This Week's View

by Deanna Lee Birkholm

October 18th, 2004

Fishless Days

Fall is here - at least in the Pacific Northwest. All the signs are out, new spider webs sparkling with morning dew, the familiar change from green leaves to mostly yellow and gold. The hardwoods of the East are mostly missing here, except for those transplanted ornamental trees like the Full Moon and Palmate Maples we have in our front yard.

I've cut the miniature cattails which grow in our small Koi pond, brought some into the house and shared the rest with a neighbor. I have a ton of work to do in the gardens, fall clean-up is just part of gardening - and the bonus is I get to decide what fall bulbs will be purchased and planted. I've made a list over the summer of 'holes' where there isn't the color I want. That will make the buying easier. It does not make the planting easier, and it never fails the bulbs need to be planted when it is wet, cold and crummy outdoors.

We're waiting for the fall salmon runs to start. The gear is just about ready too. It isn't something which lasts a long time, about a month of good fishing is the limit. After that it's check around and see if there are any stragglers still showing up. Salmon fishers resemble their east-coast cousins who chase the stripers. The word travels via the Internet or phone calls between the faithful. Most of the folks who've been chasing the salmon for a while do not keep any fish at all. It's the chase and the rush of connecting with one of these big fighters which keeps folks looking at the fall calendar every year.

Since all of the Pacific salmon die after spawning, there aren't any 'drop-back' fish on their way back to sea. The sight (and smell) of so many dead or dying salmon does discourage some from the fishery. But it is just part of the ongoing life cycle of not just the fish, but also the whole eco-system which depends on these dying fish to renew itself.

Other things are getting ready for the cold season too. My husband, JC or Castwell, is feeling well enough to tend to his trap again. Our backyard is a critter freeway at night. He came into the den where I work the other evening and told me to look out the window. There, not 20 feet from my window was a very large racoon getting a drink from the small pond. After the racoon left he checked the trap - we didn't catch the racoon because there already was a opossum in it.

There was also one in it this morning. We use a very large Havaheart trap, and the various critters are driven across the Hood Canal Bridge and released there in a park on the other side. We've caught and released about 20 each racoon and opossum in the past several months. Both can be very destructive to ponds and fish. Not to mention either can do severe damage to small weiner dogs!

So while JC isn't collecting hair for the Snuff It Yourself Dubbing Company, the trap is being used to help manage the wildlife in our backyard. This week one large racoon and two 'possums'; so far.

In hauling the critters to the park, he did make a rather nice discovery. Mushrooms! Within easy view of the road, a few handfuls of Shaggy Mane (Coprinus comatus) mushrooms. The Shaggies are one of the most distinctive looking mushrooms, and very easy to spot once you've seen them. The buttons are the best, but the large ones can be sliced up and cooked as well.

Shaggy Manes, note the black ones

I had the pleasure of taking a mushroom identification class many years ago at the University of Michigan from a real expert and author, Dr. Alexander Smith. This is one of the most recommended mushrooms. There are mushrooms one should absolutely avoid and another hard and fast rule is never mix varieties of mushrooms you pick. Each kind should have it's own paper bag (not plastic). When we pick mushrooms we select ONE kind. It is just the safest way to go.

There is a problem with shaggies however, all quickly decompose into black ink and so must be refrigerated and cooked soon after finding, though they can be stored for a while in soggy fashion if totally submerged in cold water. Any part of the picked mushroom which has or is turning black (or purple) must be cut off or it will auto-digest the whole batch!

Castwell brought home enough shaggies the last two trips to have on a steak - but they are also great folded into a omelet or scrambled eggs.

Not everyone can eat mushrooms - and if you haven't tried a particular kind it is best to cook up a small batch and give it a 'taste' before you go nuts picking mushrooms. Also, one other word of warning, some mushrooms and alcohol do not mix. The combination can make you very ill.

So until the end of the month, we'll have to be content mucking in the garden and looking for mushrooms to brighten our fishless days! ~ DLB

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