As beautiful as the trees are right now with their autumnal display in full force, if you walk slowly in the woods and on the bald faces of our local granite, I think you might find yourself amazed. I know a friend and I always are and this afternoon was no different. We didn’t journey far; we didn’t need to journey far. We just needed to be present in the moment.
Our first find was actually a discovery she’d made the other day. In her front yard, mixed in with the acorn caps, were teeny tiny examples of Cyathus striatus or Splash Cup Fungi.
Only two weeks ago, she’d shown me a larger version of this Bird’s Nest Fungi in the form of Fluted Bird’s Nest, but today she had this miniature version to share. They really do resemble their common name.
Because our eyes were focused on the minute, it was no surprise that Wolf’s Milk Slime Mold, all beady in structure, should attract our attention.
Our next great find discovered by my friend with the eagle eyes was a Common Stinkhorn (Phallus ravenelii). She said it stunk. I didn’t notice, but the flies loved it. Love, in fact, seemed to be a common theme, for on the stalk, which is typically white, appeared a heart, with arms/hands wrapped around below. Even though it’s “common,” I don’t often encounter any form of a Phallus fungus, so I’m not sure if the two-toned stalk is a common feature.
The next discovery–the fruiting form of Green Stain Fungi (Chlorociboria aeruginascens). The turquoise fruiting body was only about a third of an inch in diameter and so it’s another one that’s easy to overlook. But . . . our movement was intentionally slow as we moved without expectation and were constantly excited by our discoveries.
At last, we stepped out of the forest and onto a bit of a bald spot where granite greets sky, with lots of life layered between the two.
And onto our knees we knelt for life on the granite was lilliputian in nature.
And varied, but it was the lichens that really pulled me into the fold. Some, like the Candy Lichen, a blue-gray crustose lichen with orange to salmon colored fruits, grew so abundantly that we practically ignored it.
Then there were the delightful pixie cup goblets scattered throughout awaiting a visit from the wee folk.
And British Soldiers (Cladonia cristatella) standing tall yet branched as they watched over all, their crimson red caps bespeaking their ancestral heritage.
Beside them were a few Lipstick Powderhorns (Cladonia macilenta) with bright red caps above single stalks, rather like the lipstick I’ve never worn.
And rounding out the red-cap series were the Red-fruited Pixie Cups (Cladonia pleurota), with their multiple red fruiting bodies outlining the cups.
Pixie cups would have been enough. But pixie cups with bright red caps–and we were wowed. The other cool thing–like the Bird’s Nest Fungi with its splash cup form, these lichens offered something similar. The Bird’s Nest depends on droplets of water (think rain) to release its spores from the tiny “eggs” situated within each cup. For the Red-fruited Pixie Cups, it’s the same idea–the splash cup goblets allow the lichen to disperse its reproductive materials.
We found a few with the red caps turned brown and assumed they’d done their duty.
Just when we were about to move on my friend made another exciting discovery. Ladder Lichen (Cladonia verticillata) with its brown fruits reminded me more of fountains containing chocolate treats at the outer edge of each level.
Or perhaps a way for Jack to ascend from the world of the minute to the giants in the sky.
And with that, our eyes moved upwards–to the milkweed seeds that awaited their turn for release and a chance to find their own place in the world.
A Large Milkweed Bug reached the end of one pod, but the future possibilities seemed endless for it–as long as the spider web didn’t hinder any progress.
With upturned attention, we noted a young ash tree presenting its fall colors ranging from golden green to magenta all on the same trunk.
And even higher up, a Red Oak already showing off its carotenoid chemistry with yellows and oranges overtaking the green pigment.
While fall foliage is at or near peak in western Maine and causing all of us to stop in our tracks to note the beauty of the live paintings that surround and embrace us in their ever changing way, its the color and variety and wonders at our feet that drew the attention of my friend and me today. And I’m forever grateful for her keen eye.
(And help searching for a needle in a haystack a little while later–thanks J.M.)