be leading that one. I think I’ll go with the Fun Gal and get down and FUNGAL.

CAPTION: This plate-sized flap-jack-looking firm feathery pore mushroom from the banks of Nameless Creek yesterday is one of my favorites. It is said to be edible when young, but I think that only means you can chew and swallow and it won’t make you wish you hadn’t–nothing like as delectable as the half pound of morels we had with eggs one night and with pepper steak the next. Those, my friends, were shrooms worth swallowing. [Click the image to Enlarge]

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. Your mention of ramps struck a chord with me today. Known as leeks in our part of the country (northcentral Pennsylvania), they’ve been especially strong and tasty this spring. We’re headed to a Ham and Leek Dinner tonight at the Germania Firehall — a longtime tradition in this neck of the woods.

  2. We love photographing any noticeable fungus we come across, so I always like to see yours. Have fun on your traditional hike. We finally made it to Yellowstone and hope to get out there at dawn to photo whatever wildlife we can spot.