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Saturday, May 11, 2019

A Mother's Day Musing

7:00 AM 0 Comments
I stepped gingerly across the slick sand rocks, forging my way across the swift running creek, still a bit swollen from another round of the seemingly ever-present spring rains this year. I poked with my walking stick, making sure that there was something solid in front of me for each step and that there were no surprise hidden deep spots that would soak me to my waist.



I clambered up the wet sharp bank, using exposed tree roots as hand holds and for balance and leverage. Walking through the light misty rain I marveled at the sheer greenness of the woods.  My inner clock was ticking and as I mentally checked off the plants, I was seeing I knew the time
was right.



It was time to visit the wild orchids. The fat, bulbous, golden yellow lady slippers, the small tiny and delicate showy orchis. The wild orchids that first appear as the morels, bluebells, and spring ephemerals fade and the ferns, Blue Eyed Mary's, and spiderworts burst forth.









The wild orchids that bloom near Mother’s Day each year and will forever for me be associated with my tiny wild woman mother and her final acceptance of me as trustworthy and caring of our wild and sacred plants and places.





I’d always been the child in our family that loved the woods in the same deep and often spiritual way that my mother did.  Like my mother I found safety, solace, and sanctuary in the deep creek bottoms, the murky swamps, the steep hills and soaring bluffs. We were blessed to live in area where multiple ecosystems existed – including arid high desert glades. Each of these held special, rare, unique plants that few ever saw. Plants that were edible and nutritious and could sustain us. Plants that were medicinal and that provide care. Plants whose roots were valuable and provided extra income in times of need.



“Going to the woods” was an integral part of my mother’s daily life and in turn became part of mine.
My mother was fierce, intelligent, and keeper of  deep secrets. Many of those secrets were where the special, the unusual, and the wildest of the wild things could be found.  She had seen enough of life to know that if she had shared those special things others likely would not recognize the specialness, the rarity or the need to leave them undisturbed and protected in a world where habitats were disappearing left and right.



The early May wild orchids were one of those species. It wasn’t an easy hike to the creek bottom and hillsides where they were found along with a full season’s worth of other rare and endangered  plants. On the days she went to the site I was left behind. First, she told me it was too hard of a walk, as I got older and more woods hardy that excuse didn’t wash with my snappy know it all ten-year-old personality. I could scale a bluff and wade a swamp better than most adults. I knew what snakes were venomous, what bugs were would leave a nasty bite, and had developed an internal compass and ability to use a field guide that rivaled many adults. I insisted that I be allowed to go along. I stomped, and snarled, and pouted.

But still, she would not let me go along to see the lady slippers, the showy orchis, the whirled pegonias.

She recognized my impatience, but in her eyes, she had to be sure that the lessons in the forests and the fields she had taught me were firmly cemented. That I understood the importance of secret places.  That I was able to judge the intentions, character, and personality of anyone I would consider
sharing those rarities with in future years.

It was the spring before I turned 13 – she announced one drizzly May morning that if I’d get my boots on, we could go look maybe for a few of the last remaining big yellow morels or maybe to see if the lady slippers were blooming yet.  “I suppose it’s time.” she sighed.

Little did I realize then, that for her it was an admission that her last child was no longer a child and was quickly growing up and moving on.

Little did I realize then that this was her way of telling me that she trusted me and the person I was becoming. It was a rite of passage and leap of faith.  Her fledgling was ready to fly.

I will never forget that day, the beauty the wonder the magic of that special place. I simply sat on the damp ground, listening to the light drizzle on the leaves of the trees, suddenly understanding far more than just the intricate make up of the plants around me. I never did take anyone there – instead saving it as a place that was ours alone. I learned to seek out and find my own special places and special plants.

Know that if I ever share one of those places with you, you are indeed a special soul. Know that when I refuse to share that place with you, it does not mean that you are unworthy; it only means that I have that inner need to guard and to protect those places the way I would a child. Trust must be earned.



It’s been 45 years since that first sighting of the masses of yellow lady slippers and delicate pink and white orchis and I still find myself early each May wading the creeks, climbing the hills, resting in the ferns and dense green marveling at the beauty and the specialness of these amazing wild orchids.

Funny how it’s always near Mother’s Day.  I like to think Mother Nature likes it that way. It’s her gift to us for Mother’s Day. It's her promise to us that as long we continue to protect and to cherish the wild things she will continue to provide them.


Saturday, April 13, 2019

Mind Your Mushroom Manners

8:12 AM 0 Comments


Don’t let your desire for morels get the best of you!

It’s mushroom season – morels are starting to pop throughout southern IL and the “find line” is moving north a little every day. Sadly, that also means some conflicts inevitably arise.
There’s an almost subculture among long time morel hunters, and like any subculture it has own inherent ethics, rules, and customs.  As more and more people, each year take to the woods in search of  morels it’s important that we all understand safe, ethical, and legal mushroom hunting practices.

First let’s look at some of legalities –
Trespassing is trespassing. End of discussion. It doesn’t matter that you aren’t hunting turkey, it doesn’t matter that once three years ago you went with a friend on this property. It doesn’t matter if you didn’t know where the property lines were.  It doesn’t matter if you only went “a little” over the property line, or nine miles deep in someone’s woods. It doesn’t matter that you “know a guy who said it was okay -  he hunts here” Trespassing is still trespassing, and many property owners won’t think twice about calling the CPO or having you ticketed. Just don’t do it. 

There are many different phone apps these days (I use onXHunt Maps) that clearly show both property owners and property lines. With onX Hunt Maps there is a 30-dollar annual fee, but that is far cheaper than a trespassing fine, and I have also found it useful for identifying property owners to ask permission to access property. It’s especially useful in areas where public land and private land are adjoining or patchworked. Additionally, it allows you to pin your spots, set tracks as journey through the woods, and is one paid app that I highly recommend for all outdoor enthusiasts.

If you do ask permission for property access it’s always a good idea to offer the property owner a Landowner Permission Card that is available free from IDNR. It really helps cut down on any conflicts down the road and helps to indicate to the property owner that you are willing to follow the rules on their property, and do things in correct and safe fashion.

Additionally, if someone is gracious enough to offer you access to their property you should always share your harvest, send a nice thank you note, and never take others along with you unless it has been specifically cleared with the property owner. Remember they gave YOU permission, not you and dozens of your friends.



Things get even more complicated for public land hunters.

It’s vital that during spring turkey season you stay out of the woods until after 1 pm.  It’s not a way for all the turkey hunters to get all the mushrooms first – it’s a way to keep you from being accidentally shot. It’s a method to help decrease conflict between user groups, and foremost it’s a safety issue. It doesn’t matter if you are in a no hunting area – it’s turkey season, and you should treat every piece of public land as if it may be holding a turkey hunter somewhere, or within gunshot range. NO mushroom is worth a fanny full of shot or worse.

Additionally, you should always check with the individual site for any closed areas, natural areas, or preserves where mushroom hunting is not permitted. In general, in IL if it’s a designated nature preserve, ecological area, or natural area you can’t remove anything; and that includes mushrooms. This also often applies to some National Historic areas.

If you are  foraging on federal properties such as National Wildlife Refuges or USCAE recreational areas, make sure that you have appropriate vehicle stickers and passes. Some fee areas require these for entrance or parking .

Lastly, thanks to social media, Craigslist, and few television shows, folks believe commercial mushroom hunting is the way to make a quick buck. Be very aware that you cannot commercially hunt on IL public lands, so if you decide to do so, know that you are doing it at your own peril. Additionally, groups or even single folks who commercial hunt on public land can very quickly decimate entire areas. 



Commercially selling wild harvested mushrooms in IL is a bit of grey area.

IL Department of Public Health tells us that “Due to the difficult and complex nature of mushroom identification, the challenge is best left to mycologists, or mushroom experts. For instance, while mushrooms in the genus Amanita are responsible for the most mushroom-related deaths in Illinois per year, some edible species within this genus are revered as the most delectable. Due to the ease in misidentification, the sale of wild harvested mushrooms is not allowed at farmer’s markets in Illinois.“ 

But I can’t find any specific regulation (please correct me if anyone knows of a source!) that regulates the sale of wild mushrooms on a person to person basis. My best suggestion is contact your local CPO to double check on any mushroom related legal question, and when in doubt – don’t.

Be very cautious when buying mushrooms through social media, web sites, etc. There is literally no way you can be sure of freshness, quality, care taken in harvest etc. Do you really want to trust someone you don’t know to ensure that the mushrooms were picked legally, ethically, and that the utmost care has been used in storage and packaging?

Now on to the subtler ethics, morals, and social mores associated with mushroom hunting.

Whether it’s morels or any other wild edible, always use sustainable and ethical harvest practices.  Don’t go in and completely decimate an area. Always leave a little “for seed”.  A good rule of thumb is at least 10%, although some recommend a little more be left to keep patches active and thriving. 

Make sure that you are not destroying habitat tramping around. I’ve seen excellent patches completely obliterated by over harvest or groups who tramped through, raked back leaves, and left the spot as bare as Wal Mart parking lot when they were finished. This helps no one. Be certain that the population can withstand the harvest.  Don’t harvest in areas such where contamination by chemicals etc. could be possible. Harvest using the correct method to promote the patch/stand. 

Don’t just go ripping things out willie nillie with no thought to the underlying damage you may be causing. Think like a conservationist. Wild harvesters have long understood that for us to continue with bountiful harvests, we must practice good wild harvest practices. Unfortunately, in this get rich quick age, and with the increasing trend for local wild foods and foraging many people never get around to considering the conservation piece. All they want is a plateful and pocketful of cash.

Be respectful of other mushroom hunters you encounter. While indeed public land is there for all of us to share – just like any other public land activity – be respectful of others and their spaces. Perhaps one of the worst things you can do if you see someone picking mushrooms along a hillside is to rush over and invade that space. Best case is to speak politely, wish them luck, and make a note of the spot for future forays. Don’t crowd or intrude on other foragers who are picking! It’s also very rude to hang just a few yards behind and follow someone through the woods. In today’s age many can perceive that as unusual or threatening behavior, and you might find yourself being reported to a CPO.  

There’s no need to have wars in the parking lots, be ugly, or threaten anyone you encounter along the trail.  Although, somedays I think public land mushroom is just as fraught with this unpleasant behavior as public land waterfowl hunting and the battles at the ramps and walk ins.

To tell or not to tell – well, I honestly don’t know any long-term mushroom hunter that will very willingly give up their best spot, private or public. They may take you along – with either the clear message that you shouldn’t come back without them, nor bring others to the spot, or assume you understand the unspoken rules. This is the fastest way to find yourself blacklisted in the mushroom hunting community. Once word gets out that you return or worse yet bring everybody and their brother to show them patches that you were shown by some trusting friend, you may well find the calls to go shrooming drop off dramatically.

If you visit from out of state to our IL mushroom hunting areas – remember, you are a visitor, and while we welcome visitors, we don’t want to hear how much money you have spent to get here, how you have made a 6-hour drive, how much more entitled you are, or how you are here to commercial hunt…on and on and on. Just mind your manners, be polite and do not be surprised when no one answers your questions about where the best areas are located.  Explore the area, get a feel for it and be nice to the locals. They are after all, the ones who will be rescuing you if you get lost or in trouble.

If you happen to know of or stumble into a patch that is a very easy walk, close to parking etc. be mindful that this may be one of the few patches that an old timer can still physically hunt. Just my own opinion, but taking over or intruding on an old timer’s patch because it’s “easy picking” is one of the worst things a mushroom hunter can do. Some day if you are lucky you will have lived long enough to no longer run up and down the hills and hollers. Keep that in mind, and offer to help any of the old timers  you encounter or share your harvest with them. 

When you get down to brass tacks, it’s simple; follow the rules and regulations, try to understand the sub culture and local attitudes about mushrooms, be nice. Share and respect public land for what it is and understand that it is often multi use property. Don’t encroach, invade, or overstep. Don’t give away the locations to areas shared with you by others unless they have specifically given you permission to share or bring others.

Be nice boys and girls – the mushroom wars are just starting. Let’s try for a little bit of a peace accord this year, shall we?

Friday, March 9, 2018

Final Call for Entries in Norm Strung Youth Writing Awards

6:14 AM 0 Comments
The 2018 Norm Strung Youth Writing Awards contest allows promising young writers to showcase their skills in prose or poetry and win cash prizes totaling $1,400.

The deadline for entries is March 15, 2018. All entries must have been written during the 2017 calendar year.

The contest features categories in poetry or prose and awards prizes in two divisions. At the time the article was written the author must have been a student in grades 6-8 to enter the junior division; or grades 9-12 to enter the senior division. The topic must be outdoor-oriented (hiking, camping, boating, fishing, hunting, nature, ecology, canoeing, etc.).

In addition to cash prizes, the winning entries from this year’s contest will be printed in a future issue of Outdoors Unlimited, OWAA’s magazine.

For complete contest rules and entry instructions, visitowaa.org/programs/contests/norm-strung-youth-writing-awards. Preferred entry submission is via email to info@owaa.org. Entries can also be mailed to OWAA Headquarters, 615 Oak St., Ste. 201, Missoula, MT 59801.

The Norm Strung Youth Writing Awards were named after Norm Strung, who served as OWAA president from 1984-1985. Now deceased, Strung received OWAA’s Excellence in Craft award in 1989. He won the Ham Brown award in 1988 for his service to the organization. That same year, he organized and edited a book for OWAA titled “Selling the Outdoor Story.” He was also recognized as Outstanding Board member in 1975.
OWAA is The Voice of the Outdoors®. The Outdoor Writers Association of America is the oldest and largest association of professional outdoor communicators in the United States. It was organized in 1927 by members of the Izaak Walton League of America and includes professional communicators dedicated to sharing the outdoor experience. OWAA’s professionals include writers, photographers, outdoors radio- and television-show hosts, book authors, videographers, lecturers and artists. The association is headquartered in Missoula, Mont. For more information, contact Outdoor Writers Association of America, 615 Oak St., Ste. 201, Missoula, Mont. 59801406-728-7434,info@owaa.orgwww.owaa.org.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Join MDC for Upcoming Wild Webcasts and Facebook Live

11:22 AM 0 Comments
Photo provided Missouri Department of Conservation 

Learn about feral hogs, backyard wildlife, Eagle Days -- and ask MDC director and agents questions.
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Join the Missouri Department of Conservation   (MDC) for its upcoming 2018 Wild       Webcasts on feral hogs, backyard wildlife, and bald eagles -- along with special Facebook Live sessions with MDC Director Sara Parker Pauley and conservation agents.

Join the webcasts from a computer or smartphone by registering through the provided links. Registrants will then get email reminders and links to join the live webcasts. 

For the Facebook Live sessions, simply go to the MDC Facebook page (facebook.com/moconservation/) at the time of the sessions to watch. Ask questions by posting them in the comments section.


Wild Webcast: Feral Hog Update -- March 21, noon to 1 p.m.

Join MDC Feral Hog Elimination Team Leader Mark McLain and State Feral Hog Coordinator for MDC Alan Leary for an update on what MDC and partners are doing to combat feral hogs in Missouri, along with background on what they are and why they are such a destructive problem for landowners, MDC, and others. Register at short.mdc.mo.gov/ZTn


Wild Webcast: Attracting Backyard Wildlife -- May 16, noon to 1 p.m.

Join MDC State Ornithologist Sarah Kendrick, Community Conservation Planner for the City of Columbia Danielle Fox, and MDC Habitat Management Coordinator Nate Muenks to learn about attracting birds and other wildlife to backyards large and small through bird feeding, native plantings for wildlife food and shelter, and other habitat help. Register at short.mdc.mo.gov/ZTh


Facebook Live: Ask the Director -- July 18, noon to 12:30 p.m.

Join MDC Director Sara Parker Pauley to ask her questions on a variety of MDC topics. Join the conversation at facebook.com/moconservation/


Facebook Live: Ask the Agent -- Oct. 31, noon to 12:30 p.m.

Join MDC conservation agents to ask questions and get answers on hunting, fishing, trapping, and other MDC regulations. Join the conversation at facebook.com/moconservation/


Wild Webcast: Bald Eagles & Eagle Days -- Dec. 5, noon to 1 p.m.

Join MDC Resource Scientist and Eagle Expert Janet Haslerig and MDC Eagle Days Veteran Dan Zarlenga to learn about bald eagles in Missouri and the perennially popular MDC Eagle Days events around the state. Register at short.mdc.mo.gov/ZT7


Watch previous MDC Wild Webcasts at mdc.mo.gov/contact-engage/mdc-wild-webcaststo learn about invasive species, mountain lions, birding, fishing, chronic wasting disease, black bears, pollinators, and feral hogs.

Starting Anew

8:38 AM 0 Comments

It seems that over the past few years I let a good many things go - moved on to other arenas; print, commercial work, writing for others instead of myself. All this really did was increase my overall dissatisfaction with things.
It became time to "fish or cut bait"  - so I'm starting all over again !

Time to write more what I want to write instead of what an editor wants.
Time to photograph what I enjoy instead of just what will sell. 

Time to get back in the saddle and admit I was not as ready to retire things as I once thought I was! 

This is going to be a journey as I essentially will be rebranding and reinventing everything it seems.

I hope that if you enjoyed this blog in the past, you will continue to enjoy it, if you are new to my work, please have a look at the older posts, and subscribe via the sign up form on right side of the page.

I hope you will enjoy following the blog and "Walkin' with the Wild Woman"! 


Friday, May 6, 2016

Running Traps AKA The Name and Shame Game

10:32 AM 0 Comments

Yesterday I was out running my traps, listening to an outstanding  interview with Rita Dove on NPR, thinking about a very to the point post a friend had made on face book, and feeling pretty darned inspired. I was anxious to get home and start writing.

Oh Holy Crap, what did I just say?

I’d better change up that “running my traps” language immediately.

The phrase “running my traps” is semi local, colloquial, phrase that means out roaming – checking on friends, stopping at fishing holes, scouting birds, just wandering around – I wasn’t out actually checking a trap line.

Why you ask do I feel the need to be so adamant about that? Because this my friends, is how things so rapidly go to hell in handbasket these days.

I can just about guarantee you some person would read this, and immediately jump to the conclusion that I am illegally running a trap line in IL in May.

Then the internet naming and shaming begins, the memes, the creative cut and paste, the posts telling me that I am highly illegal and should be removed from the planet. Screams of “Call the authorities!” would echo through the cyber world.

The anti trapping folks would steal a photo or two and make an example of this shameful and lawless behavior. Surely, I gleefully murder kittens and other warm, fuzzy, cute, creatures as well.

And no one would bother to ask IF I was really running a trap line or WHY I was a running a trap line in May.

Because  the online judge,jury and executioners are running their own trap line so speak as they scroll their feeds each day. 

We have become a society that can’t think beyond 140 characters and a meme. We take every character typed, every photo posted, every sentence uttered as an opportunity to find fault and be offended. We have become a name and shame society via social media.  Quite frankly many days I feel like I am living in the era of the Inquisitions or the witch burnings.

To quote my witty friends inspiring facebook post "passive-aggressive, slightly vicious yammering and self-righteous pride” would run rampant.

I’ve come to the conclusion that people no longer care about civil discourse, differing opinions or fact checking. Let’s just fall into the click bait headline trap – blindly share, and pass on the horror or offense of the day.

Because, well it makes folks feel so damn good about themselves. It proves what high moral standards they hold themselves to, it proves that they are -  SO. MUCH. BETTER.

It also proves critical thinking skills are clearly at an all time low, and the  self involved it’s ALL about me and how wonderful and perfect I am set  has this name and shame thing down to fine art.

And they feel so damn good about it.

The name and shamers feel great pride in being the one who exposed the theoretical bad behavior; they don’t want to know the facts, they don’t want to know “the rest of the story” as Paul Harvey would say.

They just want the world to see how absolutely great, moral, ethical and offended that they are.

Because clearly, taking one sentence from an interview, one paragraph from a blog, or one photo shared and turning it to a "passive-aggressive, slightly vicious yammering and self-righteous pride” comment fest on their social media accounts makes them the star for the day. 

I see social media posters gleefully delight in the fact that they have gone viral with their take down of often innocent people, or how they shut down a business, a religious group or political candidate they didn’t care for.

Oh yes – and here is where all the free speechers will jump in –  you watch. It’s their God given right, we live in country of free speech, I can say whatever the hell I want .  That’s true – to a point. That’s also why slander and libel laws exist. Please don’t make me drag out the whole shouting fire in crowded theater example.

But then again isn’t that exactly what the social media judges, juries, and executioners are actually doing? Isn’t the whole internet shamefest mentality just an online version of yelling fire in crowded theater?

Let’s stir up the crowd, get out the torches and pitchforks and see just how much mayhem we can actually achieve.

Consequently, I see more and more thinking people just walking away from social media. It is just is too tiring to wade through feeds full of utter crap. Thinking people who really have never been into that whole herd mentality  thing to begin with.

And that’s sad – because social media can be a great tool, a great way to exchange ideas and information.

And now here we are – the whole post I had planned has flown out the window and I have to start that whole project over again because I got side tracked thinking about a world that’s full of social media “stars” who’s greatest talent seems to be making posts full of "passive-aggressive, slightly vicious yammering and self-righteous pride”.

Guess I need to go “run my traps” again this morning and find that inspiration all over again.