Saturday, October 27, 2012

Mycophagist's Dream - Puffball Mania

Mysterious mushrooms. Months pass with none to be found, then magically, overnight, they abound.

The past few weeks in central NC have become a veritable puffball fall.

Lawns, fields, roadsides and ditchbanks have been adorned with hundreds of these spherical gems.

For the experienced mycologist, such a bloom can be a mycophagist's boon.

The skull-shaped and purple-spored puffballs have a relatively firm, mild flesh that takes well to whatever seasonings or other foods it is paired with.

Of course, nature will provide an alternate ending if no mushroom eaters enter the scene.

In just a few days, the puffy white flesh transforms into a massive sack of powdery spores, just waiting for the passerby that will release them to the wind, ensuring another bumper crop the next time conditions are right.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Cattail Calligraphy

"Seeing the small is insight..."  Lao Tsu

Slate blue. Slate of blue. Nature. Scribe.

 Deft strokes upon a slate of blue.   Surrender your senses.     See, and know.

Halloween Cometh!

As a prelude to All Hallows Eve, here's a glimpse of one of the few of nature's children that still give me chills...

This emerald beauty is pushing autumn's limits, hunting from her perch in the weeds right up to the verge of November. 

The sun's more southerly path lends a somewhat spooky aura to this late afternoon scene, as the ubiquitous green lynx spider hangs out with her silken sac...Trick or treat!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Minor Mantis

Carolina Mantis.

Rigid limbs.

Unblinking eyes.




Snakes and the City

As the days grow shorter and the nights grow colder, reptiles become less conspicuous. As winter approaches, most will go underground or find a sheltered place to hunker down for a few months. During October, however, there are enough warm days that the observant traveler may still find snakes abroad, sunning in the afternoon or crossing the warm pavement at night. 

This little brown snake was hanging out in our neighborhood. Storeria dekayi; although it may have a grayish or reddish cast, it typically lives up to its name, brown snake. Other snakes may answer to sexier or more glamorous designations, but in this case, simplicity and accuracy go hand in hand.

This little reptile has also gained a reputation as something of a city slicker. While it could make it just fine in the countryside, it has adapted quite well to urban environments, and is often encountered in the midst of the city. Hiding under debris or hanging out on vacant lots, this little snake is content wherever it can find sufficient supplies of slugs and earthworms.

Enjoy those rays while they last, it'll be chilly tonight!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Chas - Noble Friend and Fellow Traveler

Over six years ago, Chas decided to share our journey for a while. It was not a decision he entered into lightly. He conversed about it daily with Julie from the safety of the shrubs. Eventually, they reached an understanding.  

He agreed to take us as we were; and we, in turn, decided we could tolerate his somewhat excessive talking. 

Seemingly always alert, Chas' expression rarely changed, but it spoke volumes. Before long, we began to appreciate Chas' wisdom. We listened, and we learned, together. 

When cancer claimed a leg, Chas was undaunted. He left behind his precious outdoors, and taught us about dealing with loss and change. When we came home each evening, Chas inevitably watched at the window for our return. He taught us faithfulness and gave us joy.

 Later, when we discovered his serious heart issues, we were afraid lest we might lose him. He took his meds like a trooper, and taught us truths like serenity, and acceptance.

When we brought an older rescued "inside cat" to the fold, Chas welcomed him, and taught us lessons of tolerance and grace. When circumstances prompted yet another "rescue", and the fold became a bit more crowded, wise old Chas assumed the role of playmate for the lonely little kitten. We learned resilience and love.

Lately, Chas had lost interest in eating. Medicine helped for a few months, but last week, he stopped eating again and developed other complications. His vet did all she could, but on Wednesday we chose to bring him home and make him as comfortable as we could. We sat together, and comforted each other, until early Saturday morning, when we parted ways for now. Sad as was our parting, I'm pretty sure Chas was ready for the next leg of his journey. And, thanks to him, I know we're a good bit better prepared for ours.

Thanks, Chassy. We love you.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Pucker Up! A Passion for Persimmons

Sink your teeth into an unripe persimmon, and you're not likely to ever forget the experience. The tannin in the unripened fruit will make you pucker and squint and strike a pose more fearsome than our friend the 'possum here. Its astringent properties are the stuff of legend, and anyone lucky enough to grow up in the rural southeast has probably been pranked by a pal with a puckery persimmon.

If you've ever been the victim of such a stunt, you may never have mustered the courage to give them another try. If so, you've missed out on one of the natural food delicacies of North Carolina. Skeptical? Just ask our friend the Virginia opossum here. See that grin? Chances are, she just left the persimmon tree around the corner. If she's here on the porch eating cat food, it's only because the persimmons are all gone, or they're not ripe yet!
Earlier this year, we met the
Hickory Horned Devil , another huge fan of the persimmon tree, though the devil and the possum clearly favor different parts of the tree.

Known by many Southerners as the possumwood, naturalists refer to it as American Persimmon or Diospyros virginiana, literally "fruit of the god Zeus found in Virginia."

If you're lucky enough to taste a persimmon that's been kissed by the first frost, you'll likely concur with the heavenly appellation.

Eaten out of hand or prepared in pies and puddings, persimmons have long been a favorite of rural folk in the South.

So look for them this fall, as the leaves drop from the trees. There's a bumper crop this year in my neck of the woods; if I'm lucky, maybe Grandpa will finally agree to share his recipe for persimmon beer...

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Ahead of the Front

Another cold front rolled through this morning with the rumblings of discord on Olympus, but not before summer shared a parting smile yesterday at Northeast Community Park in Chatham County. A glorious day on all fronts, as the Burn played a great game of soccer, and the park's regular residents carried on in spite of the guy with a camera...

The dew is still on the asters as a somewhat sluggish bumblebee makes the rounds.

In the family Asteraceae, each "blossom" is actually a composite of dozens of individual ray and disk flowers. The givers of names assigned these lovely ladies and their kin the Greek word for star. Oriented to face the earth's own shining orb, these stars of weedy fall fields reflect multiple stages of development on a single prolific stem.

The enigmatic markings of the ailanthus webworm moth, white rosettes with black scribbling on a field of orange, break up the animal's shape. It is equally at home nectaring at various old field weeds, but if numbers are any indicator, seems particularly fond of the goldenrod.

It's later for some bloomers than others, as evidenced by this thistle which has largely gone to seed.

This non-conformist has clung to its chlorophyll for just such a day as this; 

and the butterflies aren't complaining. This skipper dashed onto the scene just before the shutter snapped, 

and the photographer's not complaining!

 When the good folk of Chatham created this park on the grounds of the Atwater Estate, initial plans included multiple soccer and baseball fields and far less natural area. This post is a nod of gratitude to those who recognized the integral role of nature in re-creation.

Here's hoping the trend continues. Thanks!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Wonderful Weeds - Partridge Pea

The green leaflets are sensitive and will often fold together when touched, hence the common names sensitive plant or sleeping plant.

The uniquely structured foliage is a favored food of the Cloudless Sulphur caterpillar and the white-tailed deer.

Another of our ubiquitous waste place weeds, flourishing in disturbed areas, along roadsides and railways;

one of fall's golden girls, beckoning to the observant traveler with her perky petals amidst the vines and brambles.

When the glorious blossoms yield to winter's chill, the bountiful seeds provide a boon for the bobwhite quail - the "partridge" and the pea.

 Fabaceae (Pea Family). Chamaecrista fasciculata (also Cassia). Native to the Southeastern U.S.

These lovely individuals (and hundreds of their friends) live along my daily route around town. Perhaps there are a few in your neighborhood as well...