Phenology Journal

What the Fuck is Phenology?

“I was using the same cut-up method that William Burroughs used, only I was doing it with music, which is why he and I hit it off a few years later when we met to work on the song “Just One Fix” from Psalm 69.”

— Al Jourgensen, “Ministry: The Lost Gospels According to Al Jourgensen”

I haven’t seen a hummingbird in several days now. I think they’re gone, but I’m leaving the feeders for a bit to see. Althea and I walked the loop trail early, about 8 a.m., and saw a few whitetail that panic snorted and bolted, Althea in their wake, ears alert, nose in the air, spring in her step.

Day dawned cold, upper ‘40s and warmed slowly. Sunny early. Clouds moved in leaving late afternoon/evening in gloom. Humidity picked up and it was rather warm as I sat on the deck around 8 o’clock in the evening.

This is my attempt at a phenology journal. I’ve been struggling with my writing output lately, having fallen off the This Moment wagon that I was using as a writing exercise. I picked that up again on Saturday, and while riffing there I decided to go forward thus. It will give me a reason to post something every day, no matter how brief, and it will help me track seasonal changes in the forest, compare years, gauge the success of my wars on invasive, and impose a bit of order on the randomness with which I drift though the woods each day. Here’s the first, long-winded installment. It was a busy day.


  • I awoke this morning to a pair of barred owls raising hooting hell across the forest, so impressive I left the sleeping dog lie, slipped into my hoody and went outside to listen to the feathered symphony for a few fleeting minutes, predawn crescent moon waning into the northeast. I was so saturated with the moment i didn’t even notice the 46b degree chill in the air until I flipped on the flashlight post owl song and caught whisps of my breath in its beam. I love living in the forest. I’ve lived in/near student ghettoes, lakes, suburban track housing, gentrifying neighborhoods, haunted farmhouses, but nothing compares to this, the ability at 5 each evening to bathe in deet, pull on my hiking boots, and wonder the woods for an hour or so with my dingbat puppy, eating some berry-fueled feces one moment, gnawing a deer bone the next, always alert for squirreslchipmunksdeer to be chased just for the thrill of it. One day, she’ll catch up with her quarry, and it will be interesting to watch the ensuing encounter.
  • I destroyed a gangly grove of tulip trees that were trying to get a jump in the southern exposure provided by the utility cut that slices the eastern corner of the property. They were grouped, maybe 12 of them, and already 10-12 feet tall. Among the first tree settlers to return after things get clear cut. Straight trunks with Sideshow Bob bolts of green palm-sized leaves soaking up sun. Now they’re lying stacked like fallen soldiers , victims to my dreams of establishing a pawpaw grove along there and my desire the keep my electric lines free from poplar interruptus.
Some of the poplars I attacked are in the lower right. Cut is still brown from early summer attack on the honeysuckle it was infested with.
Some of the poplars I attacked are in the lower right. Cut is still brown from early summer attack on the honeysuckle it was infested with.
  • The discovery of and attempt to resuscitate a small cluster of beleaguered pawpaws. I had never noticed them. Discussed pawpaws with Andrea from Rural Action when she came by to do a forest assessment, and she suggested the utility cut. That’s when I noticed group of pawpaws crowded by grapevine and spicebush. A few of the pawpaws were in bad shape, but several were tall, maybe 16 or 20 feet with solid trunks. I’ll measure later. No fruit, though. Not sure if that’s a lack of genetic diversity in the stand or the stress of being elbowed out of the sun the way they were. I definitely opened things up for them and I plan to plant more to serve as reinforcements and help them get a better hold, maybe produce fruit. There are a lot of them in the forest around here, but most are crowded out in the understory and don’t get enough light to fruit. There is one stand I stop by a few times a week that has fruit, and I almost always come away with a ripe pawpaw or two. I’d love to have that closer in, along the trail system.
The pawpaws after i cleared the grape vine and other foliage that was competing with them.
The pawpaws after i cleared the grape vine and other foliage that was competing with them.
When I cleaned up the area where the pawpaws are, I came across this beautiful fruiting of turkey tail.
When I cleaned up the area where the pawpaws are, I came across this beautiful fruiting of turkey tail.
  • I think I’ve finally developed a strategy for pollinator spots. Instead of trying to conquer the entire space (i.e. that utility cut, which turns to weedy refuge for honeysuckle quickly if it isn’t sprayed or cut. It covers a lot of ground so it would be daunting to try to turn it over to wildflowers overnight. I think I’m going to carve out 10×10 sections, more or less, put down cardboard to kill off what’s beneath, augment the soil a bit once that’s done, and plant wildflower seeds. I’ll just do a few a year … starting … When is the best time to plant wildflowers?
  • Stray thought, I might want to create a forward-looking nature to this, a to-do list of upcoming things, like planting wildflowers, that I need to work into the schedule.
  • The planting of 1/4 pound ginseng in four locations, the most downslope being near a massive poplar that already hosts a nice population of wild ginseng. I planted there, putting seeds here, seeds there, mostly focusing on areas near trees that radiate out from that poplar, and I did drop some seeds near the poplar, too. Then there were three locations, starting from one that’s almost atop the slope leading to Turkey Roost Ridge and moving downhill as I went toward the poplar, my final stop. With luck, that stretch of hillside will erupt in young ginseng next year. I might get another 1/4 pound and put it on a southwest facing slope where we found it, a bit surprisingly, during the Rural Action trip.
  • On October 1, I harvested a nice cluster of summer oyster mushrooms from a dead poplar in the north hollow. I think that site has immense potential. I’ve already found ginseng there, and I planted ramps there in 2020 that reappeared this past spring. I need to add a lot more ramps, though. Current population is just a few plants.
  • In the spirit of recounting recent events, we hit a treasure trove of black trumpets on September 23 among the roots of the beech on the northern bench of Turkey Roost Ridge. Andrea and LaRanda were the ones who noticed them. Harvested a lot of them, enough for both me and LaRanda to emerge with a large Tupperware container of them, and I went back the next day for more, pulling out another container. Need a name for that. Did see a Gray Ratsnake there recently while cutting grapevine. And that’s also the bench where Cody’s game cam recorded a bobcat. Maybe it’s Bobcat Bench. And thus it was.
  • For what it’s worth, I had NO IDEA what a phenology journal was until Joe at Rural Action referred to the term in one of his blog posts. So it was pretty amusing a few days later when someone in a call used the term, and stopped to define it, and I felt all smug because I knew what it meant, having looked it up when Joe had dropped it.
  • I feel like I’m in a war zone. For the past several days, the black walnuts have been dropping their fruit all over the place, and it crashes to earth, or into the roof of the woodshed with crashes that sound like gunshots. I’ve noticed the black walnuts tend to be the last to leaf in and among the first to leaf out. They haven’t changed colors, but their crown seems thin, perhaps better to let those walnuts free-fall without the braking action of bouncing off branches and leaves. I’m glad there are none directly over the cabin. That’s all white oak.
  • The sick oak. Since this is a rambling first report, it appears to be holding its own. I noticed it was struggling and beetles were swirling around its truck in summer 2020, called Tree Dude and he said it’s like Oak wilt, which is a vague term for a variety of fungal oak ailments spread by beetle. He injected magic gook in it to kill off the mold and boost the trees systems. While I wouldn’t say the tree is thriving, it’s holding its own. The leaves in the crown seem bright and green, though they are sparse relatives to the other white oaks nearby. I’d hate to lose that guy. The grove of white oaks around Innisfree provide shade in the heat of summer and drop their leaves in the late fall, allowing the southern sun to stream through all the skylights to passively heat the living space on even the coldest sunny days.
  • I decanted the ghost pipe that I harvested on July 13, pulling out the pipe itself and filling two dropper bottles. I still have a lot more left. This batch is hotter — I used 151 Everclear for the tincture instead of vodka – and I also used a good bit more ghost pipe in each canning jar that I distilled it in. It sat like that for about 2.5 months before I filtered out the ghost pipe yesterday. It turns the alcohol a gorgeous blueish color. I was using two droppersful when I had heavy pain (like my knee) and one when I was just having aches from working on the trails. So this morning, I took a half dropperful to treat the aches from yesterday’s endeavors. Seems to be around the right dosage , though it’s more alcoholic. The taste of the ghost pipe isn’t as prevalent as it was in the previous tincture. Not sure how exactly to describe that taste. I don’t love it, but it’s not rank or foul. No gag reflex.
Ghost pipe after spending about 3 months in 151 alcohol.
Ghost pipe after spending about 3 months in 151 alcohol.