Feedback & Feed

A little of this, a little of that is what I have this week — starting with email Japanese-Knotweed feedback from local hill and dale, then traipsing off to the bountiful apple crop my dogs are capitalizing on.

For any who missed it last week, I addressed non-native, invasive knotweed plants lining many of my favorite streams, including the close-to-home Green River, which I monitor on my daily rambles with the dogs around what I call Sunken Meadow. There, a couple of weeks ago, I was attracted to these two riverbank bushes I split every day when exiting the river I wade through in the summer when conditions permit. I never paid much attention to the dense, ubiquitous bamboo-like plants on both sides of the river at that sharp left turn until drawn recently by a loud chorus of buzzing emanating from them in full bloom. Unaware of the plant’s name, I soon, quite by accident, became informed by an emailer from the wilds of Conway, where the invasive plant lines a couple of my favorite old-time trout streams he thought I’d like to know about. It’s easy to identify this time of year, he wrote, because of its white flowers. Cursory Google research confirmed my suspicion that he was describing the very plant that had piqued my curiosity. I love it when things like that happen.

Anyway, it gets better. After the column hit the street, I received three quick hits from readers with knotweed tales to share. First, a longtime friend said he had often over the years found the stuff growing around cellar holes buried deep in the forest, which made sense, I told him, having read that it was introduced to North America as a residential ornamental bush. Then an old hunting buddy and devoted gatherer of wild foods chimed in that knotweed is prevalent up and down the Green River, especially down low between Green River Park and its confluence with the Deerfield River, where it lines both Deerfield banks around Old Deerfield’s North Meadows. Having read that it was wild and edible, my friend had picked, cleaned, steamed and sampled the young, asparagus-like spring sprouts but wasn’t impressed. Too sour for his taste. He said he’d rather focus on fiddleheads, which he finds much more palatable.

The third discussion was impromptu, coming quite by accident from Ashfield on the day my column hit the street. It just so happened that I had called a man at noontime to talk about detailed maps he’s producing of the bed and ancient glacial Lake Hitchcock, which for about four millennia submerged our Connecticut Valley from northern Vermont to southern Connecticut, filling up some 17,500 years ago and draining some 4,000 years later, around 13,500 years ago. Though the retired map-maker was away on errands, his wife answered and was eager to talk about knotweed. I had written about finding an online Pennsylvania farmer marketing knotweed honey, which she said her neighbor had just the previous day told her she had been producing, describing it as a dark, delicious September treat. Well, maybe so, but I’m not impressed. Call me provincial if you insist, but give me “native” wildflower honey any day, or maybe that produced from spring apple blossoms or clover. Come to think of it, those latter two imports also came long ago with the first sailing ships transporting a new breed to these North American shores. But that’s just me. Maybe I don’t know what I’m missing. The bees take advantage of what they’re given.

Which offers a handy segue into our next subject, apples, which are falling in heaps under trees just about everywhere in the county this year. My front-yard tree is loaded with the most beautiful deep-red, conical apples in creation. They’re ready to start dropping any day now, while four trees along my daily riverside walk are similarly overburdened with sweet green fruit. I’ve tasted it. Imperfect but very good. The dogs pick up and eat random apples from the first three trees we pass, which, like the one in my yard, are still bearing most of their fruit. On the other hand, there’s the large riverside tree that’s loaded with green apples that are now falling in buckets and fading to yellow both on the tree and the ground, yet more so on the ground, where the fruit softens as the yellow mellows before going brown and rotting.

Those apples have been dropping for a month now, first sporadically but now steadily, often two or three fall as I stand watching my dogs select from dozens on the ground whatever ones they want to eat. I still haven’t figured out why they select the ones they do, but the primary sense employed is smell. Both of them will often pass up five or six beauties before picking one up and crunching it down, stems, seeds and all.

It’s comical to watch the two dogs’ eating idiosyncrasies. Old mom, Lily, 11, is more thorough. Once she selects an apple, she sits calmly, chomps it in half and drops a quarter on the ground as she eats what’s left in her mouth. Then she picks up the dropped quarter and eats it before dropping her nose to grab the other half, chomping it in half and repeating the process till done. Son Chubby, 4, goes about the chore wastefully. A bit of a glutton, he sniffs around, selects an apple, crunches it in half and devours it as if in competition, often neglecting to eat the half he’s dropped on the ground. He typically ignores that chunk and moves on to find another whole one, most often again leaving half on the ground. Sometimes those surplus halves will be eaten in the same session by Lily. Other times, either Lily or Chubby will clean them up the next day. Seems to be no rhyme nor reason to it, especially relative to Chub-Chub, still a kid in the big picture. When he eats an entire apple, he usually does so lying down on his belly, head high as he chews and swallows.

Then there’s the other peculiar eating habit Chubby has displayed in recent days. I noticed last week that his normal touring pattern on the upper terrace of our daily walk had suddenly changed by running ahead at a place where he usually lingered behind with Lily. Usually, I’d have to call both dogs as I passed through a thin stand of trees between upper fields because they like to sniff around in the parcel known as Hideaway, where wild animals seem to leave a lot of scent. Last week, thinking the dogs were behind me, I gave them a whistle, buzzed their collars and, to my surprise, noticed Lily responding from the field I was headed to. There was no sign of Chub-Chub till I turned a gentle bend in the treeline and discovered him lying down eating something along the cornfield. It’s been repeated every day since and will likely continue until the corn is cut and chopped. What he’s doing is running ahead to the cornfield, picking fresh young ears of corn, opening the husk at the silk, and lustily devouring the ear inside, cob and all.

I guess the dogs learned to enjoy corn by eating our summer garbage cobs. Figuring it won’t hurt them any, I have allowed the dogs to eat our leftover cobs. No fool, Chubby’s now picking his own and eating the kernels, too. It’s not his maiden voyage. I first noticed him eating cow corn last year during a pheasant hunt, when, hungry during a strenuous hunt, he ran to a tall cornfield and actually sprung up onto his hind legs to rip off an ear and run a short distance to lie down and eat it before returning to remove another ear.

In my mind, all this natural food can’t be bad for my pets. It must be good for them, or they wouldn’t eat it. Plus it’s free, they look great and have a noticeable bounce to their steps — even old hag Lily, a sprite 77 in human age.

It’s clear to me that they’ll be locked and loaded for the approaching pheasant season. Which reminds me … time to buy a license hunting online.

Off I go.

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