Dirt is fascinating in its complexity. Since I spend a good portion of my spring and summer in close proximity to the garden, many times on my hands and knees, I pay a lot of attention to dirt.
So when I was planting the seedlings on the top of the hill, I paid attention to the dirt as I was shoveling. I noticed a couple of empty snail shells, the residents long gone. I saw areas that had lighter/redder colored dirt and areas where it was very dark. There were spots around old stumps that showed the remnants of fir needles blanketed 6 inches deep, and roots of ferns that were white, fleshy and ready to break the surface as soon as the temperature rises.
And I found two lumps that I knew where not any of those things I had just mentioned. One was about as big as a large marble, the second one was bigger, about ping-pong ball size. I hoped they were truffles. I know truffles grow in the area around fir trees, and a hunter had harvested some from our farm many years ago. I even had the chance to try the earthy fungus. I had never went out looking for them before, to find them when planting trees was like finding a lost treasure. As the lumps were found, I tucked them into my pocket and continued planting. There would be plenty of time to look at them once the trees were done and I could clean them off at the house.
When I got to home, I pulled the lumps out of my pocket and realized that the bigger of the two was not a truffle at all but a burl. A burl is formed on a tree from buds that are clumped together, instead of forming a branch, it swirls around and makes a knot. Burls can grow large enough to make furniture. The one I found was from a fir tree. Loggers have been known to slip a burl into their pocket as a keepsake and leave it there until it is polished smooth by the fabric.
The second lump felt more lifelike, and when I scratched the surface with my thumbnail, it left a track. Feeling that I was correct I started announcing that I had found a truffle.
Mike took one look at the smaller lump and stated that it was not a truffle at all but a glob of compressed clay that had formed the beginning of what would be a rock and about another 1000 years.
I took a sharp knife and cut into the lump, sure enough it was a bit of compressed clay. I’m sure glad I didn’t start cooking with the lump before the examination.