Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Last Laugh

 This Dandelion photo was originally destined to be included in Part 3 of my "Last Ditch Attempts" trilogy, of which the first two parts are already posted. (Scroll back if you're interested.)  But today, responding to an irresistible distraction, I decided to group it with two photos taken early this morning (see below).  I've often written about the dandelion's adaptability, especially how it "learns" to bloom below the level of lawnmower blades.  Years ago I discovered a Dandelion Preservation Society on line and actually sent in my dues.  It seemed like a legitimate environmental organization touting the virtues, both culinary and ecological, of this widely abused plant.  It's been many years since I last looked up this group.  Well, it turns out that a group by that name exists (it may or may not be the same group) that is primarily a T-shirt marketing organization that has fun with a cartoonish drawing of a rusty old lawnmower with the caption "Hell No, We Won't Mow."  Sort of funny, but when it comes to the last laugh, I think the Dandelions themselves will outlast this organization.
 I'd been watching this Puffball develop by the foot of my driveway for a couple of weeks.  Each day, as I head off for early-morning coffee shop activity, I wonder "is this the day I stop to get photos?"  I also resist the eruption of a sort of teen-aged temptation to run over it.  Well, I waited too long.  Today I noticed it was seriously disfigured.  Smashed, actually, with tire prints clear enough to interest the forensic archaeologist with nothing better to do.  I felt sad, but I do remember having that urge myself.  I was reminded of a passage in the late Archie Carr's Handbook of Turtles. He gives scientific descriptions, range maps, and natural history notes on each species of turtle found in the United States.  Under 'economic importance' of the Box Turtle, Terrapene carolina, he says it is of no particular economic importance, but notes there is a curious breed of individual who, upon spotting one on a highway, will go out of his way to run over it just to hear it pop.  He then says, "Perhaps all that can be hoped for such individuals is that they skid."  I've never had the urge to run over a turtle.  They are sentient, and too closely related to me.  But I used to smash puffballs just because it's fun to see the black powdery spores fly into the air.  But, the fungi have the last laugh.  What we see above ground is the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, the fruiting body.  The fruiting bodies of most fungi are connected under ground by a thin membrane called the mycelium.  Mycelia of some species of mushrooms have been found to spread over many square miles.  So, this puffball that got smashed by my driveway has the last laugh.  The whole hillside above it is waiting for the opportune time to send up more of its kind.
There are a number of handsome Paper Birch trees in my neighborhood.  I currently have two, and a third one of mine succumbed to the weight of heavy snow thrown by a snow blower.  Of the two remaining ones, one leans at about 45 degrees for the same reason and will probably succumb this winter.  A neighbor just cut down his rather large one (a foot in diameter at the base) that was putting his roof at risk.  They are not very strong when it comes to heavy snow.  They make up for that "weakness" by being prolific in their preferred environment.  They're native to the northeastern states and Canada, so the ones in my part of California are ornamental.  I love to look at them as they remind me of my native New England, especially the mountains of New Hampshire where I first fell in love with mountain hiking.  In my Quincy neighborhood, the birches attract Red Breasted Sapsuckers, and watching them gives me great pleasure.  While my neighbor's birch is now part of my firewood supply (thank you, Gary), it'll take at least a year for it to season.  Meanwhile, I'll never get tired of looking at the patterns of holes left by the sapsuckers.  So, this birch gets the last laugh in a couple of ways.  First, it has left behind many seeds and its babies are already springing up.  Second, my first attempt to split one of these rounds was almost a disaster.  The heavy, wet wood is like hard rubber, and my splitting mall bounced back at me.  Close call.  All three of these brief anecdotes remind me of a phrase that might have originated with the late, great Aldo Leopold:  Nature bats last.

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