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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Thanks for looking.

Dan

Mist and Steam

IMG_0573Even the fountains along the streets are hot enough to steam in Hot Springs, Arkansas. The clear, 140-degree water rippling up through dozens of cracks in Hot Springs Mountain first landed here as rain around 4,000 years ago – around when Judaism was being founded and the first stones of Stonehenge were placed. The rain ever so slowly percolated downward, soaking up the natural heat within the earth before being pushed back out millennia later to be collected and funneled to baths and fountains. A bit anticlimactic, really.

This town was built on that water, with millions of visitors coming to stew in its warmth and fix their health problems from the early 1800s on. I don’t think the springs cured their arthritis and skin diseases, but I imagine days of baths and massages felt pretty good anyway.

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IMG_0606The bathhouses and mountains around them became the tiniest national park in the 1920s. It’s an oddity of a park – the only national park in a city, and the only one marked so extensively by what humans have built. The downtown buildings have either the blocky Art Deco look of the Empire State Building or the majorly retro look of the ’70s. It’s a gorgeous place even with those things, and given that it’s the only national park within 600 miles of northwest Arkansas, I really should’ve gone there sooner than this past weekend.

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IMG_0576Once I left the historic district, I drove up the highway a ways to Gulpha Gorge, where the park has a campground and trail head for a cluster of winding gravel trails up the mountain. It was a perfectly autumn day: cool, windy and with some rain drops falling every now and then. Hot Springs sits on the eastern end of the Ouachita (pronounced washitah) Mountains, which reached as high as many of the Rockies when they first buckled upward millions of years before the first dinosaurs appeared. Now they’re worn down to manageable heights, covered by forest and color and filled with quartz crystals.

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IMG_0654I don’t know exactly what it is, but there’s just something special about being in a national park. Walking in its woods and along its creeks feels different from other forests somehow, older, more primal, even with a town right next to it and a highway literally around the corner. It might all be in my head. But I hope to keep getting more of that feeling.

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IMG_0684Not a bad way to spend a weekend, even a rainy and misty one. Thanks for looking!

Dan