Sunday, July 10, 2016

Hungry Mother -- worth the walk on the 80th anniversary!

                           Walking the Hungry Mother Park Lake Trail.

     This is a big year for Virginia -- the 8oth anniversary of our State Park system. State parks provide very reasonably priced entertainment. If you go for just the day, or a few hours, then you can get a big bang for your parking fee bucks, as there is so much to do at our state parks. Go fishing, go for a hike (literally), picnic, observe wildlife and take photos, visit the discovery/nature center or gift shop. You can find all this and more at Hungry Mother State Park in Marion. And we chose to meet with a friend there.
    For years fellow Master naturalist friend Carrie S. had been a guide at the park, helping children identify plants in the woods, invertebrates in the stream, and edibles here and there. After a tasty lunch at the park restaurant (the cream of tomato soup was especially good) she took us on the Lake Trail Loop (well, we didn't get to go ALL the way around but did see the good parts of the trail).
   She said there were a number of trails she found "uninteresting" for her to explore. But the Lake Trail, besides having the scenic 108 acre lake be a big part of  the scenery, has numerous interesting plants Carrie was glad to point out for our edification. I was unaware, for example, that one of the first wildflowers to come up in spring in our region, coltsfoot, with its dandelion like bloom, later has this huge maple shape of a leaf, what is white underneath. The big elliptical leaves in a stream we passed as we neared a bend away from the lake she thought were those of skunk cabbage. The leaves are said to have a nasty smell, so as to attract flies to help pollinate the plant. Many plants do depend on flies and bees for pollination, especially wildflowers. 
    One understory tree with thin limbs that seemed to be bent over she said some people called a "muscle tree," though it was really American hornbeam. The trail was starting to get a bit slippery as we started uphill -- it had recently rained, probably that morning. So we stopped a second as she pointed out that maidenhair fern was noted for its dark brown stem, a good identifier. 
    And she actually cooked stinging nettles, stingers and all! Of course, she boiled them in about three changes of water, which destroyed anything pinchy. I'd never tried that, though I have cooked the inner shaft of cattails and some other greens of the woods, like dandelion, goose foot, violets. The variety of plants on this nice trail was also evident with orange butterfly weed, wild raspberry,  milkweed, and spicebush visible. Since the park is in FAR southwest Virginia, I think there is a greater diversity of plants than where I live farther north. Oh well. You can't have everything, though we do have pretty purple larkspur at our local park in spring.
    They say there is a legend (which may or may not be true) about how a mother and her young kids were captured by Indians in the region centuries past. They escaped, but the mother didn't make it. The kids came back toward a settlement and all they could say they were so young was "Hungry mother." Well, I suppose they were. 
    There was no time for a stroll on the light colored sandy beach our sons had enjoyed when they were young, but their discovery center, unlike the little one I volunteer at at Claytor Lake State Park, has an "impressive" array of stuffed wild animals, including bear, fox and raccoon. That is worth a look. 

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