Monday, July 13, 2015

The Curious 'Shroom

I TOOK A WALK TODAY....and thought, "What a great summer to be a Mycologist!"

While strolling along the upper prairie and into the woods this morning, I couldn't take more than four steps without having a colony of mushrooms at or near my feet.  The forest floor is coated with them, all at various stages in their short life cycles.  I have never seen so much fungi my life!

All the wet weather we have had in Ohio this summer is to blame...or thank. And you know it's wet when even the fungus has fungus growing on it!!

 Mushrooms can seem magical...just a small ball crowning the surface of the leaf litter...and the next day it's a full blown toadstool!  This is especially true after a rain because for mushrooms all you need to do is "just add water!"  Unlike plants and animals, the fruit of the fungus (what we call a mushroom) does not grow by cell division at its early grows by cell expansion, as water fills each compacted cell it already possesses.  Nature's sponges.

 The true mushroom or fungal body actually lies beneath the fruit, spreading underground or within wood. Like the apple and its tree, the mushroom is connected to tiny "branches" or filaments called hyphae, that acquire and store nutrients as they break down organic matter. Because they gather and store nutrients this way, instead of through chlorophyll and photosynthesis, they are called saprophytic organisms.

Some mushrooms have a special relationship with trees and shrubs, penetrating their roots and delivering nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen, while taking carbohydrates and moisture from them  This mutually beneficial relationship is called a mycorrhizal association.

Mushrooms are not only full of B vitamins (some are a favorite food of the box turtle), hold moisture, and recycle decaying organisms...they are also ephemerally beautiful. Below is a gallery of a few more responding to the recent rainfall.  You don't need to know their names to enjoy their beauty or appreciate their role in the ecosystem.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015


Trout Lily
All along the little spring-fed creek at Prairie Pond Woods and the larger Hickman Run that it flows into, wildflower ephemerals are announcing the season of spring is here. First came the Trout Lilies and Bloodroot. Now the Rue Anemone, Purple Cress and Jacob's Ladder are in bloom. Next, Wild Columbine and Hepatica will cover the rock outcrop that shades the spring creek.

I know there are nature preserves or even private properties where large patches of these wildflowers dazzle the beholder, and I'm glad they exist and are protected.  But I get as excited about my little patches dotting the land here and there, as I do the spectacular ones.  I brim with joy at the first Moneywort (especially since I rescued several from an ATV trail) or the first Cut-leaved Toothwort, even if it is standing solo among the other vegetation. 

Rue Anemone
I'm thrilled because these are WILDflowers...and each holds potential for the spectacular. They are feral. No one planted them. Who knows how old some of these individual perennials may be? These, or their offspring, are the ones that survived logging of the forests. These are the ones that have been quietly cloaking the forest floors for decades and centuries.  

They need nothing from us. No cultivation. No fertilizing. No pampering (except for removing alien species on occasion). They are right where they are supposed to be, needing nothing but the soil, the light, the rain and insects for pollination. When their petaled performances are finished, they will release their seeds or spread out their roots, and the show begins again next spring.

Wild Columbine
My only mission at Prairie Pond Woods is to let them flourish. Let them perform their encores year after year. Let them fill as much space as the space will hold. To simply just let them be.

Thursday, April 2, 2015


I ended up only going for two very brief walks this morning in between thunderstorms. The folds of clear blue-gray clouds, outlined in back-lit sky, kept rolling in then clearing out, leaving only the dirty white rags of full cloud cover. I'm hoping these next few days of rain will bring out the morels! I'm ready to go hunting because it has been slim pickins', especially after one huge harvest a few years ago when I caught the fungi fever.  

When I sat down to record my morning sightings/hearings in my phenology journal, I noticed how different the years have been on April 1. Today, the only plants I could add to the two bloodroots from yesterday were one other bloodroot bud and one anemone in bloom along the spring. I compared that to April 1, 2012 and 2007, when it appears everything was in bloom: columbine, purple cress, violets, Virginia bluebells, golden ragwort, dogwoods and redbuds, etc.  

Most of the bird sightings are about on target...although I still haven't heard my first thrasher that everyone else seems to have encountered.  Usually, he announces his return on the tips of the pines that surround the deck. But I did hear turkeys in the hills, a barred owl at 8:30 am and saw a pair of yellow-bellied sapsuckers. The phoebes are I see every year up by Kavanah (though she never nests in it) and the one scouting out the guest room exterior shutter again. For the last two years they built a nest on top of the black shutter underneath the eaves and hidden by the lilac bush. We accept the mess and wash it off in fall. 

Yesterday, two chickadees spent most of the morning and into early afternoon flying around in the garage rafters, I assume trying to find a suitable cavity to nest in.  Finally, after a few hours of puttering and loudly listening to The Signature of All Things on audiobook, they left and haven't been back.  Evidently, not literary avian.  

And this morning two rust, white and black Eastern towhees spent a good deal of time duking it out in the blue spruce tree out front for the affection of their duller-in-color female counterpart. Actually, you'll notice a fair amount of territorial defense behavior going on all over the place if you pay attention.

Some years flora and fauna can be predictable and some years not. I love recording it in my journal and comparing it...although sometimes my documentation skills can be just as sporadic as spring flowers. But one thing that is fairly predictable and heartwarming in my life is my dog's nap time. 

Cyon paces and hints by walking over to the basement door. I check my watch-usually between 10:30-11:30. I let her inside. She gives me a "see you later" look, and immediately lays down on her blanket. I tune in NPR on my I-Pod and she falls fast asleep for an hour or more. Just enough time to write my blog posts...

Wednesday, April 1, 2015



For me, April 1 is Opening Day.  For my baseball-loving husband it is on April 6 this year. But every April Fools day, Prairie Pond Woods opens its doors and invites all the Nature Fools, Spiritual Fools and Creative fools to come immerse themselves in the outdoors, in the Spirit or their own artistic endeavors.  

You know who you're the one everyone else thinks is way too into the environment, way too intense about Life or way too "flaky" or esoteric.

But you're also the fool who knows that going against our fast-paced, left-brained and nature-deficient culture is how truth, beauty and wisdom can be found. 
So check the Calendar and contact me to see if we can set you up for a few days of utter foolishness!  And don't forget, the Bird Watching as Meditation retreat is coming up soon.  Registration Deadline is April can register online HERE or click on the button in the upper left corner.  How convenient!

On the walk today, either I was being stalked by one Pine Warbler or there were many trilling in different parts of the property, which is wonderful!  I also heard or saw Phoebes, a Kingfisher, Brown-headed Cowbirds, Eastern Bluebirds, a Red-shouldered Hawk, American Goldfinches, Chipping Sparrows, and a Crow clicking away under the walnut tree. And the Juncos are still around. 

It was a bad winter for Pines along the path.  The Refresher Course had no less than 5 Virginia pines, both dead and alive, blocking the trails and making future work for my poor husband. But maybe not. Perhaps Wisdom is suggesting we create some new paths and let the old ones recover and regenerate...and truly what wisdom there is in that!

Sometimes we need to seek out new paths on our life's journey...especially when there are obstacles that don't allow us to go forward...and this is true for me now in my life. It is a win-win situation most times, really.  If I stop  walking (and mowing) the same old paths, plants that have been stunted will begin to flourish and reproduce.  And if I choose a new, wise path (maybe cutting right through patches of invasive deer tongue), plants or seeds that have been struggling in the shade might bloom along the edges, as they are now allowed to soak up the sun's light and warmth. Something to ask ourselves...are we walking the same old routines, patterns, habits, jobs or relationships that don't really move us in the directions we want to go? 

In the direction I went this morning, I only found two Bloodroot plants getting ready to bloom along the spring...looks like it's still a bit early here.  So I decided that this would be a day of preparation...meaning getting my little gardening corner of the garage purged and organized, weeding the front garden bed, charging the camera batteries and getting my systems into place. This way, when the rest of the Ephemerals burst on to the scene...I'm ready to go!

Oh, and I pulled the FOY tick off the front of my neck, which hurt like you-know-what!  Spring is here...

Wednesday, March 25, 2015


 Just to give you an idea of what you might encounter at this year's Bird Watching as a Mediation retreat on May 1-3, here is the post after last year's retreat....

A few themes emerged from the Birdwatching as Meditation retreat, May 2-4, but most prominent were the differences between Seeking and Discovering. Each has it's time and place to be sure...but I think we agreed that beyond the goal-oriented approach to encountering wildlife, or life in general, we enjoyed just placing ourselves in a "state of seeking," or acceptance, to let Life's gifts and discoveries unfold.

Pink Lady's Slipper
 "We sought and we found. We wandered and discovered...Pink Lady's Slippers, a Field Sparrow's Nest, a Baltimore Oriole, Warblers, Columbine, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, good food, good conversation, lovely and wonderful precious encounters with nature."  - D. W. 

Saturday's cool temperatures and wind during the day made it less than stellar birding...but on the night hike we heard a clear and very close song from the upper prairie of the Chuck-wills-widow...a rather rare night jar species in Ohio...with most populations being only in Adams Co!  
 "Thank you for a marvelous weekend filled with bird sightings (many firsts!).  Your guidance has helped open wide the door to local birding." - D. M.
Male Rose-breasted grosbeaks
Sunday was filled with lots of discoveries and gifts of beauty. We heard or saw 52 bird species...over half of the 97 species at the last Prairie Pond Woods end-of-year one weekend!  And while it is nice to hike the woods, strain the ears and get "warbler neck," we also enjoyed watching the Rose-breasted Grosbeaks at the feeder, while having our scrambled eggs, fruit & yogurt and toast on the deck!
"The beauty here is astonishing! The land recovers when given love and stewardship. The diversity of the flora and fauna - the birds! - make this a most holy place. I spend my days and weeks when away figuring how soon I can come back." - S. C.
Showy Orchis by the creek
Below is a list of the bird species, a few more photos...and one last quote from a guest. 
"I am always blessed to be at Prairie Pond Woods.  It refreshes my spirit and soul.  I leave with a treasure in my heart."
Wild Columbine on Dolomote slump rock

Turkey Vulture
Canada Goose
Broad-winged hawk
Red-shouldered hawk
Wild Turkey
Mourning Dove
Ruby-throated Hummingbird 
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Pileated Woodpecker
Eastern Phoebe
White-eyed Vireo
Yellow-throated Vireo
Red-eyed vireo
Blue Jay
American Crow
Tree Swallow
Carolina Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
Blue-gray gnatcatcher
Eastern Bluebird
Swainson's Thrush
Wood Thrush
Cray Catbird
Brown Thrasher
Blue-winged Warbler
Northern Parula
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Black-throated Green
Yellow-throated Warbler
Prairie Warbler
Black & White Warbler
Louisiana Waterthrush
Common Yellowthroat
Hooded Warbler
Yellow-breasted Chat
Scarlet Tanager
Northern Cardinal
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Indigo Bunting
Eastern Towhee
Chipping Sparrow
Field Sparrow
Song Sparrow
White-throated sparrow
Brown-headed Cowbird
Baltimore Oriole
American Goldfinch
American Goldfinch Preening
Female Rose-breasted Grosbeak

And of course our companion throughout the retreat, Cyon