Wednesday, April 30, 2014

In Sunshine and In Shadow...

"Gaily bedight, 
A gallant knight, 
In sunshine and in shadow,
Had journeyed long, 
Singing a song,
In search of Eldorado."

In Mrs. Gilchrist's 10th Grade English class, I memorized these words by Edgar Allan Poe and recited them with gusto, conjuring images of Indiana Jones, ancient maps and buried treasure;
envisioning the sunshiny world of untold wonders and life of non-stop adventure that awaited me in the very near future.

Poe penned these words near the end of his life, in 1849, when it seemed that all America had caught "gold fever," and all who could were heading west in pursuit of unimaginable riches. California had become a 19th century American version of El Dorado, the mythical city of gold whose lure had drawn the Spanish conquistadores into the heart of the Amazon centuries earlier.

"But he grew old-
This knight so bold-
And o'er his heart a Shadow
Fell as he found
No spot of ground
That looked like Eldorado."

My eyes are older, and they grow tired at this time of night, but with an acuity honed by decades of traveling, I see more clearly now than I did way back then.

I, like Poe and his knight so bold, and the snakes, and the magnolia, the iris, the violet and the poison ivy, dwell in a world of both sunshine and shadow.
As living beings, we all seek the life-giving sunshine,
but if our life persists for more than a brief moment,
we will dwell for a time in nature's shadows as well.

"And as his strength
Failed him at length,
He met a pilgrim Shadow-
'Shadow,' said he,
'Where can it be-
This land of Eldorado?'"

Over the Mountains
Of the Moon,
Down the Valley of the Shadow,
Ride, boldly ride,'
The shade replied,-
'If you seek for Eldorado!'"

Melancholy though much of his life may have been, Poe's spirit still inspires;
no matter how deep the shadows on either side,
if one can but muster the strength to "Ride, boldly ride,"
the journey immerses us in a world of untold wonders...

and a life filled with riches far more valuable then gold.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Way Down Yonder in the Paw Paw Patch

Pinxter Azalea has just passed its peak in most locales, but today at Raven Rock State Park it is still striking enough to turn heads, ours included.

Along the streamside margins, and even further up the on the ridge above this stretch of the Cape Fear, the fiddleheads have become full-fledged fern fronds; framed in this instance by fallen oak blossoms, boldly declaring the advent of Spring.

Our quarry today lies farther along the trail, in the very shadow of the namesake Rock itself;

today we seek acquaintance with a rather inconspicuous but most impressive spring bloomer, the pawpaw tree. And just above the final landing on the steep wooden stairs descending the cliff adjacent to Raven Rock, we enjoy our first glimpse of the striking purplish-brown blossoms.

The fruit born of this blooming are North America's largest native fruit, fallen into relative obscurity in recent times due to their short shelf life and lack of cultivation.

Remembered in the classic American folk tune which finds Nellie or Susie or any other lyrical name of your choosing, "Way down yonder in the pawpaw patch, pickin' up pawpaws, puttin' 'em in your pocket..." 

The pawpaw "patch" alludes to the pawpaw's clonal method of reproduction, typical of  a few woody plant species, which form rather dense stands of genetically identical individuals in suitable habitat with a shared root system. 

This patch of a few dozen smallish trees appears to be thriving in the understory on the very brink of the river, shaded by towering hardwoods and the rock itself.

By most accounts, the fruit tastes of very ripe peaches, with perhaps a hint of banana, and the foliage of the pawpaw happens to be the preferred food of the zebra swallowtail butterfly. 

For our purposes today, however, the blossoms are the stars, and we are thrilled to bear witness to their splendor.

On the return trip, the sun is lower in the sky, and the forest takes on a green-tinted fairytale glow, painting the trail with shadows and making every moment into a postcard...

Hoot Owl's photographers are up to the task, pickin' up the postcards, and puttin' 'em in their pockets, to share them later with friends...

Moment after memorable moment, from forest trail to overlook to stream side and back again,

a perfect spring day yields to a perfect spring evening.

As the travelers approach the forest edge, a male summer tanager bids them adieu from the cool woodland shadows,

and the azaleas invite them to return again soon.

A brief stroll through Moccasin Branch before parting,

where the giant creekside ferns are a bit behind their woodland cousins,

reminding us that all of nature moves at its own pace, and that to venture too far from the forest, or tarry too long in returning, is to risk missing unimagined treasures.

We'll be back soon!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Bizarre Mystery Creature of the Month

Every so often, Hoot Owl Karma is introduced to a new creature, something so unusual that we not only don't know its name, but we've never even seen it before. We love these learning opportunities and only wish that they occurred more often; so we were thrilled to hear from Cousin Danny, a.k.a. Daniel the First Class Wilderness Scout, this week. He alerted us to the existence of a bizarre new creature lurking deep in the wilds of Lee County.

Although we'd never met this particular critter before, we remembered stumbling across a similar face while perusing our field guide collection, so we started digging in the neighborhood of stalked puffballs for a more precise ID. Turns out it is neither a stalked puffball nor any other kind of puffball, but it is a fungus.

After a good bit of digging, we settled in the vicinity of genus Calostoma, possibly species lutescens. These individuals are a bit past their prime, but impressive nonetheless, and they certainly top out pretty high on the bizarrometer. As always, we welcome input from our friends and followers, and we're happy to stand corrected, especially when we're dealing with creatures we've never encountered before.
Thanks, Cousin Danny!

Monday, April 21, 2014

Falling Water

The water starts falling in earnest a few hours before sunset, and by the time we reach the North Carolina line, we are pretty sure we've seen the last we're going to see of the sun for the remainder of this trip. 

With the forest-filtered raindrops adding another layer of color and texture to the already-mottled greens of these sessile trillium leaves, we decide a rainy morning in the mountain wilds may not be such a bad thing after all.

We set out early with spring wildflowers on our minds, and in the mingled mists of water falling from the heights and even higher, we discover an oasis of spring centered on the pool at Looking Glass Falls in Pisgah National Forest.

Jack-in-the-Pulpit presides as every living thing is baptized in the cool, cleansing waters of the cascade and of the clouds.

Standing on the nearby slope, lily white heads bowed against the drizzle, wood anemones hold vigil, singly here, a small gathering there, attending the peaceful scene with humility and grace.

Robin's plantain by the dozens line the path, like so many golden lamplights, their purple rays penetrating the mist.

First one leaf-strewn slope and then another reveal mysterious green clad throngs, fed by yesterday's sunlight, watered today by heaven, lush and striking in their not-yet-blooming, leaving the traveler wondering, but not disappointed.

Sweet white violets, with their scarlet stems, lend their voices to the song of life that is an Appalachian spring;

as their dainty yellow brethren, with halberd leaves of freshest green, emerge nearby to join the chorus.

Erect trillium, trifoliate stalwart of stream side and mountain cove, bobs ever so slightly beneath the large, cold drops of life-giving rain, delicate pink petals conspicuous among its pallid companions.

Glowing golden faces, surrounded by golden rays, bearing sunlight in the midst of a steady rain, golden ragwort perhaps, a golden spring aster, months ahead of its late summer kin.

Showy orchis, star of many a wildflower show, energized by the brisk spring shower, moves imperceptibly closer to center stage; 

while foam flower flaunts its shaggy mane, drenched as it is with mountain dew.

And a single, solitary spark of life, not quite emerald green, subtended and nourished by the silent, sodden masses of Octobers past and today's replenishing moisture, disrupts the brown monotony of the forest floor.

Trillium dances with delight,

fern fronds unfurl, 

and some, like the mayapple, appear to covet the water more, twin leaves catching and holding every precious drop, trusting not in next week's weather.

Others seemingly shed each drop but the last, enshrouded in oilcloth against the incessant montane showers.

Falling water lands; trickles down; percolates around thirsty roots; 

gives shape and structure to new green leaves;

turgor and tension trumping for now the relentless weight of the mountain air,

new flower unfolds, a new seed is set, 
a new generation assured by the drops of falling water.