The Day the Bees Fell on My Head

Hi folks, It’s swarm season and there is a lot of activity in the bee yard. I couldn’t help but think about an adventure that happened there several years ago:

swarm tree coverI was fifty feet up a tree. It was in the spring of my fiftieth year, when fifty thousand bees fell on my head. Fifty thousand bees weigh more than you might think — maybe four or five pounds. The mass landed heavily, with a buzzing thud, and pushed my hat down to my ears. Within a few seconds I was virtually covered with bees. They oozed down over my shoulders, arms, and trunk like a mass of living, breathing, buzzing pudding.

I was so glad I had worn my bee veil. I had my long-sleeved beekeeper’s gloves, too –but the gloves dangled uselessly from my back pocket. I wanted to have a good grip on the branches while climbing the tree so I hadn’t worn them. And I did have a good grip! But how those bees tickled as they crawled all over my unprotected wrists, exploring my open sleeves and the white knuckles of my bare hands as I grasped those treetop branches for dear life.

For some reason I got to thinking about a honeybee’s stinger. It is such an amazing organ. A bee’s stinger is much more than a simple hypodermic needle. It has three moving parts that work together. The top of the stinger is a needle-sharp stylus. Underneath the stylus are two barbed lancets. Together these three parts form the three-sided venom canal. At the base of the stinger is the muscular venom gland.

When a bee stings you, she jabs that needle-sharp stylus into you and those two barbed lancets start working back and forth. The barbs catch in your flesh and they pull the stinger deeper and deeper. Meanwhile the venom gland pumps the venom down the canal and that’s when you start to feel “…a pain so characteristic that one knows not wherewith to compare it; a kind of destroying dryness, a flame of the desert rushing over the wounded limb as though these daughters of the sun had distilled a dazzling poison from their father’s angry rays…” (1)

Because the stinger is anchored so securely, when the bee tries to fly away after stinging, she can’t escape until her rear end tears off. Even though she is gone, the stinger remains, and the venom gland pumps away, injecting more and more venom. (So if you do get stung, you should, as quickly as possible, try to scrape, rather than pinch, the stinger to remove it.)

The unfortunate bee flies off, mortally wounded, and she dies. If you are allergic to bee stings, you might die too. Even if you are not allergic to bee stings, getting a few hundred can still be quite serious–especially if you are 50 feet up in a tree when you get these stings. So, I decided right then and there that this was not a good time or place for panic. I took a deep breath.

I couldn’t help but notice–these bees were not stinging me. Bees don’t really “want” to sting. It is such an investment to sting; if they sting, they die. However, in order to protect their hive, their home, their babies and their queen, they will sting and give their lives without hesitation..

This was a classic bee swarm, not a virulent hoard of stinging marauders. These bees were homeless and vulnerable. They had outgrown their living quarters and left their home for the next generation. Before they left their hive, they gorged themselves on honey. Their bellies were full and now they were hanging out, feeling mellow (at least they were before they fell on my head). Without a home or babies to protect, they had little reason to sting.

HOMELESS, you say? Why were these bees homeless? From up in that tree I could see all my neatly painted bee hives lined up down below — more than a dozen. I had assembled and painted them. I hauled in cinder blocks and wheel rims for hive stands to keep them up off the moist ground. I supplied them with comb foundation for them to make their honeycomb and raise their babies. I fed them when they were hungry and gave them medicine when they were sick. Why were these bees hanging out up here in this tree being homeless?

This is the way of honeybees. This swarm was made up of the field bees and the queen from one of those hives down below. They had been working hard since late February when the first maples began to bloom, and they had built up their colony rapidly. There were many thousands of workers. They had filled their hive with comb and brood and a great store of honey. It was getting crowded; so now it was time to hand over the hive to the next generation and start again somewhere else. The queen and all the active field bees were flying off together to start over in a new location.

A typical swarm, leaves the hive and lands nearby, as a large, buzzing gob. From here scout bees fly off to explore the countryside looking for a new hive site. If you are an alert beekeeper, you can often catch the swarm by taking an empty hive, removing the cover and laying it under the swarm. Then lean that branch with the swarm right over the hive and give it a good shake. Most of the bees will fall into the hive. If the conditions are right they all just march in and make this hive their home. You ease the cover on and put the hive where you want it. Now you have a new hive of bees. Catching swarms is a simple (Well, sometimes it’s simple.) way to increase your number of hives and reclaim your runaway bees as well.

That’s what I was doing up in the tree. This swarm was as big as a bushel basket, right near the top of the tree. These were all the working field bees and the queen from my strongest hive. With the work force gone, I probably would not get any honey that year from the bees that remained. I wanted that swarm!   I put up a 25- foot extension ladder that reached the first branches, and from there, I climbed the tree.

I had a pruning saw and a long rope . The bees were massed on a branch about a foot out from the trunk. My plan was to tie a rope onto that branch, carefully saw it off and slowly lower the branch with the swarm 50 feet down to the hive that I had open and ready underneath.

It might have worked–except for that one dead branch right under the swarm. In order to test its strength I held on to other branches and put one foot on it to see if it would hold me. As soon as I had most of my weight on it, the branch snapped. I was holding on securely to those other branches but when that dead branch snapped, the whole tree shook and that’s when the bees fell on my head.

Now I had all these bees on my head, crawling all over my body and flying all around me. Their buzzing grew more intense until it was a whining roar. It sounded like I was inside a chainsaw! Soon the swirling mass of came together in the air right in front of me, and took off out of the tree. That sure took a weight off my shoulders!

I watched them sail across the garden, over the shop and the woodshed and over the pond. They headed up over the trees and the last I saw of that swarm, they looked like a floating, ever-diminishing smudge against the clear blue sky until they finally disappeared over the mountain.

That was the last I ever saw of those bees. They left me speechless and blinking, stunned but unstung, still clinging to the branches, high in the crown of this swaying tulip poplar tree. Hundreds of orange, yellow and green blossoms surrounded me. Large, tender, sun-dappled leaves shimmied in the gentle breezes.

From my perch, I could look down over the garden, the bee yard, the house, the sheds and the rest of our little homestead. What a great place this was for an overview, a place to get a different perspective on things. Here I was, 50 feet off the ground; I was a half century old, on a threshold of sorts – a boundary between heaven and earth, somewhat desperately clinging to the branches of this tree of life. This was a good place to contemplate my own mortality. No, it would not be good to fall from here. It was also a fine setting to contemplate the miracle of nature as well as the complexity and absurdity of human endeavor…( like risking my life for a swarm of stinging insects?!)

(1) Maurice Maeterlinck Pg. 25 The Life of the Bee NY. Dodd, Meade & Co. 1913   Maurice Maeterlinck, was a 20th century Belgian poet, playwright, and essayist.

————————————

Hi Friends, Thanks for stopping by. The above story is excerpted from my last book Swarm Tree, Of Honeybees, Honeymoons, and the Tree of Life

That book is part of the BUZZOLOGY SPECIAL SALE!
(Sale ends June 21 Solstice)  Go to my Products Page here.

Swarm Tree, Of Honeybees, Honeymoons, and the Tree of Life (book) $15 ($3 off)
Sail On, Honeybee, Adventures in the Bee Yard (CD) $10 ($5 off)

FREEBEE LINKS :

Honeybee Fly Around Song Todd at age 13 singing about honeybees and dancing around (and on) the bee hives.

Poplar Appeal – UNC-TV Celebrating the tulip poplar tree as a source of honey, baskets, and many other things.

Hawk in the Chicken Yard (What’ll We Do…?)

1146-chickenThat poor little free-range hen never knew what hit her! Feathers were scattered all over the ground there at the edge of the woods. Her head was definitely messed up. Half her breast had been eaten.

What to do? Salvage work first: Save the other half of the breast and the legs for the stew pot. Then I put her remains right back where I found them, but inside a wire have-a-heart type live-trap. I was certain that whatever had killed her would come back in the night for a second helping.

The next morning I checked the trap and nothing had come. Later in the day I checked and, to my great surprise, there was a hawk in the trap, fluttering about, panicked, and furious. I put on thick leather welder’s gloves, removed it from the trap, and released it. But not before my son Todd took a few photos.

3058-hawk

 

3113-hawkCooper’s hawks are sometimes called “squirrel hawks” because of their ability to navigate with great speed even through thick forest. They belong to a group of raptors known as accipiters. These hawks are characterized by long tails and short rounded wings. Their flight pattern is often a few flaps and a glide. The accipiter group also includes the smaller sharp-shinned hawk and the larger goshawk.

That was one lucky hawk. Chicken-killing hawks are rarely treated so well in this neighborhood. The good news is that maybe it learned its lesson because we haven’t had any chicken predation since then.

3106-hawk


Hi Friends, Thanks for stopping in.

The 2015 Calendar is up and running!

I’ve got a number of interesting programs coming up, from Minnesota, out to the Ozarks, and all around the Southeast. Hope to see you! www.dougelliott.com/calendar

The days are getting longer and the first amphibians are stirring. The wood frogs have started calling. The salamander rains will be here, and watch out for those horny toads!

And here’s a few items on sale:

LATE WINTER SALE (till March 21) – www.dougelliott.com/products

An Evening with Doug Elliott DVD
Stories, Songs, and Lore Celebrating the Natural World
Elliott performs a lively concert of tales, tunes, traditional lore, wild stories, and fact stranger than fiction–flavored with regional dialects, harmonica riffs, and belly laughs. One moment he is singing about catfish, the next he’s extolling the virtues of dandelions, or bursting forth with crow calls. He also demonstrates basketry, ponders the “nature” in human nature, tells wild snake tales, and jams and jives with his fiddler son, Todd.
Normally $20 — NOW only $10

Looking for America: A 20th Century Hero’s Journey Double CD
We are all heroes and we are all on a mythic journey. Travel with master storyteller, Doug Elliott, on a journey of discovery. These true cross-country hitchhiking and freight hopping tales, delivered in his own outrageous storytelling style, explore not only this amazing nation, culture and era we are a part of, but also the universal Hero’s Journey we all embarked upon at birth. You’ll be transported from congested northern freeways to sunny southern swamps and from the bowels of throbbing factories and big-city railroad yards to vast deserts and the high Rocky Mountains. You’ll meet astounding characters and hear rousing narratives and music ranging from gospel to 60’s rock, country and contemporary songs, including tunes by Leon Russell, Hank Snow, Jimmy Rogers and Country Joe and the Fish. It’s all textured with regional dialects, lively harmonica riffs, guitar, fiddle and soulful yodels. You’ll return from this rollicking journey of discovery with new insights, unusual perspectives and more than a few belly laughs.
Elliott has done some traveling. As a young man, he hopped freight trains and hitchhiked across the continent from Maine to California and from Canada to Guatemala. For most of a decade he was an itinerant herbalist traveling around the country with a van full of herbs, teas and old time remedies, and for a short time he was a migratory beekeeper hauling a trailer full of honeybees between North Carolina and Florida.
Normally $20 – NOW only $10

Tracking in Wyoming

GOLDEN EAGLE photo: © Frank Becerra

GOLDEN EAGLE photo: © Frank Becerra, usatoday.com, http://tinyurl.com/pbzjlbt

So, why would a golden eagle choose to land out there in the snowy sagebrush? It was mid-November. I was visiting a ranch in Wyoming. My rancher friend said I’d be welcome—“if they weren’t up to their ears in snow” as occasionally happens that time of year. As it turned out there was snow, but only about 6 inches–a great tracking snow. The ranch covered several thousand acres. Wildlife and tracks were everywhere: cottontails, jackrabbits, coyotes, pronghorn antelope, as well as both mule deer and whitetails. The mule deer prefer the open sagebrush country while the whitetails hang out in the cottonwood thickets in the moister bottomland.

We wandered around all day marveling at the variety and density of the tracks – each footprint a reflection of a wild being, a diary of a journey, all a part of a mass display of interconnected networks. John Muir called it a “palimpsest,” i.e. a manuscript that is “written over and over uncountable times…in characters of every size…every sentence composed of sentences, every part of a character a sentence. There is not a fragment in all of nature,” he says, “for all of nature is a full harmonious unit in itself. All together form the one grand palimpsest of the world.”

Tracks of wild ungulates, canines, and one clumsy human. (Michael Condict photo)

Tracks of wild ungulates, canines, and one clumsy human. Michael Condict photo.

carcass

Michael Condict photo.

With those huge wings rhythmically flapping, that eagle had materialized out of the clear blue sky and landed on a low juniper snag a few hundred yards away. There it paused for a few moments and then flew off. We headed for the juniper snag. As we approached we noticed some smaller birds in the area—magpies and ravens. There were networks of heavily used trails thick with coyote tracks all heading towards that same area. Then we saw it – the freshly cleaned skeletal remains of a deer. At first I thought it was a young spike buck, but on closer examination we noticed the antlers did not look healthy. They were creased and somewhat twisted. This was probably an old, weak deer, saved from lingering, senescent disability by a pack of hungry coyotes, and cleaned up with the help of ravens, magpies–and of course, the eagle. Most likely that eagle had feasted there previously and it was just stopping by to see if any tidbits remained. As you can see from the photo there were few leftovers.

Michael Condict photo

Michael Condict photo

 

The most elegant track we saw was that of a raven who had made a quick stop in an open area of clear snow. We could see the tail drag where it sailed in for a landing, the footprints and body impression as it settled briefly in the snow, then hopped once to launch itself into flight, leaving the imprints where its wing feathers brushed the snow as it departed–a record of a raven moment–a pristine, articulate, and ephemeral, sentence delicately inscribed on the palimpsest of life.

 

 

 

 

The 2015 Calendar is up and running!

I’ve got a number of interesting programs this year from northern Illinois and Minnesota to south Florida and out to the Ozarks. http://www.dougelliott.com/calendar.html

 And here’s a few items on sale:

WINTER SALE (till March 21) at www.dougelliott.com/products.html

An Evening with Doug Elliott DVD
Stories, Songs, and Lore Celebrating the Natural World
Normally $20 — NOW only $10
Elliott performs a lively concert of tales, tunes, traditional lore, wild stories, and fact stranger than fiction–flavored with regional dialects, harmonica riffs, and belly laughs. One moment he is singing about catfish, the next he’s extolling the virtues of dandelions, or bursting forth with crow calls. He also demonstrates basketry, ponders the “nature” in human nature, tells wild snake tales, and jams and jives with his fiddler son, Todd.

Looking for America: A 20th Century Hero’s Journey Double CD
Normally $20 – NOW only $10

We are all heroes and we are all on a mythic journey. Travel with master storyteller, Doug Elliott, on a journey of discovery. These true cross-country hitchhiking and freight hopping tales, delivered in his own outrageous storytelling style, explore not only this amazing nation, culture and era we are a part of, but also the universal Hero’s Journey we all embarked upon at birth. You’ll be transported from congested northern freeways to sunny southern swamps and from the bowels of throbbing factories and big-city railroad yards to vast deserts and the high Rocky Mountains. You’ll meet astounding characters and hear rousing narratives and music ranging from gospel to 60’s rock, country and contemporary songs, including tunes by Leon Russell, Hank Snow, Jimmy Rogers and Country Joe and the Fish. It’s all textured with regional dialects, lively harmonica riffs, guitar, fiddle and soulful yodels. You’ll return from this rollicking journey of discovery with new insights, unusual perspectives and more than a few belly laughs.

Elliott has done some traveling. As a young man, he hopped freight trains and hitchhiked across the continent from Maine to California and from Canada to Guatemala. For most of a decade he was an itinerant herbalist traveling around the country with a van full of herbs, teas and old time remedies, and for a short time he was a migratory beekeeper hauling a trailer full of honeybees between North Carolina and Florida.

A Datura Adventure—Colonial Style

DaturaMontage

I’m often intrigued by the eerie, almost sinister looking, half-closed flowers over at the edge of the yard. Sometimes in the mornings there will be an industrious bumble bee forcing its way into the wilting floral tube. This almost luminescent, ghostly white flower opens in the twilight and perfumes the night with a strangely alluring aroma that lasts until morning.

Datura stramonium is its scientific name. The name comes from the Hindu word for the plant, Dhatura . Most of us know it as jimsonweed or thorn-apple. I was surprised to learn that it is native to Asia, though it’s now considered “cosmopolitan” and can be found growing in most temperate parts of the world.

It must have come to America with the Jamestown colonists because it was growing there around 1676 when those hungry soldiers arrived to quell Bacon’s Rebellion. They gathered, cooked, and ate some tender young greens they found growing at the edge of the village. These greens turned out to be Datura, and the soldiers responded to it rather dramatically–as reported by Robert Beverly in his 1705 History and Present State of Virginia:

This being an early Plant, was gather’d very young for a boil’d Salad, by some of the soldiers…and some of them eat plentifully of it, the Effect of which was a very pleasant Comedy; for they turn’d natural Fools upon it for several Days: One would blow up a Feather in the Air; another wou’d dart Straws at it with much Fury; and another stark naked was sitting up in a Corner, like a Monkey, grinning and making Mows at them; a Fourth would fondly kiss, and paw his Companions, and snear in their Faces, with a Countenance more antick, than any in a Dutch Droll. In this frantick Condition they were confined, lest they should in their Folly destroy themselves; though it was observed, that all their Actions were full of Innocence and good Nature. Indeed, they were not very cleanly; for they would have wallow’d in their own Excrements, if they had not been prevented. A Thousand such simple Tricks they play’d, and after Eleven Days, return’d to themselves again, not remembring any thing that had pass’d.

This was the first account of Europeans having a psychedelic experience in North America. (An 11 day trip, no less!) After that event, the plant became known as “Jamestown weed.” Over the last couple of centuries the name has become corrupted, so we now know it as “jimsonweed.” Those soldiers were very lucky. There have been many human interactions with the plant since, and most of them have not ended so happily. Jimsonweed is loaded with powerful alkaloids, and ingestion of even small amounts can cause permanent mental damage; many fatalities have been recorded. If you are interested in ingesting mind-altering plants or wild greens, Daturas are best left alone.

Datura2Late one overcast summer afternoon I passed this clump of jimsonweed blossoms. They were opening early. It’s rare to see them open in the daylight so I snapped a couple of photos. I was gratified that Jim Duke and Steven Foster chose this photo as an illustration in the Peterson Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs. I have spent thousands of hours with that series of field guides, and I have learned much of what I know about the natural world from them. It was an honor to actually be able to contribute to one.

SEASONAL SALE
www.dougelliott.com/products.html
Now thru New Year’s Day

Wildwoods Wisdom, Encounters with the Natural World
196 page, lavishly illustrated hardcover book —
There’s lots more about interesting plants such as ginseng, Jack-in-the-pulpits, locust trees, tulip poplars and many other miracles of nature, including beavers, buzzards, snakes, trees, bats, bees, skunks, and more.
Normally $23–NOW $8 off–only $15

An Evening with Doug Elliott  DVDStories, Songs, and Lore Celebrating the Natural World
Elliott performs a lively concert of tales, tunes, traditional lore, wild stories, and fact stranger than fiction–flavored with regional dialects, harmonica riffs, and belly laughs. One moment he is singing about catfish, the next he’s extolling the virtues of dandelions, or bursting forth with crow calls. He also demonstrates basketry, ponders the “nature” in human nature, tells wild snake tales, and jams and jives with his fiddler son, Todd.
Normally $20 — NOW only $10

Looking for America: A 20th Century Hero’s Journey Double CD
We are all heroes and we are all on a mythic journey. Travel with master storyteller, Doug Elliott, on a journey of discovery. These true cross-country hitchhiking and freight hopping tales, delivered in his own outrageous storytelling style, explore not only this amazing nation, culture and era we are a part of, but also the universal Hero’s Journey we all embarked upon at birth. You’ll be transported from congested northern freeways to sunny southern swamps and from the bowels of throbbing factories and big-city railroad yards to vast deserts and the high Rocky Mountains. You’ll meet astounding characters and hear rousing narratives and music ranging from gospel to 60’s rock, country and contemporary songs, including tunes by Leon Russell, Hank Snow, Jimmy Rogers and Country Joe and the Fish. It’s all textured with regional dialects, lively harmonica riffs, guitar, fiddle and soulful yodels. You’ll return from this rollicking journey of discovery with new insights, unusual perspectives and more than a few belly laughs. Elliott has done some traveling. As a young man, he hopped freight trains and hitchhiked across the continent from Maine to California and from Canada to Guatemala. For most of a decade he was an itinerant herbalist traveling around the country with a van full of herbs, teas and old time remedies, and for a short time he was a migratory beekeeper hauling a trailer full of honeybees between North Carolina and Florida.
Normally $20 – NOW only $10

Thanks to Todd Elliott for the use of two of his photos.
To see more check out his website. toddelliott.weebly.com

Tracker’s Dilemma—The Mysterious Scrapes

There were strange scrape marks on the ground in the woods behind the house. They seemed too deep to be typical turkey scratching. These digs went through the leaf litter, an inch or two into the soil. What critter made these diggings I wondered? MG7631C-ToddElliottThen I noticed a slender green stem topped by three leaflets lying beside each of the holes. I recognized the plant, and when I noticed at the base of the stem the root was missing, it all came clear. I remembered the first time I saw this phenomenon.

It was many years ago when I was out “‘sengin'” with my two older mountaineer buddies, Theron and Lee. All three of us were traversing a steep, forested mountain slope. We had been slowly walking along scanning the thick growth of understory plants searching for the telltale red berries or yellowish leaves of a coveted ginseng plant. We had spaced ourselves about 20 or 30 yards apart as we walked across the slope. Theron was up the highest on the slope. I was the lowest, and Lee was between us.

We had not been finding much ginseng when I came upon a large fallen log that had been broken apart. All around it there were rocks that had been overturned. There was a distinct trail leading off that was marked by beaten down plants, overturned rocks and recently disturbed dirt. This was the fresh trail of a foraging bear.

I forgot about ginseng. I wanted to see what that bear had been doing. I saw some fresh dirt where it had dug a hole. I looked in the hole and saw the remains of the papery walls of a yellowjackets’ nest. The bear had dug up and eaten an entire colony of yellowjackets. I was glad the bear had gotten there first. If I had stumbled into the nest, those yellowjackets might have devoured me!

I could see places where the bear had been digging roots. As near as I could tell, the trail seemed fresh. I hollered up the mountain to my companions. I told them that I had found fresh bear sign and that they ought to come down and look. They were hunting ginseng. They were quite a ways up the slope and didn’t want to come all the way down to look at bear sign. So I followed along further.

botanicals0133Because of the thick growth of herbaceous plants that had been trampled, the bear’s trail was quite clear and easy to follow. The bear had been feeding; turning over rocks in search of insects and digging up roots as it traveled. I looked more carefully at the holes where it had been rooting and found the tops of botanicals0063Jack-in-the-pulpit lying beside the hole with the bulbous corm (the root) bitten off. Could it be that this bear was eating Jack-in-the Pulpit? I followed on. Yes, there were more holes with more tops with the roots bitten off. This was amazing. Jack-in-the-pulpit, sometimes known as “Indian turnip”, has an incredibly fiery, irritating taste. In fact it is a favorite trick of mean-spirited country pranksters to try to get some naive person to taste it. Like many other members of the arum family the plant contains calcium oxalate crystals. When you first put it in your mouth it tastes mild and pleasant – until the calcium oxalate crystals imbed in your mucous membranes and act as an irritant not only chemically, but mechanically as well. To me, the sensation is like slivers of hot broken glass in the throat – not a fun prank at all.

Apparently this bear was not bothered by the calcium oxalate because it had eaten one Jack-in-the-pulpit root after another. Jack-in-the-pulpit root was its major plant food that day. (Since that time I have seen several other instances were a bear had been eating Jack-in-the-pulpit in upstate New York. On another occasion in early July in central West Virginia I witnessed a bear feeding on the fruits of skunk cabbage, another calcium oxalate containing member of the Arum family)

The bear’s trail turned up hill and I followed. Soon I met Lee and Theron. I was excited. I was finally going to be able to show them what this bear had been doing. I pointed out the trail and showed them the top of a Jack-in-the-pulpit with the root chewed off. They both studied it. Finally Lee said, “That ain’t no bear been through here digging them Indian turnips. H’it was somebody.”

“It was a bear,” I protested. “People don’t dig Indian turnip roots.”

“Yeah, they sell them.”

“Naw, it was a bear,” I protested. “I saw where he busted up a log down there.”

“Maybe down there,” Lee said. “But up here, this is where somebody’s been digging roots. That’s probably why we ain’t finding any ginseng.”

“Let’s just follow along here for a while,” I suggested, “Maybe we can figure this out.”

The three of us followed the trail and found more uprooted Jack-in-the-pulpits. Then right beside one of the uprooted Jacks was a large ginseng plant with red berries.

“Now there ain’t nobody who’s digging Indian turnip to sell that’s gonna pass up a ginseng with red berries.” I said triumphantly.

“Well, what about that,” Lee said.

We followed that bear’s trail around the ridge. On the other side, we found a place where it had dug up several Jacks. The tops lay there on the ground; the leaves were not even wilted, a number of the roots had been bitten off. There was one that had been started and but it had been dropped, unfinished. From that point the trail seemed to dwindle and disappear.

It wasn’t till later that we realized that the bear had been prowling the slope hunting roots just like we were. It was just ahead of us and when it heard us arguing, it dropped the root it was eating and slipped away.

After that day in the woods, I wood-burned a drawing of a woodland scene on a shelf mushroom. I drew a bear and a Jack-in-the-pulpit and three tiny human figures up on the ridge in the background. I gave it to Theron for a Christmas present.

He looked at the scene I drew and said, “Well that’s about the way it was, wasn’t it. That ole bear was around the ridge thar, eatin’ them Indian turnips and just a listenin’ to us argue about whether it was a bear or not.”

mushroombear

Okay, you plant geeks; did you notice those two young ginseng plants in the top photo? (They’re above the fallen Jack-in-the-pulpit-leaf.)

Late Summer Sale at www.dougelliott.com/products.html

Wildwoods Wisdom, Encounters with the Natural World
196 page, lavishly illustrated hardcover book
There’s lots more about ginseng, Jack-in-the-pulpits, locust trees and many other miracles of nature, including beavers, buzzards, snakes, tulip poplar trees, bats, bees, skunks, and more.
Normally $23–NOW $8 off–only $15

An Evening with Doug Elliott DVD
Stories, Songs, and Lore Celebrating the Natural World
Elliott performs a lively concert of tales, tunes, traditional lore, wild stories, and fact stranger than fiction–flavored with regional dialects, harmonica riffs, and belly laughs. One moment he is singing about catfish, the next he’s extolling the virtues of dandelions, or bursting forth with crow calls. He also demonstrates basketry, ponders the “nature” in human nature, tells wild snake tales, and jams and jives with his fiddler son, Todd.
Half-price sale Normally $20 — NOW only $10

Doug & Todd on NatGeo’s Forage Wars

For all you predawn TV watchers:

Doug and Todd Elliott are featured on the National Geographic reality TV show, Forage Wars, Thursday, June 19.  It should be hilarious, especially if you are a forager.  And they gave us a prime-time slot:  5 AM ET !

There are a couple of trailers to the show on this link:
http://channel.nationalgeographic.com/channel/episodes/forage-wars/

National Geographic Channel - Forage Wars Pilot

Happy foraging.   Doug

The Great Tulip Poplar SlurpFest

Coming soon to a tulip tree near you!

When I tell northerners that I built my house almost entirely of poplar, including the framing, rafters, interior paneling and exterior siding, they seem confused. When I go on to say that there are a lot of old log cabins in the southern Appalachian Mountains built from poplar logs, they look at me like I’m crazy.

I soon found out that to a northerner the word “poplar” refers to aspens and other related trees whose wood is light, soft and virtually useless for house construction. After a bit more discussion, we would finally get our terminology straightened out and I’d get the response, “Oh, you mean ‘tulip tree.'”

poplar-flower-and-leaf

Yes, this magnificent tree has many names and even more uses. It is not a true poplar but was so named because its leaves are attached to its branches by long petioles, or leafstems, that allow the leaves to flutter in the breeze in a manner not unlike that of a quaking aspen.

Tulip poplar is actually in the Magnolia family. Its scientific name, Liriodendron tulipifera, translates as something like, “tulip-bearing lily tree.” This is a great name for the tree because its flowers look like a combination of a tulip and a lily. They are a light greenish yellow and each of the six petals has a blaze of orange at its base.

IMG_2967A large tulip poplar lit up with hundreds of large cup-like blooms in spring is a magnificent sight indeed. The flowering of these trees is very important to beekeepers. It is one of the most dependable sources of nectar in the Southeast. The yield of nectar per bloom is possibly the highest of any plant on the continent and has been calculated at an average of 1.64 grams per flower (that’s about one third of a teaspoon). During a favorable season, the nectar is secreted so abundantly that honey bees and other insects cannot carry it away as fast as it appears. Sometimes you can stand under a blooming tulip tree in a light breeze and feel the nectar dripping down like a gentle, sticky rain. poplar-nectar(People who park their shiny new cars under tulip trees often complain about this.) Because the bloom comes early in the season, many honey bee colonies are not strong enough to fully utilize the abundance. For strong hives, however, harvests of 100 pounds of honey per hive have been recorded during just the three-week poplar bloom. The honey is dark in color and is sometimes called “black poplar honey”. When held up to the light, however, it can be seen that it is actually a deep amber-red in color. Though it is not as light as locust honey or as sought after as sourwood honey, it has a rich full-bodied flavor that can be used to sweeten fruit salads, yogurt, tea and other beverages. It goes great on pancakes, waffles, cereal, biscuits, cornbread, and other baked goods. Rarely a day goes by that I don’t eat some.

If you want the ultimate tulip poplar nectar tasting experience, you can sip it straight from the flower like the bees do. To do this, you need to find a freshly opened blossom within reach. Pick or lower the blossom carefully without jostling it. Then lick the droplets on the inside of the petals, and taste that ambrosia! Sometimes the nectar collects in a puddle on one of the lower sepals. If the air has been warm and dry, the nectar will often be thick like syrup. After one taste, you will know you have imbibed the nectar of the gods!

Many wild critters take advantage of the tulip poplar nectar. Along with the multitudes of insects, I have seen hummingbirds and orioles sipping the nectar. A friend was on a cliff in West Virginia in late May looking out over the canopy of the forest when he noticed movements in the crown of a distant tulip tree. It was a bear up in the tree bending in the flowering branches and slurping the nectar. Often you will see hundreds of cut up petals on the ground under flowering tulip trees. These are the remains of the squirrels’ treetop slurp fest. They’ve been up there partying–sipping nectar, chomping flowers, and running around on a sugar high!

It’s a good season for all of us to get outside and run around. Join the squirrels, the bears, the bugs, the birds, the bees and me on the Great Tulip Poplar Slurp Fest! Coming soon to a tulip tree near you.

IMG_2985How ‘bout them flower slurpers; ain’t they a panic,
Slurping them flowers and acting romantic,
If you wanna be a flower slurper, you don’t need to burp it,
Just find yourself a flower and haul off and slurp it!

 

 

Head Over to DougElliott.com for The Spring Sale–Still Going On–More Items:

Woodslore
Stories, Lore, and Truth Stranger Than Fiction about the Natural World
A 75 page whimsical, homemade, soft-cover book
Along with detailed instructions about how to make a tulip poplar basket, Elliott “covers a variety of topics including ‘possums, old-timey apples, ramps, orchids, bears, ginseng, millipedes roadkills and more…There’s little rhyme or reason to this book. Its topics are as varied and as far flung as Elliott’s wandering mind. But Doug has a unique and deep perspective on the world, and seeing it through his eyes is always educational and fun. This book is wonderful collection, full of woods sense, common sense and more.” –David Wheeler
Half-price sale (slightly water rumpled copies) Normally $12 — NOW only $6

Wildwoods Wisdom, Encounters with the Natural World
196 page, lavishly illustrated hardcover book —
There’s lots more about locust trees, tulip poplar trees, and many other miracles of nature, including beavers, buzzards, snakes, ginseng, Jack-in-the-pulpits, bats, bees, skunks, and more.
Normally $23–NOW $8 off–only $15

An Evening with Doug Elliott DVD
Stories, Songs, and Lore Celebrating the Natural World
Elliott performs a lively concert of tales, tunes, traditional lore, wild stories, and fact stranger than fiction–flavored with regional dialects, harmonica riffs, and belly laughs. One moment he is singing about catfish, the next he’s extolling the virtues of dandelions, or bursting forth with crow calls. He also demonstrates basketry, ponders the “nature” in human nature, tells wild snake tales, and jams and jives with his fiddler son, Todd.
Half-price Sale Normally $20 — NOW only $10

Thanks to Todd Elliott for the use of two of his photos. To see more check out his website. toddelliott.weebly.com

You might also enjoy checking out my 8-minute NC-TV video celebrating the tulip poplar: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O7WdKjeNx0w