Monday, July 27, 2009

'Shroom crazy

What, another mushroom post? Sorry I can't resist. There seems to be an interesting specimen everywhere I look lately. We're having a milder, wetter summer than usual, which I suspect is the reason for the abundant fungus. I took all these pictures in the past two days.

This dainty white mushroom was nestled in a heavily shaded spot near a little-used trail. Please don't take my word for it, but I think this is a parasol mushroom, an edible species.

This red beauty was standing all alone in a mowed strip along the road. It was very small, just about 2.5 inches high. The photo doesn't fully capture the sheen on the cap. I though this was a very sexy little 'shroom.

There are a lot of these freckled, gray mushrooms under the tree canopy, mostly in very damp places. I think they may be a more mature form of parasol mushroom. The ghostly color is beautiful against the brown weeds.

This variety of cup-shaped mushroom is big and showy, with a cap about six inches across. The gills give it the look of something that belongs on the floor of the ocean.

And in case you're interested in an update on the magical 'shroom garden, I documented its fate. After a few days of maturing and a heavy rain, the "petals" softened and spread, almost as if the mushrooms had melted.

And then something--probably a hungry deer--demolished them. All things must pass. I hope the deer enjoyed them.

All photos by me, and you're welcome to share them freely. In case this post hasn't sated your desire for mushroom pictures, check out David Fischer's American Mushroom Gallery.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Just me and the crows

I was in a section of the park this morning that is so desolate I think of it as "the dark wood." These dead toadstools I came across seemed like a good image for documenting my visit. I've never been able to figure out what makes the area so grim and deserted. It has the same terrain as the rest of the park, the same canopy of trees, and there’s water nearby; yet most of the animals seem to avoid it. I never see deer there, never a turtle or a turkey. Not even a squirrel. The only creatures that seem to like it are the crows, and they don’t congregate there in the ordinary way. I never hear a noisy mob of them, just the random cawing of two or three. Otherwise, it's oddly quiet.

There are days I wouldn't dream of walking in this dreary place, and other days when it lures me. I loved being there this morning. I take joy in all the beauty the park offers, but sometimes beauty can be unbearably sad. Joy always carries a promise of grief. When the moment comes to make peace with that promise, it is comforting to walk in a dark place.

Monday, July 20, 2009

'Shroom garden

We've had a few cool, clear days here, very unusual for July. The low temperatures keep the irksome bugs quiet, but the spiders still build their webs every night. The heavy dew and the light of the rising sun make jewels of their intricate death traps. A thin mist lingers among the trees in the early morning, and the birds are much noisier than they usually are in the heat of late summer.

All these little shifts from routine give the woods a hint of enchantment, a promise of the unexpected, so I was delighted but not surprised to come across a beautiful fungus bloom this morning. It had popped up under a tree not far from the road, out in the open as if it were a perfectly ordinary thing. My photos, as usual, don't do it justice.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Close encounter

I can feel the Dog Days coming on here. The leaves have lost the lush, green color of early summer. The woods seem a little dusty and worn. The air is muggy, and the yellow jackets are out. This morning, I heard a fierce buzzing in the leaves that turned out to be a yellow jacket locked in a death embrace with a winged beetle. Yellow jackets are primarily scavengers, but they also hunt. It looked as if the beetle was destined to become larvae food, but he was putting up a pretty good fight. He was quite a bit bigger than the wasp and kept trying to get airborne despite the predator locked onto his belly. He finally surrendered and lay still. I could see the yellow jacket gnawing into the area around the beetle's head, legs kneading his prey's torso in a sensual way that made me think of human lovers, or a nursing baby. It was beautiful and revolting at the same time. I couldn't resist trying to get a closer look. I moved some of the leaves aside, and as I did the yellow jacket lost his grip. The beetle, his body damaged but his survival instinct intact, suddenly returned to life, broke free and flew away. The yellow jacket was left crawling over the ground, disoriented, groping for his victim.

Photo by Hartmut Witsch from Wikimedia Commons.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Two chases and a rescue

On Monday, my walk in the woods couldn’t have been more peaceful. The big event was watching a group of eight sliders hang out together in the middle of the lake. I love those little monsters, but nobody could accuse them of being exciting. They floated motionless in the water with their heads just above the surface. When they made a collective decision to dive, they did it slowly, reluctantly, as if it they were pretty sure the effort wouldn’t be worth it.

Tuesday was a different story. I wandered down a narrow trail I’d never been on before. I wasn’t sure where it would take me, but I had plenty of time and I like getting lost. I had just entered a pretty, dark hollow where the hummingbirds chattered in the trees when I was startled by a loud bleat from a buck. He was about 30 feet away, and his initial outburst was followed by a full-out hissy fit. He snorted and stomped and wheezed for all he was worth, and since I couldn’t see another buck around, I assumed all that aggression was directed at me. Chill out, buddy, nobody’s bothering you, I thought. But I was wrong, because a few seconds later two more deer came bounding out of nowhere, pursued by a hefty coyote. The buck ran off in another direction. The coyote seemed to hesitate, then resumed chasing his initial victims. I hollered at him—pointlessly—as they all disappeared through the trees. It’s very unlikely that a solitary coyote could make a meal of an adult deer. It’s possible that they had a fawn with them that I couldn’t see, or maybe they were trying to lead the predator away from one.

When I finally made it back up to the main road, I found another pursuit in progress. Some of the park rangers were in a huddle near the trailhead, talking to a group of sheriff’s deputies and some other species of cop in an unmarked car. As I walked up, one of the rangers stopped me to ask if I’d seen “a couple of teenage boys wearing black” wandering around. I said no, I’d seen no one except for a group of runners who are park regulars. I wondered what two teenage boys could have done to merit so much law enforcement attention. I decided I probably didn’t want to know the answer to that question, so I didn't ask it.

On my way home, there was a box turtle crossing the busy highway. The oncoming traffic prevented me from swerving to miss him. I had to straddle him with my car—a maneuver that always makes me hold my breath, for fear I’ll miscalculate and hit the little guy. He was fine when I looked in my rear view mirror, and the driver behind me succeeded in missing him, too. I usually leave the welfare of road-crossing turtles to the hands of fate, but not this time. Maybe it was my failure to stop the coyote, but I felt an urgent need to save him. He was crossing near a little restaurant, so I parked the car there and jumped out. Lucky for the turtle and me, there was enough of a lull in the traffic for me to run out and pick him up. He seemed like a surprisingly old turtle to be taking such a jaunt. His shell was worn and his skin markings were faded. I carried him to the side of the road and set him down in the grass. He was completely unperturbed, didn’t even withdraw into his shell. As I hurried back to my car, I realized there was a group of people standing outside the restaurant watching the whole thing. I’m sure they’re still laughing about the crazy lady who dodged morning traffic to rescue a box turtle.

Coyote photo from Wikimedia Commons


It's sunny and warm. The mimosa tree we planted a decade ago is 25 feet tall now. It's covered with pink blooms and butterflies, and the hummingbirds are zooming through the branches. The sunflowers are luring a crowd of goldfinches. The blackberries are plentiful and sweet. I have to fight the hornets for them, but I don't mind. I love summer.

Summer Landscape, Pieter Gijsels (1621-1690)

Sunday, July 5, 2009

After the rain...

...the bats come out in force. There were six cavorting in the back yard this evening. The hummingbirds were flitting around, too, which made for a lot of aerial action. There was a crowd of lightning bugs floating just above the ground. I could hear mockingbirds squabbling even as the darkness came on. I sat on the swing and marveled. Summer is a gift.

Go here to see an adorable bat on Flickr.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Long time, no see

I saw a kingbird perched on the power line behind the house today. They used to be regular visitors here, but disappeared a few years ago for reasons unknown. Their name is apt--they're such regal little birds. They'll sit motionless until a tasty bug comes along, swoop up instantly to catch it, and return to the perch as if nothing happened. It's adorable to watch. I'm glad they're back.

Illustration by Louis Agassiz Fuertes, 1901. Image from Wikimedia Commons.