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.

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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.

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

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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

2015

_C1_5493Here’s to growth, learning, some things changing and some things staying the same. Happy New Year!

_C1_5504I watched Fayetteville’s firework show marking the end of 2014, a roller coaster year for the world, from up on Mount Sequoyah. Families and college kids joined me. You can see a couple fireworks over there in the bottom right corner above.

Some color in the sky is a relief, because we’ve had overcast skies for most of the last three weeks or so. I’m just about tired of it. I don’t know if it was because of crummy weather, getting sidetracked with Christmas prep or work’s winding down for the year, but I’ve felt unfocused and distracted since my last post. The photos from the last couple weeks bounce around a bit because of that, so thanks for tagging along.

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_C1_5045Up in Rogers, the outdoor Promenade Mall was a crowded, noisy place a couple of days before the holiday.

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_C1_5070A peek of sun shone out before dusk. I hope your Christmas was a fairly relaxed and good time.

It was quieter in Fayetteville’s National Cemetery, where Wreaths Across America left tokens of the holiday in front of every marker and gravestone, little declarations that someone remembered the dead. I hope you weren’t alone this season, unless you wanted to be, and have good memories of the year’s end to keep.

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IMG_1127One last stop before Christmas Eve: the bowling alley.

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_C1_5150Christmastime up in Springfield brought lots of cookies, lots of presents and lots of games, along with precious hours of sunlight. Sun and warmth in winter is hiking weather, so we went to the city’s Nature Center.

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IMG_1196I don’t know what was up with my lens here, but this is a hollowed-out, decomposing old stump filled to the brim with inch-tall mushrooms. I hope the season has brought some small joys or surprises to you, too.

The sun went away again before I left.

IMG_1206The Sun stayed mostly hidden until New Year’s Eve, when the flat gray of the clouds gave way to a few more interesting patterns and my unfocused funk finally broke.

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_C1_5223Before the midnight fireworks, I wandered around the square, catching a giant puppet parade (much like another puppet appearance in October) and a few un-costumed celebrators. I’d never had a New Year’s Eve like it.

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_C1_5397I hope you can jump into the new year with, if not excitement, at least some determination to make of it what you can and occasionally to look around at the people and stories walking around you.

Thanks for looking here. Have another firework photo, just for kicks:

_C1_5510And some good news: The Sun should come out again on Sunday.