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Russell Wangersky: Moss for shut-ins

Southside bounty of chanterelles. — Russell Wangersky/The Telegram
Southside bounty of chanterelles. — Russell Wangersky/The Telegram

When I was young and growing up in the Maritimes, there used to be a regular Sunday television show called “Mass for Shut-ins.” (Turns out, there still is, at least as far as I can tell. It started in 1963, and is a pre-recorded service that brings church services to those who can’t get out to church.)

This, courtesy of one heck of a fine summer — after June, anyway — is moss for shut-ins.

It is not always wonderful to live here. Sometimes, it’s sleety and wet and grey, and sometimes, that goes on for weeks.

But in case you couldn’t get out this year, or in case, for whatever reason, you didn’t spend time in the hot, muggy wonder of our wild, I’ll try to bring you some.

Ten minutes away from downtown St. John’s last weekend, up in the Southside Hills, a handful of steps off a dirt road could take you deep into a low-slung boreal cathedral. Pillowed light-green moss, that particular one that’s capped with mossy stars, made the cathedral’s carpet. The wicker of needle-less spruce branches were the rafters, the windows the open space of windfalls. Hot and humid and windless in under the trees, walking was working along moose paths and bike paths, alongside a small verdant ravine, the bell-like sound of falling water distancing you from the sound system in Bowring Park, announcing the finalists in an end of summer marathon.

This is a year of plenty. Make the most of it, or take the time to live in it, even if it’s vicariously.

Mushrooms rising, despite the lack of rain: amanitas, bold as brass and equally poisonous, their bright colours either a warning or a boast. Circles of fairy ring mushrooms, heralding the root-ring of a dead and disappeared forgotten tree. Single, rising toadstools with their nippled tops — the white shafts of the ghostly fungus we used to call Indian Pipes.

Chubby boletes, their stems like baby-fat legs.

And every now and then, the bright orange of the chanterelles.

It’s been a year for the chanterelles. Their fluted orange boxer’s ears are everywhere this year, nosing up through the ground, ignored except by pickers and slugs. This year, it’s like you can’t turn around in the woods without finding a handful. These, the mushrooms that command $20 a pound or more, and you can, with ease, fill shopping bags full.

There’s moose in there, too, close enough sometimes that you can smell the bovine funk of them, though maybe not ever see them. Their droppings are everywhere, mounded, sometimes decaying, the sign of regular travel.

And the smell of the rest of it: the heat on the boggy low ground, where the rock close to the surface has made water pool and stand and break down wood and peat into brown tannins.

It’s been equally wonderful in central Newfoundland, and on over to the west coast. This is the kind of year when things grow, when things seem possible.

The garlic cloves we planted are hanging in the basement now, their papery skin drying, the furnace room rich with their offended, newly harvested smell — “Why have you uprooted us?”

It’s a particular marvel when you can’t just live in this place, but live from it as well. I have a hard time not digging up the potatoes — I have trust issues about whether they are performing up to their potential, and will inevitably pull some of them up too early. But potatoes there will be.

Wild raspberries and apple trees took a hit with the June chill; blueberries and blackberries didn’t hurt as much, and the partridgeberries are glossy and bright in their green and red skins, waiting to ripen. Trout came to flies when you’d think they wouldn’t, and there are rabbits. Oh, there are rabbits.

This is a year of plenty. Make the most of it, or take the time to live in it, even if it’s vicariously. The mosses are wonderful and full, and even now, you can find stick-lichen throwing up their hopeful columns, as if they intend to overtop someone’s walls. It can make a cold heart glad.

The one thing I’ve learned here is that it’s not something you can depend on.

Russell Wangersky’s column appears in 39 SaltWire newspapers and websites in Atlantic Canada. He can be reached at — Twitter: @wangersky.

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