The forest floor

IMG_9563.JPGThe soccer field at my elementary school in Springfield, Missouri, was nothing but a patch of bare, reddish dirt, and it was my favorite part of the place. I liked soccer just fine, but the real reasons for my affection were the thousands of dime-sized rocks caked into its surface. Almost all of them were imprinted with fossils: tiny grid-like bryozoan colonies, striated mollusk shells, cylindrical crinoids the size of pencil erasers, all remnants of an ancient sea. I was 7 years old and could spend half an hour after school crouched over the gritty dirt excavating these treasures with my fingertips, saving the most striking ones for my collection.

That’s all to say keeping an eye out for the small and overlooked underfoot has been my jam for pretty much forever. How could I possibly resist the yellow slime mold above? I’d only seen these weird organisms in textbooks before this moment. It might look like a fungus, but it’s actually the result of countless microbes literally fusing together into one huge cell that can move around and even learn, at least in some senses of the word.

Other denizens of Devil’s Den State Park’s forest floor don’t have the same flair, but I still love them.

IMG_0014.JPG

IMG_0001.JPG

IMG_9544.JPG

IMG_9536.JPG

IMG_0013.JPG

IMG_0020.JPGThis unsettling phenomenon seems to be guttation, which is apparently just the excretion of excess water — one more thing I’d only seen in books before now.

IMG_9547.JPG

IMG_0029.JPG

IMG_9564.JPG

IMG_0025.JPGAfter almost four years photographing the woods around here, they’re still surprising me. Thanks for looking.

Underfoot

IMG_5215.JPGIt’s time for another verse in my ode to those diverse, colorful and often unnoticed decomposers of the forest: mushrooms. If you’d like to read more about them, check out my first fungus hunt. Otherwise, take a look at some Devil’s Den gems for a little break from the madness in the news. There’s also a spider making its web, because it’s neat. Thanks for looking, everybody.

IMG_5191.JPG

IMG_5189.JPG

IMG_5218.JPG

IMG_5198.JPG

IMG_5188.JPG

IMG_5193.JPG

On the Hunt

IMG_2100Temperatures fell below freezing for 48 hours this weekend, and you know what that means: Some weirdo was wandering around when it was 12 degrees taking pictures of frozen grass.

The weekend’s cold came exactly one year after another cold spell here in Fayetteville; I wrote a post then rambling about how cool ice is and how many different forms it can take (blobs, beads, shards, blades, name it). Ice is just as neat and surprising now, and for lingering any doubters out there, I’m going to prove it right here on this blog. There’s beauty in the small.

I gave everything a good night of freezing before heading out Sunday morning. The sun was shining and the sky was almost cloudless, but that didn’t stop a continuous flurry of perfect snowflakes that glinted in the light as they tumbled silently down. Some landed on the first plates of ice on nearby streams or on the ice accretions at the base of every stick and stalk.

IMG_2064

IMG_2036

IMG_2042

IMG_2048

IMG_2030

IMG_2023

IMG_2069

IMG_2082(Two of these birds, maybe red-shouldered hawks, sat side by side on this branch, but one flew away before I lifted my camera.)

All of these ices were great and all, but I was really hunting for one particular type that appeared a year ago, a strikingly angular, geometric surface ice that looks as if it’s made of shattered glass. (If anyone out there knows the actual names for these things, I’d love to hear about it.) This kind seems to require stillness and a good day or two of real frigidness to form, and it fans out from anything breaking the water’s surface. I could see the beginnings of it on some of the ponds around my apartment, but no luck Sunday morning or evening. Lake Fayetteville didn’t have any, either.

IMG_2106

IMG_2120

IMG_2128

IMG_2111

IMG_2136Just as the sun was setting I caught one sample of it in the smallest, stillest pond. One more night, then.

IMG_2141The morning was quiet and clear. Frost spike-balls sat like tiny urchins or Christmas trees on the surface of frozen puddles.

IMG_2152Half a mile from my apartment, I finally found it: The geometric ice stretched across a nearby pond, along with some nice frozen bubbles and a new (to me) type of surface ice that looked like fans or brachiopod shells stacked on each other.

IMG_2167

IMG_2172

IMG_2162I headed home, but nature had one more gift, another first for me: The grass was coated with frost, but instead of being made of the usual little pellets or spikes, it was made up of tiny, perfectly etched crystalline plates, as if snowflakes were growing out of the leaves.

IMG_2180Pretty neat, huh?

Thanks for looking.

Dan