Some years are better than others for fruit foraging: some seasons are “slim pickins” while others are “easy.” This year it has been “easy pickins.” Apples, elderberries, blueberries, huckleberries, blackberries, chokecherries, raspberries, and black cherries could be found in abundance throughout most of the region. It seemed to be a bumper year for many fruit trees and plants. Bumper years are those when a plant produces an abnormally high amount of fruit compared to others due to weather, pollination or health. Many of the fruits mentioned are easy to find since they remain on the plant for a considerable amount of time.
One can tell a lot about the past history of an area by the trees that are both alive and dead. One location where I hunt each fall is near a large river. Here, the soils are deep, rich and loamy. Large trees consisting of black walnut, shagbark hickory, red oak, white ash, sugar and red maple, and American elm dominate the overstory. But this was not always the case, and on the forest floor are clues as to what this area was like not too long ago. Beneath the large trees an old stone wall runs through the middle of the forest and the bark of dead cedar trees can be seen lying on the ground next to it. The presence of the two reveals much about the area’s history: the stone wall indicates an agricultural past, while the cedar indicates its abandonment.
If squirrels did not exist, deer hunters would be a lonely bunch during the fall and early winter. Squirrels have a comedic routine of running up and down trees and limbs while chasing after each other and foraging for various nuts. This routine never seems to bore their human counterparts who are eagerly awaiting the sound and sight of deer from afar. For those hunters who choose to wait for their prey up in trees, squirrels can be the primary entertainment. Last autumn I watched squirrels chase after shagbark hickory nuts mostly, but some were lucky enough to grab a few walnuts from black walnut (Juglans nigra) trees growing nearby as well.
Black cherry (Prunus serotina), also known as wild black cherry, rum cherry and mountain black cherry, is found throughout most of the eastern United States. Most at home in the Allegheny Mountains of Pennsylvania and West Virginia, and in New York State, it can be found growing on a wide variety of sites: all those except for ones that display extreme wet or dry conditions. Common in the Catskills, black cherry can be seen growing at altitudes up to 3,200 feet and scattered throughout the valleys. Like other species, black cherry tells us something about the history of that forest. Being shade intolerant, it prefers to grow in open sunlight, and its presence tells us of a past disturbance that opened up or cleared the forest of the over-story allowing more sunlight to hit the forest floor. Because disturbances might include windstorm, logging or fire, this cherry is often found growing in areas that were once open pasture, or high up on ridges that are exposed to high winds.