Tag Archives: I hear the lichen speak

Spell of the dark woods

“… hushed stony slopes and low ivied cottages in the lee of huge boulders in Rhode-Island’s back country. Scent of the sea and fragrance of the fields; spell of the dark woods and joy of the orchards and gardens at dawn.”
-H.P. Lovecraft, “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath”

This mode of viewing Nature in the universality of her relations is no doubt adverse to the rapidity desirable in an itinerary…
-Alexander von Humboldt, Personal Narrative

A wooded slope fell away steeply from the path where I stood, and then curved more gradually towards a surface of sparkling water I could only vaguely see as bright flashes through the trees. Through a trick of perspective it looked like a vast ocean far below, even though it was only a pond that began its existence, humbly enough, as a reservoir for the town of Lincoln in Rhode Island. This was Lime Rock Preserve, home of:

Red oak, hickory, a diversity of ferns, red and white baneberry, horse balm, violets, bellwort, nodding trillium, jack-in-the-pulpit, trout lily

I don’t know whether they gave up on enumerating all the different ferns, or if they just didn’t have an accurate list; but there were a great many. Being still very much a novice at identifying ferns myself, I haven’t keyed them out either, but there was a great diversity of form to be seen every few paces. These large, stiff fronds I’m reasonably confident are Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides):
Fern, Lime Rock Preserve
but am still working on these (among others):
Fern, Lime Rock Preserve
Fern, Lime Rock Preserve

A big limestone boulder was covered in a lichen with huge apothecia:
Lichen, Lime Rock Preserve
and mushrooms lurked in the shadows of the bigger ferns:
Mushroom, Lime Rock Preserve
As I was almost back to the gate, a toad sprinted across the path and a little ways up a tree-trunk:
Frog, Lime Rock Preserve

Initially I’d thought – well, let’s be honest, hoped – it was a gray tree-frog. Experts on iNaturalist gently let me know it was in fact the ubiquitous American toad; an old friend rather than a new acquaintance. As a boy I collected them down by the river, and sometimes even out back of the house, by the compost heap. But I never saw them climbing a tree, so that was new.

This was the day-trip I took while in Providence for NecronomiCon (see previous report, “The Gate of the Silver Key“). With only one day, the rapidity desirable in an inventory meant narrowing down on basically one thing to see. Going along the Blackstone River via Lime Rock meant not really seeing any ocean – Touisset Marsh, a salt-marsh, was another possible choice – which I regret a little, but it was a beautiful ride, and, as I later discovered, the hills and forests north of Providence were also haunted by the young Lovecraft on his bicycle. So really it ended up as part of the fabric of the whole experience, rather than being a digression! Even the life-cycle of ferns found its way into his stories:

“It reproduced like the vegetable cryptogams, especially the pteridophytes; having spore-cases at the tips of the wings and evidently developing from a thallus or prothallus … How it could have undergone its tremendously complex evolution on a new-born earth in time to leave prints in Archaean rocks was so far beyond conception as to make Lake whimsically recall the primal myths about Great Old Ones who filtered down from the stars and concocted earth-life as a joke or mistake…”
-H.P. Lovecraft, At the Mountains of Madness

The Blackstone River Bikeway itself runs to the town of Woonsocket which is right on the Massachusetts border. I didn’t go all the way through town to cross the border, which, again, is a slight regret, but I don’t imagine anything is radically different on the other side, and anyway I can take the Badger State Trail to Illinois if I want to enjoy the arcane thrill of riding across an imaginary line. Though the Blackstone Valley was ground zero for industrialization in the US – the first textile mill was built there in 1790 – it’s back to quiet and picturesque, except at the dams, which are loud and picturesque. A considerable amount of wetland has been restored, where I saw a vivid green dragonfly:
Dragonfly, Blackstone River Bikeway
and some sensitive-fern (Onoclea sensibilis):
Sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis), Blackstone River Bikeway

Garter snakes crossed the path in a relaxed manner, although they were a little touchy if you got close:
Snake, Blackstone River Bikeway

and altogether it was a pleasant cycling experience, nice and flat on an old rail-bed, almost more like being on a carnival ride than actually exerting any effort. The milestones were even real stones, which I thought was a great touch.

The bike was a rental, incidentally, and so my thanks go to the extremely nice folks at the North Providence location of Providence Bicycle, who set me up with a comfortable fat-tired Raleigh and a helmet to fit my long Irish head.

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No temple made with hands

Today, as everyone who uses Google knows – and I guess that’s basically everyone, or at least everyone who might also be reading this – is the 123rd birthday of Yosemite National Park. (Obligatory footnote: you could not visit Yosemite National Park today, however, on account of the US federal government being shut down. As a foreigner I’m a little unclear on what that means exactly, but it definitely means national parks are closed. I also saw a bunch of guys carrying some benches out of the federal courthouse downtown today, but that might have been mere coincidence. Anyway.)

Just a few months before starting this journal I spent a week in Yosemite Valley. Trying to describe it on a large scale is beyond my gifts; let me direct you instead to John Muir’s The Yosemite, with the caveat that if you go there and try some of Muir’s shenanigans the park rangers will want a word. On the small scale, though, there were some fine sights too. For instance, everywhere in the Valley was map lichen (Rhizocarpon):
Map lichen (Rhizocarpon sp.), Yosemite National Park
Rhizocarpon grows very slowly; on the order, according to most sources I’ve looked at, of about a millimetre per year. Now that doesn’t mean necessarily that a patch 2 metres in radius has been growing from a single spore for the past 2000 years, since independent patches can coalesce. It’s still a little awe-inspiring. Also, outer space is no big for Rhizocarpon:

The lichen samples were launched from Baikonur by a Soyuz rocket .. exposed lichens, regardless of the optical filters used, showed nearly the same photosynthetic activity after the flight as measured before the flight. Likewise, the multimicroscopy approach revealed no detectable ultrastructural changes in most of the algal and fungal cells of the lichen thalli… after extreme dehydration induced by high vacuum, the lichens proved to be able to recover, in full, their metabolic activity within 24 hours.
– from abstract of “Lichens Survive in Space: Results from the 2005 LICHENS Experiment”, Sancho et al., Astrobiology June 2007, 7(3):443-454

There were of course also ferns; partway up the trail to Upper Yosemite Falls was this Cheilanthes:
Lip fern (Cheilanthes sp.), Yosemite National Park
I can’t get it down to the species, but apparently ferns hybridize with great glee within their own genus, so I’m determined not to feel too bad about that.

And in the Fen at Happy Isles were horsetails of a kind I hadn’t seen before:
Horsetails (Equisetum sp.), Yosemite National Park
which were identified for me as probably rough horsetail, Equisetum hyemale. Apparently I lost my sunglasses out of my jacket pocket while lying down to take this picture, or sometime around then. Oops.

Anyway.. this is my inadequate way of saying, happy 123th birthday, Yosemite National Park, and many more. I hope people can visit you again soon!

Also, many thanks to my lady wife, who not only conceived the idea of this trip but basically arranged everything.

… no temple made with hands can compare with Yosemite.
-John Muir

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