Posts Tagged ‘fungi’

The fishing had been good and attracted both experienced and novice fisherman.  People were catching some of the smaller striped bass and the occasional catfish.  Summer has descended full-bore with its twins…heat and humidity and so a visit to the river is a welcome diversion for many.  The parking lots around the park are full.  To me, this is a mixed blessing.  You want those who can appreciate nature and the surrounding area to enjoy themselves, however, there is always that element present that can’t resist despoiling for their own selfish reasons.  Sometimes it seems that visitors leave as much trash here as the river does in its wildest moods.  Please pack your garbage out.  After checking out the fishermen, I head up the bank to locate my last project with its polystyrene figure.

I’m not shocked at all to come across Joe Coalman’s eyeless skull resting in the hot sand.  To be honest, I would be more amazed to find him still intact.  My postmortem revealed that he had the stuffing knocked out of him.  I found his body about thirty yards from his head.  I take some photographs and gather the remains.  I’ll probably recycle him into another project in the future.  As for the tire with the coal in it…

…well, it too has been altered.  I can see how a standing Styrofoam figure would make a tempting target, but what about a tire filled with coal?  It must have provoked someone because the coal had been knocked out.  The black rocks were scattered all around.  I regathered them, but I could not find all the coal that was originally in the tire.  Curiously, if you look at the rim of the tire you will see something I had not originally placed there.  It’s a tiny white clam shell left perhaps by another visitor?  I appreciated this simple gesture and moved on.  Soon I reached my outdoor atelier with its latest cache of Styrofoam.  I laid Joe Coalman, skull and all back into the pile and wondered what to do next?

While sitting on the enormous wooden beam that defines one side of my outdoor studio, I spied something interesting on an equally impressive log.  Growing along the margins of an old bird dropping was this wonderful fungus.  At the Falls of the Ohio, there are many different types of fungi that help break down the organic bonanza that washes into here.  I wish I knew more about them, but realize that this is another entire field of study.  Nevertheless, fungi are of immense importance and help recycle nutrients among the many other useful services they perform.  With this particular fungus, it looked like it was on the downward cycle having already released its spores from the fruiting bodies that were now arranged like some organic version of Stonehenge.  After studying this curiosity for a few minutes, I settled into the familiar activity of creating a figure that would be the benchmark for the day.  Before revealing it to you…here are a couple of other things that I want to show you that I happened across during my walk.

I’m always looking at the evidence and trying to figure out what occurred at a particular place?  Here a fisherman on his way back to the rest of his life has dumped out his bait bucket and left the four tiny bluegills in the sand.  Perhaps they were dead already since fish in a bucket die of oxygen loss without an aerator to cycle air back into the water?  I wondered if the use of these bluegills broke any laws since using other sport fish for bait is generally frowned upon?  I could imagine the size of the bucket from the wet area in the sand.  The silver circular object is the bottom of an aluminum can.  Near this scene, I also came across this discovery.

Less than a stone’s throw from the dead fish I found this arrangement in the sand.  I love it when people opt to leave their mark on the land in this fashion.  Present were two complete circles in the sand defined by upright sticks with mounded sand in their centers.  In my mind, I imagined two gears or cogs moving in response to each other.  The movement of the sun provided some of the energy needed to activate this metaphorical machine.  I decided that this place was a good site to unveil my latest figure which implies movement too.  I let it dance throughout this arrangement in the sand.

Maybe this was originally made by a child while his family fished?  It doesn’t matter because it gave me something positive to react with and made my day.  Feeling satisfied, I started back to my own vehicle, but there would be one more surprise on this day.  Perhaps this was also made by the same folks who did the circles in the sand?  Again, sticks were employed albeit much longer in length.  See for yourselves.

Logs and long branches were leaned against a willow tree and the effect implied shelter to me.  Other long sticks were placed upright into the sand and helped define the area.  A wooden palette was dragged to this location and left to provide seating.  Because the materials used are all local, it would be very easy to walk by this if you weren’t paying attention.  That’s one of the things my Styrofoam figures have working against them…their stark whiteness usually gives them away even at some distance.  But then again, for me that’s part of what I do which is to call attention to the stuff that doesn’t belong out here and through a little creativity, show what can be done.  I appreciate the stick pieces because they only use the natural materials that are out here.  I wish I could do this more often myself, but this isn’t the reality I usually discover out here.  Leaving the area, I came by this wonderful flower and in its center…was this tiny bee carrying on as her kind has for as long as there have been flowers in need of pollination.  Until next time.

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I was walking through the woods on a sun-dappled day looking for migratory birds when I came across a new friend.  We talked for a little while before introducing ourselves.  Both of us remarked on the dry weather we have been having and I said that it’s official now.  September was the driest ever in the commonwealth of Kentucky since records have been kept dating back to 1871.  We have had a spits-worth of rain… that’s it.  Overall, this has been our third driest month ever, beaten only by two Octobers over the course of the past century.  We both wondered if this was an omen for this October?  We certainly hope not.  Having created some common ground, I introduced myself and she said to call her Minnie, Minnie Buckethead.

As it turned out, Minnie is an interesting old lady with a fascination for everything in the woods.  I asked if she had seen any migrating warblers and she had.  American Redstarts, Black and White Warblers, were moving with small groups of other birds including Carolina Chickadees and Tufted Titmice.  I had seen nothing.  I definitely need to get up earlier in the day to catch the bird show.  Perhaps Minnie was taking pity on me and she said that there were a few other things happening in the woods and would I like to see them?  How could I turn down such a nice offer from an old lady?

We walked over to a large willow tree and I saw Minnie crane her neck and squint her eyes from the sun and she scanned the willow bark.  “Here” she said and I checked out what she was pointing at.

At first I thought it was a bee, but it was larger and more robust and not as big as a bumble bee.  There were others.  Walking around to the shady side I could determine that they are hornets of some kind.  The hornets and other insects were licking whatever was exuding from the willow tree.

“Don’t worry, they won’t get you”, she said.  The hornets were so preoccupied with the sap that they were quite tame.  Walking around the tree gave us this sight.  Three different species of butterflies also taking advantage of the willow bark.  The one in the foreground is the Red Admiral.  Although I hadn’t seen the hornets doing this before, I did say to Minnie that I had observed many butterflies on these willows and wasn’t it nice that so many living creatures could set aside their differences to take advantage of this common resource.  She just smiled.

I was appreciative of Minnie showing me the tree and so I tried to impart a little knowledge to her about the local cicadas.  I had come across a dead female in the sand,(identified by the hypodermic needle of an ovipositor she uses to lay her eggs under the thin bark of a tree).  I asked Minnie if she knew anything else about their life cycle and she said she didn’t and so I went on.  I told her that after the egg hatches under the bark, the nymphs drop down and burrow under the ground and attach themselves to the tree’s roots.  With this species, after a couple of years of sucking tree juices, they emerge from the ground and become adults which for cicadas, is a brief moment in time.  They mate, lay eggs, and then die after a glorious two weeks or so.  You find their split skins where they transform as juveniles into adults near where they emerged from the ground.  Here’s a pictures of the dead cicada, the split cicada skin, and a fresh adult.

With any life cycle it’s hard to know exactly where to begin and I suppose that’s the classic which came first question… the egg or the cicada? I’ll leave that to brighter minds than my own for now. 

Minnie listened attentively and then asked me to follow her.  She had something else to show me before we parted company.  We walked away from the willow tree to an area where several large logs were decomposing.  She pointed a thin finger at a yellow patch on one log’s side and I could see it was some type of fungus.  It seemed to be spreading outward as it broke down the tissues inside the tree. 

It was both fascinating and oddly repellent. On another nearby log was yet another fungi which I could identify as a fresh bracket or shelf  fungus.  The bright colors also seemed on the lurid side to me.

Minnie talked to me about what a wonderful system that nature has created to break things down after death.  Like these fungi were doing to what were once living trees.  She talked about how life depended on materials being able to decompose in order to release the nutrients that are needed for life to move forward.  This is what it means to live naturally and that we should look at the systems that the planet has in place and to learn from them.  With that, I took my leave and waved good-by to the old lady in the woods.

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