How to mix deer, campfire, tin foil stew, dog, photography and grace

oscar-deer-20140906e-notxtDeep in the woods there is a great way to ensure that you get fantastic wildlife photography opportunities.  Leave your camera home.

I’ve said before that our deer population is too high, and this year more than ever.  Among the family here, there is one deer that has learned that Buddy and I are harmless.  Harmless enough that in the woods he lets us come close enough and stay long enough to discuss life.  The deer doesn’t say much, but he seems to be interested in what I say.  Stupid things humans say to wild animals.

Keep in mind that Balsamea is densely forested, surrounded by forest on all sides, and many miles of it, with a smattering of houses.  Our deer have not acclimated to people by their suburban gardens.  Deer at Balsamea are wild.  As they should be.  Just one of them is getting too familiar with us since mid-summer.

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L is for Locust

20130918 Locust 1

Click to enlarge

I don’t recall ever seeing any of these at Balsamea during the five years before the house (2010).  But they really love the house.  In September these critters adorn the exterior walls of the house at the rate of about one per horizontal foot of wall space.

They even outnumber our famous “daddy-long-legs” spiders, which also came with the house and love its pale olive walls, also especially in September.

Only once this year have I seen one inside the house, probably fallen from the kitchen door where they like to bask in the sun.       Continue reading

A is for Apple

God did NOT make little green apples. His mother did it.

(As a Naturalist, I have to make that point.)

Balsam_Fir_Trees_20050904_smallFor a place named Balsamea, you might think that A is for Abies balsamea, the scientific name for balsam fir tree, for which I named Balsamea, home of … you guessed it … The Balsamean.

B is for Balsamea.  A is for Apple.

(Why can’t the scientists just call it “balsam fir tree?”)     Continue reading

Going beech nuts

We have many beech trees (Fagus grandifolia) at Balsamea, and many red squirrels (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus) very happy about it.

Red Squirrel photo by Simon Pierre Barrette

Red Squirrel
Photo by Simon Pierre Barrette
under GNU Free Documentation License

One day I noticed one of our red squirrels tossing things out of one of our largest beech trees.  They were beech nut pods, inside which the tiny beech nut resides, inside which the tinier edible seed resides.  That seed is about the size of a pine nut.  There are two nuts in each pod, one seed in each nut.

I spent several hours spread out over a couple of weeks trying to figure out how to get into that hard inner shell. Nothing I found on the web helped. It made me wonder if the people writing about eating beech nuts ever opened one. Or maybe I’m just a lunkhead.

I tried crushing and soaking and boiling and roasting at various temperatures and durations. I tried chewing them in the shell. Think of chewing on a piece of 2×4. Maybe soaking them for a month would do it.

beech nut pod dry and opened on its own

Beech nut pod, dry and opened on its own, and seedless, the way the squirrels leave many of them.

Finally it came down to technique in how to split-peel it open on one of the three sides, for those that were eligible for opening. Eventually I learned to spot the ones that would open most readily. Then, about only a third of them had seeds in them.

If we say that twenty seeds is a mouthful (thinking about using these things as a source of nutrition), I suppose that with practice I could produce a mouthful per hour, if I first harvested a couple hundred pods, carefully selecting them for the right maturity.

I did try harvesting a dozen green pods that had not yet opened.  I forget now how long it took, but they did dry out and peel themselves open.  So, as food, you could harvest a barrel of them and spread them out to dry, under guard from wildlife.

Beech nuts

When the pods dry, they divide into four wedges that curl back, toward the stem base, away from the nuts.  It looks a bit like a flower.  From that point, the nuts either fall out or are easily picked out.

Given the labor involved, from harvesting to shelling, it is no wonder you never see them in the store. They’d cost a hundred bucks an ounce.

They have a nice flavor that seems to me something like walnut and almond combined.

Beech trees may grow for decades before producing pods, and a given tree may not produce them every year.

If somebody gives you a mouthful of beech seeds that they freshly harvested and shelled for you, know in your heart that they love you. Or they are just nutty above the neck.

Related article:
On The Beech ( – blog “postaldeliveries; Cumbrian Life)