Two out of three ain’t bad: more about spring in the West Virginia woods

Like I said before, spring in West Virginia zooms at the speed of sunlight. Take a week’s break from the woods and there’s a whole other type of tree or wildflowers blooming when you go back. Open winter views are now closed up by a glowing green curtain of new buds and leaves. In a single acre of woods, there’s every shade of green, gold, orange buds, pink blooms and white blossoms.

Sideling Hill Wildlife Management Area in western Morgan County, W.Va.

Just about everybody is hunting something in the woods right now.

Mushroom hunters have been gathering wild morels where they can find them. I’ve always looked based on what I heard — on shady hillsides, near poplar trees, etc. This spring I admitted defeat and stopped looking for morels. On a short hike after work two weeks back, I swung down a hillside to see if a patch of paw paw trees had put on their dark burgundy flowers yet. Bending over to creep under a low branch, my eyes settled on the biggest morel I’d ever seen. Right at the tip of my boot. To the left and right, dozens stood out against the dark soil. Whatever I blurted out wasn’t suitable for mixed company, and I spent the rest of the evening with a grin on my face.

Morel.

Spring turkey hunting is another story altogether.

I’ll write about how I started hunting in my 40s some other time, but suffice it to say that I’m one of those people with more enthusiasm than skill or knowledge. Turkey are not nearly as forgiving as deer when it comes to dealing with new hunters. They’ll see you long before you’ll see them, and aren’t hanging around to give you even half a chance. In short, you have to be a legitimately good hunter to get a West Virginia wild turkey in the woods. I’ll do my part and show up to watch the sun rise a few more mornings this spring turkey season. Distant gobbles and fresh turkey scratch on wildlife management areas give me hope. So do other hunters’ successes.

Trees in bloom and wildflowers are a decent consolation prize on the walk or drive back from a turkey-less hunt.

Right now, the earliest ephemerals are gone and the warm-weather crew is popping up. Purple (and white) shooting stars hang their little rocket-like heads over the forest floor on a thin stem. They’re native to our area and like moist forest floors — neighborhoods where I like to hang out, too.

Eastern shooting star, native to West Virginia.

Our shale and rock hillsides, especially in the western part of Morgan County near Great Cacapon, have also busted out with big patches of Wild Red Columbine. (Read more about red columbine here on the U.S. Forest Service page.) It’s one of my favorite May sights. As I drive, I swivel around to look at every new batch of them, or pull over way too many times so I can get a better look. They’re only here for a short time, after all. Each bloom is a wonder.

Wild red Columbine along West Virginia Rt. 9 near Great Cacapon.
West Virginia roadside in May…wild Columbine spreads up any rocky hillside.

Spring in West Virginia is all about grabbing opportunities while they’re here. Next week something else will sprout, be on the move in the woods and dart around in the streams. All you can do is show up, pay attention and try to take it all in.

Shiny yellow Meadow Buttercup.

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