VW Plant

This is not a broken, black ping pong ball but rather a common fungus

This is not a broken, black ping pong ball but rather a common fungus

There comes a time in every bird walk when someone much more knowledgable about plants than I am suddenly stops and points out a plant.  Often, the plant is a fungus.  Is a fungus actually a plant?  According to http://herbarium.usu.edu, it is not.  Rather, fungi have their very own kingdom–and what a special kingdom it is.

Photographically, I am always challenged when we encounter cool fungi or plants along the trail while birding.  This is because I only take one lens with me birding.  It’s my 100-400mm and it doesn’t really perform well for macro photography.  This doesn’t stop me, of course, from trying my best to get a shot of the life forms we encounter.  Realistically, I am not going to tote my tripod and macro lens on birding walks to capture these plants better up close, so I will just have to live with the motion blur and shallow depth of field I end up with when shooting with the 100-400mm.  It’s still better than what I get with an iPhone.

The first really interesting fungus we encountered looked like a block ping pong ball that hand been broken open.  In fact, it looked so manmade to me that I would have assumed it was litter had we not had one of our plant experts on the walk.  It amazes me when I see things like this in nature that we ever think we invented anything on our own.

"My what big ears you have!"

“My what big ears you have!”

The second interesting fungus was a group of wood ears growing along a fallen log.  They really do look like slightly slimy ears growing on wood.  I believe this may be the birthplace of the idea for Mr. Potato head.  Perhaps the wood ears were growing on a potato and someone thought, “Hey!  That looks like a face with ears!” and then the idea grew from there.  You never know.

What kind of buckeye is that?

What kind of buckeye is that?

The next interesting non-bird we saw was, in fact, a member of the plant kingdom.  It was of particular interest to me because my Tennessean friends called it a Buckeye tree.  As a person from the buckeye state, I can tell you that I have never seen a flower on any buckeye tree that looks anything like this one.  I have read on more than one occasion that the buckeye tree is indigenous to Ohio and not found anywhere else.  I had doubted the truth of that, but now am wondering if perhaps what people call a buckeye down in Tennessee is not really the same tree at all.  Whatever it is, it’s quite beautiful.

An immature red-tailed hawk sends us on our way

An immature red-tailed hawk sends us on our way

We made our way out of the wetland a bit tired after such an early morning start.  We found many birds in the 3 hours we spent wandering about.  As we stood listening to a Cerulean Warbler just before calling it a day, we were surprised by the appearance of a Red-tailed Hawk, soaring happily overhead.  I managed to get this image of the immature hawk flying over head.

In the Gut

Forest-grown ice cream cones--really beautiful

Forest-grown ice cream cones–really beautiful

Is it 2 weeks straight of gray skies and pouring rain, the limited daylight, the fact that I just had yet another birthday, and/or the colder temperatures that make me draw into myself and reflect on life?  Perhaps it’s just what winter is for.  There is, after all, a lot of precedence around the notion of withdrawing for the winter to be reborn in the spring.  Seems to work well for the plants, anyway.

This dead branch became hot real estate for the local lichen community

This dead branch became hot real estate for the local lichen community

But in withdrawing, I find my gut talking to me.  So far, it hasn’t learned to speak English.  It seems to speak through general achy-ness.  It pokes at me like it’s really trying to tell me something, but I have no idea what it’s trying to say.  I envy people who know what it means to “listen to your gut.”

While technical Lichen doesn't "bloom," it sure looks like it does

While technical Lichen doesn’t “bloom,” it sure looks like it does

This is not new.  My gut started talking to me when I was a teenager.  I was pretty sure it was saying “Run!” every time I was on my way to school.  In more recent years, a friend who, shall we say was not-immersed-in-the-world-of-engineers, suggested I ask my gut what it needed.  Desperate to understand this mysterious, recurring pain, I tried her suggestion and sat quietly for a bit, taking deep breaths.  I thought to myself, “What do you need?” directing my attention to my gut.  The immediate response was, “More fiber.”  I laughed out loud.  But, more fiber didn’t quiet my gut.

Another ice cream cone

Another ice cream cone

What did quiet my gut was more relaxation, more presence in the moment, regular exercise, and learning to breathe.  So, why is my gut talking to me now?  Is it trying to tell me I should have been on some sort of elite detective team?  They all have talking guts, right?

Let’s think about this logically.  When stress happens, the body reacts.  If we ignore the stress, we don’t discharge it.  So, we start habitually tensing areas of the body where we react to stress.  My jaw is another good barometer of when I’m feeling stressed. It’s talking a lot too, and I don’t mean through my mouth.

My gut and my jaw are telling me I’m not dealing with stress effectively, but the problem is, I’m unclear about what the source of the stress is.  My job is not more stressful than usual.  Other than having moved a month ago, there haven’t been any major stress-creating events in my life.  So, if the sources of stress haven’t changed, I guess that means the discharge of stress has.

Tiny "blossoms" against moss

Tiny “blossoms” against moss

Well, let’s see . . . I haven’t ridden my bike in weeks.  I have only been making it to one yoga class a week.  I haven’t rowed for months.  I’ve only been hiking about 3x since October.  Hmm.  I think I’m starting to get the message now.

Rain, rain, go away!  I want to ride my bike today!

 

Fern-like Lichen producing another structure that looks like blooms

Fern-like Lichen producing another structure that looks like blooms

Flowers and Fungi

These early bloomers captured rain drops

These early bloomers captured rain drops

On a nature walk on Saturday, we were surprised to discover spring wild flowers in full bloom tucked amongst the leaf litter on the forest floor.  I don’t remember the name of these blooms, but they are often among the earliest to appear in the spring.  The thing is, it’s not spring.  We haven’t even reached Imbolc yet–it seems horribly risky for a delicate spring flower to appear so early.

The likelihood that it will manage to set seed before the weather turns too cold for survival seems very slim.  But it blooms anyway.

A completely different kind of "bloom"

A completely different kind of “bloom”

A flower, presumably, doesn’t ask questions about risk and reward.  It simply responds to the external events of water, sun, and temperature.  It doesn’t check the calendar before the seed begins to sprout.  Collectively, perhaps the seeds will have slightly different trigger points and only a few will sprout now.  The rest will require more warmth longer before they come to life.  And, in this way (I hope), the next generation will come from the seeds whose triggers allowed them to survive long enough to produce more seed.

Wood ears may not quite qualify in our traditional definition of "bloom," but they sure are interesting

Wood ears may not quite qualify in our traditional definition of “bloom,” but they sure are interesting

If we think of these flowers as a single entity instead of individual flowers, perhaps the lesson is more applicable to us as individuals.  Otherwise it may be tempting to take a lesson along the traditional lines of “only the strong survive” when the reality is that often it is not the strong that survive, it is the timely.

If we think of those early bloomers as the first attempt in the process of trial and error, perhaps the lesson is more applicable to our own lives.  After all, being timely requires a lot of luck.  If we sit around dormant until the exact right time, we’ve already missed it when we realize it’s come.  But if we put up a few sprouts too early, we get to practice and practice some more.  And when the right time comes, we’re there, ready and blooming at just the right time.

Layers of mixed fungi make a fascinating display on a rotting log

Layers of mixed fungi make a fascinating display on a rotting log

Fungi work differently.  They largely reproduce via spores, which are different from seeds in that there’s no pollination.  While I know very little about fungi, reportedly, at least some of them produce spores on their own time clock without regard for environmental conditions.  Others require environmental factors that include nutrient levels, carbon dioxide levels, and and light levels (see microbiologybytes.com).  Another study I found suggests that atmospheric moisture (which I assume is the same thing as humidity) has the greatest impact on how much fungus grows.  This seems a bit like saying the ground will be wet when it rains to me–after all, do we really need a study to tell us that more humidity drives more fungal growth?

This is neither a flower nor a fungus--it's a Lichen

This is neither a flower nor a fungus–it may look like lettuce, but it’s a Lichen

That being beside the point, the continual, misting rain for the past few weeks has created a unique kind of bloom.  Although the fungi had faded a bit from their peak, there were still some really beautiful colonies.  Beautiful fungi–words I never expected to write together.

Final look at the more colorful fungus we saw

Final look at the more colorful fungus we saw