Watoga, day 1: Mushrooms, mice, and medicinals

Well, it just wouldn't be right of me to come back from a relaxing 5-day vacation in the beautiful mountains of West Virginia and not bring back some stories and photographs, so I've collected a few of the more interesting ones for your viewing delight.

Large red soldier ant - unidentifiedA large ant watched us leave.

In recent years, my family has been taking fewer tent-camping trips and more cabin-based vacations. It leaves more time for hiking and gives us some freedom from the weather. This year we stayed in a cabin at Watoga State Park, created in the 1930s. We were greeted at the cabin by a small garter snake that slithered under a rock before I could catch it. As I later discovered, we would be in no short supply of snakes this vacation.

The cabin itself was an interesting mix of rustic and modern, having been built by the CCC in the 1940s and retrofitted sometime later with electricity and running (heated) water. It was stacked-log construction, relying on pegs and mortis-and-tenon joints instead of nails.

Insect traffic jamInsects on the statue's base engaged in tiny dramas.

The park office (sharing a building with restrooms, a small restaurant, and possibly a gift shop) had a commemorative statue of a CCC worker out front. I was more captivated, however, by the insects on the statue's base than by the statue itself. Spiders and ladybugs in various stages of development were being born, living, eating, fighting, and dying in tiny dramas up and down the sides and under the edge. Roaming harvestmen and other predator/scavengers picked the surface clean of any remnants, living or dead.

Corrugated parasol mushroomsFungal life abounded in the rich soil.

A far cry from the drought conditions in Charlottesville, Watoga State Park was damp and cool. Our afternoon hike along the Dragon Draft trail led us through rhododendron thickets and hemlock groves, refreshing after the central Virginia morning's heat. The trailside was full of mushrooms of diverse shapes and sizes, a number of which were quite unfamiliar to me. As nighttime approached, we headed back to the cabin to settle in for the night.

Pete the wonder mouseA Peromyscus watches my antics as I try to photograph it.

Back at the cabin, I discovered several mousetraps, neither one set, but both showing signs of use. The one in my closet provided several minutes of entertainment -- anyone who knows me can attest to my fascination with even the simplest of mechanical devices. I absentmindedly left the trap set. Sometime during the night I was awakened by rattling from the closet, and I sat bolt upright and grabbed a pocket light when I made the connection between the rattling, the trap, and the closet.

Luckily, the mouse was only caught by a toenail, and I was able to release it with no trouble. Astonishingly, it did not seem too startled by my presence, but instead hopped onto the baseboard and started grooming itself. A few minutes later it climbed the wall and disappeared into a gap I hadn't noticed before.

That wasn't the last time I saw it -- but that's a story for Day 2.

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