Monday, January 19, 2015

More than meets the eye

 I'm back.  A month has gone by since my last post.  This is my first in 2015.  What provoked me to break away from my too-busy schedule was the appearance of a beautiful Turkey Tail Fungus on a Birch stump in my front yard.  I walk by this stump often and usually do not pay it due attention.  But on this day, the connection between the fungus and the emerging Republican candidates for the presidency jumped out at me.  Thus, "More than meets the eye."  [To be continued after the biodiversity event about to take place in downtown Quincy.]
Like most fungi, the part we see and name is only a fraction of the whole organism.  The "caps" or "shelves" [physically, this is a kind of shelf fungus] are all connected by a very thin membrane called a mycelium that is invisible, or at least hidden within or below the bark.  Whenever you see widespread caps of a fungus living on the ground, chances are you're looking at a single fungus and all the caps are connected by one mycelium.  There are a few cases where a single mycelium is suspected to extend over an entire state and be a rival for the title of world's largest single organism.
Getting back to my theme - it seems that lots of noisy or flamboyant people, such as newly-elected Tea Party congressmen, or many of the dozen or so contenders for the Republican nomination for president have this quality: more than meets the eye.  They are noticeable, but you are not seeing the whole person. 
To me, the crucial difference is that when I look closer, look beneath the surface, and try to get an understanding of the whole organism, in the case of the fungi I like what I discover.  In the case of the politicians, I usually do not.
As always in this blog you may click on any photo to see a closer view.  The colorful patterns on this fungus are quite beautiful.  The Latin or scientific name is Trametes versicolor which means thin and of many colors.

Next to this stump of a Birch that died a couple of years ago is one that is still clinging to life.  The lichens growing on the branches caught my eye,  Lichens are a symbiotic coupling of fungi and algae.
To use up-to-date language, I call a lichen a fungus with a photosynthesis APP.
The photo below shows why this species of Birch is sometimes called Paper Birch.
After photographing the fungi and lichens on my Birches, I attended a nice Biodiversity celebration combined with acknowledgement of the Martin Luther king Jr. holiday.  I took some pictures and will report on this event on Wednesday.  There was some interesting discussion of the endangered Yellow-Legged Frog.  When I first came to California in 1965, Yellow Legged Frogs were very common in the northern Sierra foothills.  Now they';re nearly gone.  More on this story on Wednesday.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Hiding Like a Lichen

I got caught up in lesson planning, essay grading, and related matters toward the end of the semester and have only blogged once in December.  That's a far cry from post-per-day pace I maintained for most of the past two years.  Well, that's about to change.  These first two photos are of lichens I found along the path in the forest by my house.  The top one actually shows a lot of moss as well.  The lichens, with their slow metabolism and often well-hidden, remind me of my usual winter tendency to like to keep the blinds drawn and read by low light near the wood stove. 
The remaining five photos were taken by my son with his iPod Touch while we were up on Mt. Hough cutting our Christmas tree. 

Final grades are due Monday, and that's when I'll turn over a new leaf and start blogging more frequently again.  There will be more emphasis on current writing interests and less photography.  I also plan to showcase more of my students' nature writing and writing on environmental issues.  Until then, have a happy holiday season.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Damp Forest Aesthetics

This month is already getting away from me where blogging is concerned.  A recent hike in the woods near my home revealed a scene that reflects a lot of my current thinking about "everything is connected to everything else" and interdisciplinary approaches to teaching.  I recently joined a professional organization called Association for the Study of Literature and Environment.  I also found out that I get to teach Nature Literature in America again next fall.  One of my colleagues who teaches Introduction to Environmental Studies has agreed to collaborate and we'll try to get as many students as we can to co-enroll in the two classes. So lots of things remind me to pay attention to "connectedness."
So, back to the photo.  To me it expresses the love-hate relationship many of us have with nature.  For instance, one of my most hated encounters with human-altered nature is stepping in dog poop.  But, one of my favorite encounters is with the great variety of fungi found in damp forests.  Here we have a marriage, three clumps of dog poop being neutralized by a fungus, perhaps a slime mold.  Despite the presence of dog poop, I found the little ecosystem aesthetically pleasing.  It's also a token contribution to my campaign to "bring back the diphthong" a marriage of two letters acting as one.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Our Neighborhood Fungi

 Easily overlooked among the fallen brown leaves, our neighborhood fungi have begun to respond to the recent rains and are putting on quite a show.  The first three photos (of two different caps) were taken on my front lawn.  I've been walking by these for several weeks.  They grow very slowly and are pretty sturdy, so I expect them to be around for quite a while, perhaps until the first snow. 

 The remaining photos are from the edge of my driveway and my neighbor's yard.  These are the ones I walk or drive by every day without paying much attention.  It was a break in my firewood-splitting routine that gave me the urge to get my camera and take a slower walk.
 The next two shots are of a small area of moss growing out of a tree stump by the driveway.  On this day, I focused on some tiny fungi, but the mossy area is at least a square yard in size and also hosts several species of mosses and lichens.  A beautiful stump, but it is rotting and I think this might be its last season as a photo site before it becomes soil.

 The remaining photos were taken in a neighbor's side yard, an area that he never mows or disturbs in other ways, so every year it produces some of the most attractive fungi around.

 On the way back to the house, the twinkling of dew drops on grass caught my eye, so this last photo completes a "baker's dozen."

Saturday, November 15, 2014

A Shadow of My Former Self

I cast this shadow in Chico around Noon today.  It is now almost four and I feel like a completely different person.  Probably because I'm home after a long drive of 400 miles.  During my Chico pit stop, I carried my camera around, but had trouble getting inspired, although this sucker on a Sycamore Tree caught my eye.  I was only a block from the Farmers Market, yet the leaves impressed me more so I skipped the market.  There were lots of beautiful things to see during my half hour walk downtown, but I really wanted to get home, so I couldn't get inspired to take more pictures.
Since I don't look at these like a horticulturist might, I don't care for the word "sucker."  I think of them as ornaments.
In this slightly closer view, the bark started to get my attention.  If I hadn't rushed off, I might have found some bugs in the cracks.  Next time.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Student Nature Writing

About a month ago, I did an experiment with my English 101 class at Feather River College.  The schedule doesn't easily permit time for significant excursions onto nature trails in the area, so we did an in-class simulation.  I gathered around 40 photos from my archives, mostly flowers with bugs of various kinds, plus a few reptiles and amphibians.  The 24 students got to shuffle through the photos then pick one to write about.  They were encouraged to imagine they were at the scene seeing these things live.  With the students' permission, I'll be posting many of their responses along with the photos they were responding too.

The honor of starting this off goes to Jacob Tutty*, a new student from Montana.  Very nice work, Jacob. [By the way, the students own the copyright to their writing, so if anyone wants to use their work, permission must be obtained from the writer.]

In response to the above photo, Jacob wrote the following:
                                                      Ascent of a Ladybug
     The sight of a ruby red ladybug climbing up a cluster of plant and flower stems is absolutely inspiring.  Our eyes are drawn to the tiny size of this friendly little bug's legs.  Those small 'ole legs are more than enough to carry the body safely through many obstacles, such as a cluster of skinny plant and flower stems.  In the photo, we clearly see the apt abilities and determination of a lady bug as it hangs onto several dangling stems far off the ground.  Climbing ever higher, the ladybug is motivated and confident, slowly and thoughtfully reaching for its next step.  The lush pink color of a flower, capping the end of the stem cluster the ladybug hangs onto adds a level of natural beauty that perfectly accents that of the ladybug itself.
     Several versions of life's mystic glory are portrayed.  The pink flower, some orange leaves, glowing green and red stems: these are all raw, intrinsic melodies of the wild, wild song that our earth sings.  AS the determined ladybug keeps climbing higher, we feel our consciousness rise.  With calm, pure confidence and acceptance of other organisms, our tiny friend works hard towards its goal - get there.  The mantra of the little red bug is "can."  "I can step here and then there.  I can find some food to eat.  I can get to where I want." 
     A very positive and productive way to get through all of life's unexpected obstacles and challenges.  Polka dots speckle the voyager's ruby red body.  Glorious.  An age-old image of something happy and wholesome.  The little ladybug climbs around.  As we watch, from the perspective of the photo we have captured, we feel our hearts glow with happiness and inspiration.  What a mighty pioneer of the positive idea, "can."  To reach our goals, we must dream, perceive, and pursue with the grace of a ladybug.
I should add that the students did not have time to proofread and edit.  These writings are all first drafts written in around 25 minutes after taking time to go through the photos and choose one.
More student writings to come over the next week or so.  Comments appreciated.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Veterans of my lawn.

                                            I honor them by not mowing.