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If you’ve used (the word “harvested” also applies) nature for more than calendar picture satisfaction you already know about seasons of plenty and lean. A common, widely recognized example is wildlife. Some years see a peak in grouse or deer populations while in others the numbers are lean or marginal as if in certain areas an entire species has collapsed, almost disappearing. Natural cycles combined with human activity can skew the picture or bring on much larger swings. (This isn’t too unlike views regarding global warming or climate change. An argument can lean toward natural cycles to explain or point the finger at human meddling. The route I’d favor would take both into account but risks annoying dogmatic purists on either side.)
In the days when I made maple syrup it became increasingly obvious that each year’s spring sap was not only different but was also a record of the previous year’s conditions. We tapped trees in the same area each year, so the change in sap qualities had to come from growing conditions rather than differences in location. One year the sap would produce more mineral sand and the next might bring out a more organic residue. In short, the trees kept a record of the past year’s growing conditions and passed that along in the spring.
If you observe nature at all you’ll have noticed and wondered about lots of things over the years. A question I hear often asks “What’s wrong with all the birch trees dying along the shore?” I’ve been asked that for decades, and to be honest I don’t have AN answer. Looking at some areas I see what appears to be the natural process of mature birch dying off. Other times and places the culprit could be a spring ice storm playing havoc with all the trees. Balsam and spruce lose tops (and replace them) quite often. Birch does somewhat the same but usually look worse for wear with damaged branches and tops poking bare and ugly. Another explanation for some stretches along the shore reflects thin soils and a lack of rain drying the topsoil to desert conditions that are nothing a birch wants to live in. (Interestingly, people asking about birch die-off usually shy off from the natural die-off angle and prefer the drama of climate change or ice storms. There could be something in human nature favoring an explanation more impressive than old age.)
Whatever your relationship to nature, almost anything we do won’t be perfect or complete. The odds of success or control are about as good if you’re trying to keep dandelion out of your lawn or want to efficiently grow logs for saw timber. The results involve a lot of things, many of which we don’t see and have to work in order to understand. The chemistry of a lawn or the impacts of certain insects on one another and on vegetation is a lot more complex than most of us have time or inclination to work on. It’s far easier and more satisfying to haul out a bag of high cost granular product with a nature friendly name and have done with it so we can get back to our higher calling of sitting back on the patio to enjoy the scents of mowed grass and lawn food; ah paradise at the cost of two seasonal applications.
In my family the season for mushrooms was a big deal. If you’re after a fairly complex crop at the get-go try the fungi route. Fungi groups like certain corals may be among the largest life forms on the planet. An enormous sequoia seems a better choice, but odds are that the really big life forms are accumulations of “little” elements that lie low and keep a similar profile. An oceanic bloom of algae and the little critters living in it may well have more biologic mass and importance than an entire forest on land. But being land dwellers we bias toward our terra firma at least as far as the surface.
The surprise of this season is the thimbleberry. Most years the thimbleberry is a sea of waist high greenery with red berry here and there. At times there’d be a cluster of berries, but from my experience the thimbleberry has been far more successful at making leaves than fruit. It’s usually been the case that strawberry, blueberry, and raspberry are the big producers. But this year they have company. Like teenagers inebriated on two sips of beer the thimbleberries in my area are party animals drunk with fecundity. Maybe in some places this is not unusual, but for me being able to go out every day and idly gather a small bowl of fruit is remarkable. I’d have been less impressed by far had this happened once, but for near two weeks the thimbleberries have been in a riot of fruitfulness. Their rarity other seasons made them a true treat. I’d be glad of a cup full. With such plenty I’m almost growing bored with them, or at the least the thrill of novelty is gone. With abundance comes jaded surfeit. Never thought I’d say that, but there it is. I hope nest year we’re back to normal so I can return to relishing the rarity of the thimbleberry once again.
While thinking about this I remember a decade or so in the past a soft drink maker produced a version of New York Seltzer with a thimbleberry flavor. As I recall it was pretty good with a very nice sense of thimbleberry flavor. I wondered then how on earth anyone could ever find enough thimbleberry to produce a beverage in bulk. From what I knew of the thimbleberry it seemed to me there’d be a heck of a lot of cultivation for not much result. Maybe it was the case that in the past a good thimbleberry year inspired production of the beverage. As we know, things have their season. The profusion of thimbleberry came from an abnormally wet early summer, not a thing we’d want every year, is it?