Arboreal Undertakers

IMG_8487We have a complicated relationship with fungus. We eat some kinds of it and bake or ferment with others, while other types are lethally poisonous. Even the name “fungus” sends my mind straight to gross and slimy. Fungi are an essential group of life forms — perhaps millions of species that keep nutrients flowing through entire ecosystems — and because of their work, they’ll always be connected to disease and death. Besides all of that, they can be too inconspicuous to notice. But they’re always there.

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IMG_8519I drove down today to the old standby hiking area, Devil’s Den State Park, hoping to see if the rivers and waterfalls would be high and fast from the deluge that has soaked Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas in recent weeks. The streams here were fairly strong, but a day or so without the constant rain had calmed them down. What caught my eye instead were dozens of mushrooms — sparks of color in the otherwise constant green, if you can find them.

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IMG_8518Fungi are neither plant nor animal, though they’re closer to the latter. Some disturbing varieties get their energy from living things, but most absorb nutrition from leaf litter and whatever else settles to the forest floor. What you can see in these photos is the proverbial tip of the iceberg; a much bigger network of threads and tendrils lies in the log or dirt beneath, occasionally sending up the visible segments to release spores. This lattice can carry on for thousands of years in some cases, just doing its thing unbothered by the surface world.

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IMG_8516Outside of the world of fungi, it was a good day for a hike, and I wasn’t the only one out there.

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Dan

Memory in Marble

_C1_1165Two years ago I sat down with a group of Vietnam War veterans who crewed UH-1C “Firebird” helicopters together and, four decades later, meet every other year to check in with each other, relax and retell their stories. One incredible tale was about the September 1969 day they call Black Monday. Gunner Gene “Wally” Waldrip, 20 years old at the time, described the scene:

The gunships were escorting infantry on the ground, including a friend Wally had known since first grade, he said. It was supposed to be a relatively routine day, at least for a war zone, but as they approached their landing zone, the jungle erupted with gunfire around them. Soldiers and choppers fell on all sides. Gunships, with their load of weapons and fuel, weren’t meant to land. One pilot landed anyway.

Fleeing and wounded soldiers immediately clamored in as bullets flew. The pilot couldn’t clear the trees with the weight, so he took his only other option: tipping forward his blades and weed-whacking his way through the trees. The chopper made it to safety and unloaded and refueled to head back. Wally’s friend was dead.

_C1_1155_C1_1195It’s the kind of bizarre and terrifying story only something like war can provide, but what comes to my mind today is what Wally told me afterward. He and other Vietnam vets lost girlfriends, were denied jobs and were labeled baby killers when they returned, he said, subjected to the anger and vitriol of years of protests against the war.

Wally struggled for decades to find any value or meaning to the loss of almost 60,000 American lives and many more Vietnamese. But he found some solace in how differently people react toward vets now.

“Generally, the nation gets it this time,” he said. “They may not agree with that war (Iraq or Afghanistan), and if they had their say they’d tell you to get out, but they’re not downgrading and they’re not stomping and disrespecting.”

He added: “That was the value of the Vietnam War, and you know what? It was worth it.”

_C1_1241_C1_1170These days the U.S. military is mostly out of the fights in Iraq and Afghanistan, but we continue airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, where the so-called Islamic State sows death and slavery, and violence continues in Afghanistan. Several recent veterans I talked to last June said they felt their efforts and hundreds of thousands of lives, almost 7,000 of them American, were wasted in those two countries. I’m sure others disagree, but the veterans I spoke to were unanimous.

As Wally said, veterans today have a much kinder reception. But visible and invisible injuries remain that we’re obliged to help take care of. There’s no returning what soldiers and sailors and Marines and airmen give us, and no forgetting it on Memorial Day. On the front end, we civilians need to make absolutely sure the sacrifice is worth making.

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_C1_1222These shots are from Fayetteville’s National Cemetery this morning. It was actually dry and fairly sunny for the speakers and taps and moments of silence, though breezy. Now we’ve got storms coming through — again.

_C1_1220_C1_1228Hope it was a good holiday for you! Stay dry, and keep remembering.

Dan

Shades of Green

_C1_1125---CopyIt’s been a wet holiday weekend. We’ve gotten more than an inch of rain today, part of the almost foot of water that has fallen so far this month. The recent series of storms has swollen streams and rivers from Nebraska to Texas, including around here. Caught in the shower is this candy-apple green orchard orbweaver, suspended from a cluster of tiny droplets outside my front door.

I don’t think I’ve seen many green spiders before. I get squeamish around them, but I can’t deny they can be beautiful little things.

Just one photo for today. Tomorrow looks drier, good news for the Memorial Day event in the morning at Fayetteville’s National Cemetery. I’m hoping to make it there.

Thanks for looking,

Dan

Block Party

_C1_0813Well, we’ve reached my 100th post on this site since I refocused it in August 2013. This site has come a long way since then, I think. Thanks for sticking around.

This round of photos is from Sunday’s Block Street Block Party, an annual bash between Fayetteville’s downtown square and bar row on Dickson Street. They say 15,000 people in all crowd into three blocks of food, music, art and beer gardens.

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_C1_0886My dad will like this: About five minutes after I got there, I was astounded to see these two dogs.

_C1_0765You might remember I posted a story last summer about my dog Shady after she died. We got her from the Humane Society and never knew for sure what breed or mix she was. These two boys, other than being slightly smaller, are identical to her. I couldn’t believe it.

The owner said they’re English Cocker Spaniels, though I’m slightly skeptical, given how different those spaniels can look. It was enough to see and pet them a little while; for a second, it was like Shady was in front of me again.

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_C1_0759Here’s to another hundred! Thanks for looking.

Dan