Life I

“One touch of nature makes the whole world kin..” Shakespeare: Troilus and Cressida, iii.

It has been a very, very wet Spring in this part of Texas- the wettest, some say, since 1957. There are a host of meteorological statistics available which explains and measures this unusual precipitation, and I am thankful that there are those who gather and study those facts, but I am fascinated most by what I am seeing: the earth giving birth, prolifically.

I am not a scientist, and certainly not a biologist. What I am is one who stands in awe, and wonders. I have seen things this Spring, now Summer, that I have never seen before; I’ve gone back to those things again and again, watching the beginnings of their life cycles and seeing, above all, the connections between..everything. Here are some of those things:

Fungi

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It is everywhere. Pick a spot in the yard, in a field, on a tree, get down on your knees if you need to, and you will see it, too. Under the mimosa tree where I read and write in the mornings (when it is not raining), the ground has been covered, twice now, with thousands of inch high, tightly compacted, toadstools. Those particular ones are only there, beneath the mimosa; where the shade of the mimosa stops, so do they. There must be some symbiotic relationship, between these toadstools and the mimosa blossoms which fell there in massive quantities several weeks ago, or between the shade and the soil, or between all three. The toadstools were not there last year, and this year (in the last month) there have already been two waves of them. They appear overnight, and then are gone again in several days. There may be more such waves; I am watching.

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In the neighbor’s yard each summer, there has been one crop of puffballs each summer, in mid-June. This year, so far, there have been three of those crops, the first in early May.. They are not large in number- ten to fifteen appear at a time, but each puffball is massive: some will get to be the size of a football. They are called, by fungi aficionados, Texas Mammoths, and prized among those who gather and eat mushrooms and other fungi. I’ve tried them, twice. They are a bit too intense for one who is used to grocery store portabellos.

Other toadstools grow in that yard as well. There have been four large fairy rings, as they used to be called, so far- circles of three to four inch high toadstools that form a circle, of a slightly larger diameter each year, feeding on the nutrients of a now long-gone tree stump. The toadstools are lovely, with large heads pockmarked in spiraling patterns that become darker as the toadstool ages. These seem to live for about a week in their fully grown form, after having appeared half-grown overnight. I do not know whether these are edible, I have not tried them. And won’t.

“To be matter of fact about the world is to blunder into fantasy —
and dull fantasy at that, as the real world is strange and wonderful.”

– Robert A. Heinlein

Several large, old branches have fallen from pecan trees in the backyard, due to the weight of the water which has soaked into them. There is often a fascinating, flesh-like fungus which grows in rose-like clusters on them. The fungus is wet, a deep brownish pink, and feels soft, like a baby’s ear. Once, when I brought a limb from out of the shade into the dry garage, it was only a matter of hours before this fungus began to get harder and brittle.

Underneath the grass (and, no doubt, within the walls and under the floors of every building) there is a lattice of mold that spreads, like a spider web, drawing from the moisture there, even as holds back slightly what few opportunities there have been for the moisture to evaporate. Similar fungi are on the sides of trees, which are providing a super shade this year for that fungus to grow within.

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There are a few- five?- two inch high toadstools with red crowns covered by black circles, just near where the hulls of the sunflower seeds fall, which I feed all year to the birds. These toadstools look dangerous to even touch- a red alarm for other animals (including me) to stay away! And I will, but I will get close enough to look and stare, and wonder some more.

“Nature does nothing uselessly.”– Aristotle

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Lichen, those flat, webbed communities of rock clinging almost-bacteria, almost-fungi are brightly anchored in white, green, and brown contrast against stones, concrete foundations, and even bricks. Lichen- related to those same lichen found recently at the frozen North Pole and to those lichen found at the hot lips of active volcanoes- are one of the oldest forms of plant life. Slowly, slowly they are feeding on and turning their granite or mortar hosts into dust with their relentless, unstoppable spread.

More, to follow..

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