Time Well Spent

Time. I never seem to have enough of it. Time with my guy. Time with our sons. Time with family. Time with friends. Time to explore. Time to reflect. Time to write. Time to sketch. Time to be . . . in tune with the world around me and my own soul.

b-pileated 1

And so today, when I heard a pileated woodpecker as it worked on a dead ash tree by one of the stonewalls, I decided to take a break from my own work and give it the attention it so loudly demanded.

b-pileated 2

Its a repeat visitor to that tree; along with crows and hawks and smaller birds as well. The tree can no longer create its own source of food, but it continues to provide for others, be they bird, insect or mushroom. And I suspect that it secretly shares its knowledge of the world with the younger ash it towers over–to the right. As for the pileated, his time at that tree came to an end . . . for the moment. He’ll be back–probably soon.

b-ash tree 1

Because I stood below and no longer need to look up, I turned my gaze downward. And then had to pause. What had happened? Who had visited? And scraped the ground right down to the roots? And left a pile of leaves and sticks and other debris at the edge? A mushroom foray? An acorn frenzy? I looked for hair and found none. Turkey? Squirrel? Porcupine?

b-ash tree 2

And at the base of the next old ash, similar behavior.

b-scat 2

Returning to the first tree, I discovered that what looked like dirt was actually little pellets of scat . . . tiny scat. Tons of scat. A latrine. Did perhaps a meadow vole live somewhere nearby and a predator went after it? I did also suspect that there may have been a bunch of mushrooms that were harvested and in the process the vole’s latrine was exposed. I’m not sure if I’ll ever really know, but since I had stopped to look, I noticed something else.

b-pigskin poison puffball (Earthball)

Tucked near the base of the tree and relatively untouched by whatever had spent some time clearing the area, was a pigskin poison puffball, so named for its outer skin that feels like a football. (In his book, Fascinating Fungi of New England, Lawrence Millman writes: “historical note: footballs used to be made of pigs’ bladders, not pigskin.”) The dark spore mass within seemed to reflect the ashen color of the tree beside which it grew.

b-pelt lichen1

I should have returned to work then, but the puffball discovery and my wonders about the latrine made me want to poke about some more. Since I’d missed the puffball, what else hadn’t I noticed. A few steps to the left upon another tree root–a pelt lichen with many fruits, aka many-fruited pelt. I first discovered this lichen upon Bald Pate Mountain a few years ago, but didn’t know that it grew here–right under my nose.

b-many-fruited 2

Its smooth brown lobes shone brightly due to all the recent moisture, but it was the reddish-brown apothecia or fruiting forms that I found so intriguing. They’re described as saddles, and I suppose if you look at one from the right angle, yes, you can see the saddle-like structure.

b-field dog lichen

On the next tree, another pelt known as dog lichen–apparently named because its fruits reminded someone of dog ears.

b-spring tails 1

The algal component of a lichen goes into food production during rain, and so I continued to peer around. But first, a clump of Indian pipes caught my attention and upon them I noticed springtails doing their thing–springing about in search of food. Their diet consists of fungi, pollen, algae and decaying organic matter. Springtails are among the most abundant of insects, but because they are so small, they often go undetected unless you see them on snow in the winter.

b-mealy pixie cups

And then back to the lichens it was. I found mealy pixie cups in great number growing on a stonewall.

b-pixie cups fruiting

And one large patch looked like it was going to produce another, for so prolific were its fruits of tiny round balls.

b-lichen design

Also among my great finds, were the lichens decorating branches that had fallen to the ground in our recent wind storm. I loved the picture they painted with variations on a theme of color . . .

b-foliose and fruticose

and form.

b-lichen 3

My favorite of all reminded me of so many things–a rose in bloom, waves echoing forth with ripples, and even a topographical map.

Alas, I was short on time and needed to head in, but my finds–were the greatest. Even a wee bit of time spent wondering is time well spent.


Sunday Surprises

As I headed into my smiling place today, I was certain that I wouldn’t find anything of interest. But this Sunday wander made me realize that the gift of wondering means being open to surprises.

I began my traipse following one of the more recent logging trails where sliding over slash is the name of the game.


I can’t wait for three feet of snow to make this an easier adventure. In the meantime, I made do.


Some moments I did think I was sinking to China–where my friend Judy Lynne would have to be on the lookout for me.

cinnabar 2

And then pumpkin orange polypores called out, proving slash is good for something. Cinnabar-red Polypore (Pycnoporus cinnabarinus) I do believe. It pays to have Fascinating Fungi by Lawrence Millman in my pack.

cinnabar 3

As is its habit, it was growing on a downed cherry log. I picked one fruit to show the pore surface beside the cap. Millman describes it this way: “Caps are kidney-shaped orange to dull reddish-orange, azonate and covered with warts and wrinkles in age. The pore surface, in the words of mycologist Gary Lincoff, ‘looks as if it had been seared by a hot iron.’ The pores themselves are usually more angular than round.” I had to look up azonate when I got home: without zones or circular bands.

cinnamon 2

Cinnamon fern grew abundantly in this boggy land and as usual, I was drawn to the drama it provides in death.

cinnamon fern

Most of the pinnae or leaflets have fallen to the ground, where their curved forms add texture and interest even as they begin to break down and give back.

British soldiers

Watching over all–a large colony of British soldiers, their red caps ever so bright in this miniature world.

muddy logging road

I reached the main logging road at last. A few weeks ago I thought that the logger had finished his mission, but apparently not. That’s okay, because after I found a bunch of bobcat, coyote and deer prints, I headed back into the woods leaving the muck behind.

pine needles 1

Bunches of white pine needles adorn many of the young hemlock trees–all in keeping with the season.

haircap geometry

And the hair cap moss speaks of starry, starry nights and geometric designs.

pigskin poison puffball

But my best find of all was a total surprise. In fact, I didn’t think it was natural at first. An old baseball or tennis ball that somehow landed in this place where few venture? I touched it and it felt almost leathery. Inside, the duff was powdery. Time to turn to Millman again. I think my ID is correct: Pigskin Poison Puffball aka Earthball (Scleroderma citrinum). WOW! Look at that warty surface. And it was huge compared to other puffballs. My heart was singing. (Fortunately I kept the song in my heart though I was in a place where no one would have heard me!)

wintergreen veil

Eventually I made my way back to the snowmobile trail where I continued to wander for a while. Wintergreen is the plant of choice for this stump garden.

bronze bracken fern

Bracken ferns have turned from green to a light bronze patina. Most have fallen or been knocked over. This one especially appealed to me because it has retained its structure and even portrayed an uplifting spirit.

the ice princess

The past few days have been delightfully, though unusually, warm, but I found some ice. And even an ice ghost.

witch's 2

From ghosts to witches–in the woods, I never know who I’ll happen upon. Witch’s Butter (Tremella mesenterica) is another that stands out amongst the grays and browns of the December landscape.

colors 2

Not all is gray and brown. As I wait for snow, the colors of the season remind me that without its covering, there’s much to enjoy.

grassy trail

droplets on grass

I was about to head down the grassy path that leads to our cowpath, when two things gave me pause. First, the droplets of water that adorned the grass.

meadowsweet gall

And second–this gall on a meadowsweet plant. I’ve passed it numerous times and decided today was the day to try to figure it out. If my guess is wrong, please feel free to correct me. I think this is rose bedeguar gall, aka Robin’s pincushion gall. Meadowsweet is a member of the rose family, so maybe I’m right. Then again . . .

sheep laurel fruit

One last find that I always enjoy looking at–the fruits of sheep laurel extending  below the leaves and reminding me of jingle bells.


At last I was home again, thankful for a Sunday wander wonder-filled with surprises.