Summer simmers along like the monotonous chirr of a jarfly, but here and there hints of autumn to come are already appearing. I found my first katydid this week, and son Andy says that he and daughter Taylor have been listening to the katydid chorus from their Sand Fork farm. Goldenrod is beginning to bloom in some places, and summer’s days are numbered.

The Rose of Sharon bush, laden with heavy pink blossoms, droops limbs almost to the ground. It is the fullness of summer, with green leaves lush on the trees heavy grass on the meadows. Gardens should be flourishing, but with the excessive rain, lots of crops have failed.

Still, God is worthy to be praised. In Habakkuk 3:17-18 it says, “Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labor of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: yet, I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation.”

The abundant rain has produced a crop of wild mushrooms, and thanks to our good friend Bob Davis, we enjoyed a feast of chanterelles. These were bright yellow, a choice edible mushroom. They are probably the most popular and prized edible wild mushroom in the world. You have to beware of getting it confused with the poisonous Jack O’Lantern, as they look a lot alike.

The poisonous Jack O’Lantern is found clustered at the base of stumps and on buried roots of oak and other deciduous wood. Although I’ve never tried this, my mushroom book says that when they are gathered fresh and taken into a dark room, the gills give off an eerie green glow. Chanterelles grow on the ground, singly or in clusters.

One of our favorite wild mushroom is the puffball. We have found them as big as a soccer ball, but still edible as long as the interior was firm and white. I prefer the smaller ones, sometimes called the purple-spored puffball, which resembles a brown biscuit. Nearly all puffballs are choice edibles, but must be used when the young and firm. Make sure they are fresh by slicing through from top to bottom. If there is any discoloration or dryness, discard the whole mushroom.

These mushrooms can be sautéed in butter with a clove of garlic, but we like them best dipped in an egg-milk batter and fried in oil or butter. They are especially good with an egg for breakfast. Our West Virginia woods contain so many good edible things that are ours for the gathering. Be cautious however, especially in gathering mushrooms, that they are positively identified. It would be good to take an expert mushroom guide with you, until you are sure of the edible ones.

I have been overwhelmed by the deluge of cards, e-mails and letters that I have received since I lost my little dog, Minnie. I just wish I could answer each one personally, but please know that I appreciate each one. The love and sympathy expressed has been such a comfort. There is a bond between folks who have loved and lost their furry pets–a bond of empathy. Thank you, my dear friends. I cherish and re-read each one, and my love goes out to you.

My dear cousin Bobby (actually Frank Sheldon Monroe Samples) sent me a heart-warming story about a beloved pet he once had. I enjoyed it so much that I want to share it. It is rather long, so I will do it in installments.

We’ve have varied pets down through the years, but never one like Bobby had.

He begins, “The high school term had just ended when a friend contacted me concerning a problem he’d encountered. It seems that a mother skunk had produced three young ones beneath an outbuilding. The family dog attacked and killed the mother, and he was concerned for the orphaned babies. Would I take one?

“The infant skunk barely had its eyes open when I brought it home. I entered the back door with my prize in a small cardboard box which was promptly spotted by my mother. ’I’m really going to have to do a sales job this time,’ I thought. I reached down and scooped the tiny ball of black and white fur from the box. ’Hi, Mom,’ I said, a little overly enthusiastic. ’look what I’ve got!’

“You’re not going to bring THAT in the house,” she scolded. “Why its eyes are barely open!”

“I know he’s very young, but dogs killed his mother and he’s the last of the litter.”

“He’s too small. You’ll never be able to feed him properly,” she reasoned.

“I found an unused medicine dropper and warmed some milk under her continuing protests. Holding him in one hand and attempting to get the dropper into his tiny mouth was almost impossible, and once accomplished, he promptly choked.

“You’re not doing that right,” Mom said. “Let me try.”
“Holding the little fellow gently, she dipped a small amount of milk in a teaspoon and managed to get him to swallow some. More milk in the spoon, and this time whispering of encouragement, the tiny paws made an effort to clutch the edge of the spoon. I grinned behind her back. Thus began the entire family’s summer love affair with B.O. the skunk.”

Our youngest son had a weakness for any type of babies, and brought home a variety of animals for us to raise. He once had a baby Mallard duck that bonded to him, and followed him everywhere he went. While he was working, he came across a litter of baby skunks and his father had to forcibly restrain him from bringing one home. In our younger years, Criss and I had a pair of squirrels that had the run of the house–Sammy and Sally. Sammy was the mischievous one. One day he spied Criss napping on the bed, and climbed up and bit him on the big toe!

Our lives were richer and more satisfying with our pets.
I am thankful for the animal kingdom that God has provided for us. What a lonely world it would be without our furry friends!

By Robert P. Tristram Coffin

Someone whom no man can see
Is lighting candles in the tree.

Star by star, on every bough
There is a taper burning now.

Quietly, the forest through
Eyes are lit up, two by two.

The silky moles and velvet mice
Have eyes as sharp as cracks of ice.

Dark-lanterns of the owls begin
To burn like emeralds and sin.

The raccoon built of hidden wire
Prowls by the glow of his brain-fire.

Herons stand as still as years
And see the fish swim through their tears.

All the creatures of the night
Are busy being their own light.

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Alyce Faye Bragg

She writes the "News From the Hills" column. Born and raised in the country, and still lives on the same farm where she was raised. Has a sincere love for nature and the beauty of the hills. Began writing in 1981 & currently has three books published. > Read Full Biography > More Articles Written By This Writer