Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Hiding Like a Lichen

I got caught up in lesson planning, essay grading, and related matters toward the end of the semester and have only blogged once in December.  That's a far cry from post-per-day pace I maintained for most of the past two years.  Well, that's about to change.  These first two photos are of lichens I found along the path in the forest by my house.  The top one actually shows a lot of moss as well.  The lichens, with their slow metabolism and often well-hidden, remind me of my usual winter tendency to like to keep the blinds drawn and read by low light near the wood stove. 
The remaining five photos were taken by my son with his iPod Touch while we were up on Mt. Hough cutting our Christmas tree. 

Final grades are due Monday, and that's when I'll turn over a new leaf and start blogging more frequently again.  There will be more emphasis on current writing interests and less photography.  I also plan to showcase more of my students' nature writing and writing on environmental issues.  Until then, have a happy holiday season.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Damp Forest Aesthetics

This month is already getting away from me where blogging is concerned.  A recent hike in the woods near my home revealed a scene that reflects a lot of my current thinking about "everything is connected to everything else" and interdisciplinary approaches to teaching.  I recently joined a professional organization called Association for the Study of Literature and Environment.  I also found out that I get to teach Nature Literature in America again next fall.  One of my colleagues who teaches Introduction to Environmental Studies has agreed to collaborate and we'll try to get as many students as we can to co-enroll in the two classes. So lots of things remind me to pay attention to "connectedness."
So, back to the photo.  To me it expresses the love-hate relationship many of us have with nature.  For instance, one of my most hated encounters with human-altered nature is stepping in dog poop.  But, one of my favorite encounters is with the great variety of fungi found in damp forests.  Here we have a marriage, three clumps of dog poop being neutralized by a fungus, perhaps a slime mold.  Despite the presence of dog poop, I found the little ecosystem aesthetically pleasing.  It's also a token contribution to my campaign to "bring back the diphthong" a marriage of two letters acting as one.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Our Neighborhood Fungi

 Easily overlooked among the fallen brown leaves, our neighborhood fungi have begun to respond to the recent rains and are putting on quite a show.  The first three photos (of two different caps) were taken on my front lawn.  I've been walking by these for several weeks.  They grow very slowly and are pretty sturdy, so I expect them to be around for quite a while, perhaps until the first snow. 

 The remaining photos are from the edge of my driveway and my neighbor's yard.  These are the ones I walk or drive by every day without paying much attention.  It was a break in my firewood-splitting routine that gave me the urge to get my camera and take a slower walk.
 The next two shots are of a small area of moss growing out of a tree stump by the driveway.  On this day, I focused on some tiny fungi, but the mossy area is at least a square yard in size and also hosts several species of mosses and lichens.  A beautiful stump, but it is rotting and I think this might be its last season as a photo site before it becomes soil.

 The remaining photos were taken in a neighbor's side yard, an area that he never mows or disturbs in other ways, so every year it produces some of the most attractive fungi around.

 On the way back to the house, the twinkling of dew drops on grass caught my eye, so this last photo completes a "baker's dozen."

Saturday, November 15, 2014

A Shadow of My Former Self

I cast this shadow in Chico around Noon today.  It is now almost four and I feel like a completely different person.  Probably because I'm home after a long drive of 400 miles.  During my Chico pit stop, I carried my camera around, but had trouble getting inspired, although this sucker on a Sycamore Tree caught my eye.  I was only a block from the Farmers Market, yet the leaves impressed me more so I skipped the market.  There were lots of beautiful things to see during my half hour walk downtown, but I really wanted to get home, so I couldn't get inspired to take more pictures.
Since I don't look at these like a horticulturist might, I don't care for the word "sucker."  I think of them as ornaments.
In this slightly closer view, the bark started to get my attention.  If I hadn't rushed off, I might have found some bugs in the cracks.  Next time.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Student Nature Writing

About a month ago, I did an experiment with my English 101 class at Feather River College.  The schedule doesn't easily permit time for significant excursions onto nature trails in the area, so we did an in-class simulation.  I gathered around 40 photos from my archives, mostly flowers with bugs of various kinds, plus a few reptiles and amphibians.  The 24 students got to shuffle through the photos then pick one to write about.  They were encouraged to imagine they were at the scene seeing these things live.  With the students' permission, I'll be posting many of their responses along with the photos they were responding too.

The honor of starting this off goes to Jacob Tutty*, a new student from Montana.  Very nice work, Jacob. [By the way, the students own the copyright to their writing, so if anyone wants to use their work, permission must be obtained from the writer.]

In response to the above photo, Jacob wrote the following:
                                                      Ascent of a Ladybug
     The sight of a ruby red ladybug climbing up a cluster of plant and flower stems is absolutely inspiring.  Our eyes are drawn to the tiny size of this friendly little bug's legs.  Those small 'ole legs are more than enough to carry the body safely through many obstacles, such as a cluster of skinny plant and flower stems.  In the photo, we clearly see the apt abilities and determination of a lady bug as it hangs onto several dangling stems far off the ground.  Climbing ever higher, the ladybug is motivated and confident, slowly and thoughtfully reaching for its next step.  The lush pink color of a flower, capping the end of the stem cluster the ladybug hangs onto adds a level of natural beauty that perfectly accents that of the ladybug itself.
     Several versions of life's mystic glory are portrayed.  The pink flower, some orange leaves, glowing green and red stems: these are all raw, intrinsic melodies of the wild, wild song that our earth sings.  AS the determined ladybug keeps climbing higher, we feel our consciousness rise.  With calm, pure confidence and acceptance of other organisms, our tiny friend works hard towards its goal - get there.  The mantra of the little red bug is "can."  "I can step here and then there.  I can find some food to eat.  I can get to where I want." 
     A very positive and productive way to get through all of life's unexpected obstacles and challenges.  Polka dots speckle the voyager's ruby red body.  Glorious.  An age-old image of something happy and wholesome.  The little ladybug climbs around.  As we watch, from the perspective of the photo we have captured, we feel our hearts glow with happiness and inspiration.  What a mighty pioneer of the positive idea, "can."  To reach our goals, we must dream, perceive, and pursue with the grace of a ladybug.
I should add that the students did not have time to proofread and edit.  These writings are all first drafts written in around 25 minutes after taking time to go through the photos and choose one.
More student writings to come over the next week or so.  Comments appreciated.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Veterans of my lawn.

                                            I honor them by not mowing.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Not Photoshopped, but....

The Hollyhock reminds me of certain Georgia O'Keefe paintings.  The bee reminds me of one of my favorite photos of all time, the bee hovering at the entrance to a Lupine blossom that graced the home page of Plumas County's Bloom Blog for a couple of years.  Most of all, my response to scenes like this is what gave me the urge to try something similar in one of my writing classes.  Since nearly all blossoms and bugs have gone away for the winter, I pulled out around 40 of my 8x10 prints, mostly of bugs in, on, and around flowers, but also a few frogs, lizards, and spiders.  The students were to sort through the prints, choose one, then write a page or so in response.  They were asked to pretend they were outside seeing the scene in real life and keeping a nature journal.  The result was some of their best writing of the semester.  With their permission, I'll start posting their work this afternoon.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Organized Chaos

I'm still trying to organize what I plan to say about this photo and what inspired it.  9:41 a.m.

12:40 p.m. OK, now I'm ready.  My desktop (the wooden one) has looked better, in terms of organization, but it has also looked much worse.  I got to thinking about this when I booted up my laptop and noticed that I had nearly 100 icons showing.  Ridiculous!  No wonder I have trouble finding stuff.  So, I organized the desktop (the one on the computer this time), and am feeling inspired to deal with the mess you see in the photo.

Nature can be seen as organized chaos.  Depending on one's background and beliefs, the emphasis might be on the "chaos" aspect, or it might be on the "organized" aspect.  I spend a lot of time responding to nature scenes and events.  A sense of wonder always occurs, but then I find myself trying to organize my feelings in order to convey them to others.  I start parsing words like "sunrise" and "sunset."  These words are remnants of an earlier cosmology in which the sun travels around the earth.  Or, at least rises in the East and sets in the West, which only implies where it spends the night.  I get more excited when I relate to a more recent cosmology in which the sun stands still and the earth's spinning gives the illusion of the sun traveling around us.  If I chose a different frame of reference, say a spot on the moon, then the motions of the sun and earth would seem quite a bit more complicated.  Does the sun go behind a cloud, or does a cloud pass in front of the sun, or, better yet, between me and the sun?
So, is the biological activity outside my office (much less the Amazon or Congo jungles) best represented as organization or chaos?  Those who see it primarily as chaos generally have the urge to tame it, or approve of others doing so.  We who see it as organized are reluctant to tamper with it to satisfy humans' short term needs and wants.  I wonder how this question will play out in the newly-elected Congress.  I'm nervous.  Maybe organizing the wooden desktop will make me feel better.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Seeing Nature Everywhere

El Toro del jugo de las uvas.  I don't know what possessed me to give this photo a Spanish name.  Perhaps it was an undeleted memory of a juice wagon in Quito that advertised "jugo de cana."  The crude-looking but sturdy wagon had piles of fresh-cut cane sugar and a blender and several one-gallon water jugs.  Theoretically, one could get cane juice by blending some water with one or more stalks of cane, and maybe strain out the insoluble fibers.  Problem is, behind a little curtain in the bottom of the wagon were 5-pound packages of C&H sugar.  Aha!  No fiber.  No need for a filter.  No vitamins, either.
Anyway, while I was fixing our morning porridge, I saw this grape juice stain on the ceramic tile next to the stove.  It was a spill from my wife's smoothie.  But I immediately saw the image of a bull, and all these unrelated images and memories came together.  Enjoy.
P. S.  If you read this earlier, I apologize for the ridiculous typos I missed.  Hopefully, they're all fixed.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Welcome to November

 Last Thursday morning I had to take a detour due to a paving project on Meadow Valley Road.  It was a lucky detour as I came across a great patch of Shaggy Mane fungi at the side of Jackson Street.  Here a half dozen views.  Tomorrow morning I'll check whether they're still there.  When their time comes, they tend to melt into a pile of black goo.  I've also heard that they deteriorate very quickly after being picked, so if you want to dine on them, better bring along a little camp stove and a frying pan.  I'm a mushroom coward, so I only eat the ones sold in stores.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Each Is Colorful In Its Own Way

 My previous post was my reaction to the stereotypical fall colors experience as reported on websites that advertise the phenomenon, usually to promote tourism.  This post emphasizes those features of fall that make it my friend Dalynn's favorite season.  I'm leaning in that direction myself.  These first two photos begged to be taken, although they're not very good.  When I stepped out on my front porch this morning, all the branch tips on my birch trees held drops of water from last night's rain. Lit up from behind, they glowed like jewels, and many of them radiated little rainbows.  It was quite spectacular to behold, although my camera and I weren't up to the task.  You'll have to imagine.
 This little Dogwood hasn't grown much over the past several years.  It is in deep shade of tall firs and pines, and is probably growing in very marginal (for it) soil.  Nevertheless, the splash of pink was an attractive contrast to the darkness.
 I revisited the large fungi at the foot of my driveway and, at first, was disturbed that someone came along and kicked them over.  It turns out, though, that only this one was upsiade-down and detached from its stem.
 Its neighbor, only a foot away was intact, although beginning to shrivel.
 Then I found evidence!  A large pile of fresh bear poop.  I'm honestly not a coprophile in any weird sense of the word, but I enjoy the fact that wild animal droppings (there's a politer word) provide evidence of all sorts of biological phenomena.  Scatology is another word that fits here when we're talking biology.  However, in the sense of literary study, that's another story.  I'm an amateur scatologist only in the former sense.
 Evidence that the show is not over, another large one is just now emerging just a few feet away.  As I said in an earlier post, these are probably all connected underground and are thus a single organism.
 In some years, the Cascara Buckthorn leaves turn all the colors of the rainbow, but this year they appear to be turning only yellow then brown.  On this particular tree, most were still green, and all the ones on the ground were shade of yellow or brown.  I think they're skipping red and orange this year.
 Lots of little fungi are growing in my lawn.  Difficult to spot, but very cute.

 This one (below) is backed up by a Yellow Wood Sorrel which looks like clover, but has yellow, trumpet-shaped flowers all spring and summer.
 The only bright red on this walk was provided by this single, tiny blossom on the edge of my driveway.  I believe it's a non-native, but I haven't yet identified it.  It's around 1/2" in diameter.  Click on any of these images for closer looks.