It has been a moist winter, and I’ve been seeing quite a few mushrooms walking around San Mateo. Most of the mushrooms I’ve been seeing are small and inconspicuous, but a few days ago I came across a showy large orange fungus in a hidden location. Today I went back and took some photographs:
I feel fairly confident assigning this to genus Gymnopilus, given the large diameter of the cap (6+ inches / 15+ cm), its orangeish color, and the fact that it is growing on decaying wood (a rotting stump that could be either a conifer or deciduous tree). Based on the description in A Field Guide to Mushrooms of North America (Kent and Vera B. McKnight, Houghton Mifflin, 1987), and without examining spores under a miscroscope or doing chemical tests, I’ll venture a guess that this is Showy Flamecap (Gymnopilus spectabilus, considered by some to be conspecific with G. junonius); however, this is an uninformed guess on my part, and it could easily be another Gymnopilus species. According to Michael Kuo, “identifying the species of Gymnopilus, in North America anyway, cannot yet be done with scientific accuracy.” (Laura Guzman-Davalos et al. [Mycologia, 95(6), 2003, pp. 1204–1214] found genetic evidence that the spectabilis-imperialis complex represents a clade, but they did not attempt to resolve the distinctions between species within this subgroup of Gymnopilus.) So it’s best to leave the identification as Gymnopilus species.
(Revised on Feb. 4. Written on Jan. 19 and posted on Jan. 25; I held this post for several days, because subspecies of Gymnopilus junonius from the eastern U.S. and Korea may contain psilocybin. I didn’t want some idiot to find this mushroom and, based on my very tentative identification, ingest it hoping for hallucinations. The mushroom in the photographs is now pretty well decayed, so that danger is past.)
Carol has decided to experiment with hugelkultur in the garden this year. A hugelkultur garden bed consists of decaying wood and other compostable material from plants. This technique is supposed to create more fertility in the soil, and improve water retention. Given the ongoing drought here in northern California, improved water retention alone makes this technique worth trying.
Rather than build up a mound of decaying material, as is typical with hugelkultur, Carol got me to make a raised garden bed; with the tiny amount of space we have for our garden, this seemed to make the most sense. We got some cheap boards from a lumberyard, I scrounged some scrap wood for the corners, and in about an hour we put together a bed 96 inches long and 25 inches wide. Then we put in some partially finished compost, along with twigs and small branches.
In the photo above, we’ve put down a layer of partially finished compost; the two buckets behind the raised garden bed are more compost waiting to go in. Carol has started laying some twigs and branches on the compost. After this, she put down another layer of compost, and then added a layer of potting soil we purchased from the hardware store across the street.
Carol is also planning to set up a greywater system (she is something of an expert on the topic). We already collect greywater — we have to run about two and a half gallons of water before the water in the shower gets hot, so we collect this and use it for watering the garden. Given how bad the drought is, that wasn’t enough water, so she is looking at other easily accessible sources of greywater that we can use without annoying our very nice landlord.
If you look closely at the photo, you’ll see potatoes growing in the raised bed behind the new bed. Today they started wilting a little. The National Weather Service predicts “dry weather and above average temperatures are likely to persist into the first half of next week”; we’re going to have to start watering the garden now, right in the middle of the winter-wet season. This is global climate weirdness happening in front of our eyes; maybe hugelkultur is one small way to help restore some balance to an out-of-balance world.
Above: The bed with more twigs and branches, and more bins of partially finished compost ready to go on top (photo credit: Carol Steinfeld).
Several us went out to Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area on Saturday to look for birds. We did see some fabulous birds, but the highlight of the trip for me was seeing a Black Widow spider capturing a wasp of some kind, and wrap it in spider silk, and slowly kill it. This all took place inside one of the portable toilets, just below the urinal. Had anybody seen several of us standing around and looking in the door of a portable toilet for five or ten minutes, I suppose they would have thought us odd. But it was a riveting drama, well worth watching.
Emily, who was with us, has posted a series of photos showing the whole process; my favorite of this series of photos is here.
I spent a little time trying to track down what kind of wasp the Black Widow was preying on. The best I could do was to say with certainty that this insect was in the order Hymenoptera; with somewhat less certainty, I’m willing to say the insect was in family Vespidae. But is it a paper wasp, a hornet, or a yellowjacket? I have neither the patience nor the expertise to answer that question.
in the morning
came sweetly down
the sound of
on wet black
ducks wallow in mud
feeding and across the bay
hills turn green again
This is apparently an air bladder of Bull Kelp (Nereocystis luetkeana), but with a much shorter stipe (or stalk) than that usually associated with this species of macroalgae. Carol found this beautiful organism when we were on a walk at Half Moon Bay State Beach late this afternoon (I walked right by it because I was too busy looking at Sanderlings and Mew Gulls).
Peter Alden and Fred Heath, National Audubon Society Field Guide to California, p. 87.
A. L. Baker, An Image-Based Key: Algae (PS Protista), Cyanobacteria, and Other Aquatic Objects, Nereocystis.
Washington State University, Intertidal organisms EZ-ID Guide, Nereocystis luetkeana (Bull Kelp).
I took a break from curriculum development on Tuesday and drove down to Pinnacles National Park. Of course I looked at the incredible rock formations for which the park is famous. But as spectacular as the scenery was, the highlight of the trip was watching butterflies in Bear Gulch. In particular, I spent about ten minutes watching one Western Tiger Swallowtail visiting larkspur blossoms. I took a great many photographs of this one butterfly, getting as close as I could. With a photograph, you can capture narrow slices of time: the position the butterfly’s wings take as it balances on a flower; the way it clings to the flower with its legs and arches its head towards a blossom; the moment when the butterfly is just approaching the flower:
But sometimes what sticks in your memory is not what you actually saw, but the photographs of what you saw. After I left Pinnacles, I drove to Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve. When I saw butterflies there, I made a point of trying to sketch them in my field notebook rather than just photograph them, like this common butterfly:
This sketch, as an end product, is not nearly as attractive as a photograph (and I did take a photograph of this insect as well) — it’s not as attractive, but I learned more about butterflies by making this sketch. By comparing my sketch to a field guide, by seeing what I left out, I learned what I don’t see when I look at butterflies. I suspect making less attractive sketches like this does more towards sharpening my powers of observation than does taking a great many very attractive photographs.
Carol and I decided to hike up to the top of Bald Knob from the parking lot at Higgins Canyon Road. We climbed steadily through the Coastal Redwoods up into the Douglas Fir forest, and in less than two hours were at the summit of Bald Knob. It was a little disappointing, because Bald Knob wasn’t at all bald, and instead of the views we had hoped for, we just had a Douglas Fir forest. But it was a beautiful Douglas Fir forest, smelling of fir trees and woods, and it was quiet, so we sat down to eat lunch.
After lunch, we walked down Irish Ridge Trail, and just a short distance down the trail, there were green grassy slopes sprinkled with wildflowers. Dad and I used to talk about the way wildflowers sprang up all over the hills of coastal California during the spring; it was one of the things that had most impressed him, I think, in one of his early trips to California. Unfortunately, Dad’s dementia means that that well-worn, familiar conversation is no longer possible, so I took a photograph of some flowers instead — Dad has always taken photographs documenting what he saw in the world; and still does, sometimes.
And a little way further down the trail were the views that we had hoped for. We looked out over an open slope, which was covered with Poison Oak in full bloom, down into the Lobitos Creek valley, out at the Pacific Ocean. Some kind of flower was sending its delightful perfume into the sun-warmed air around us; I’m pretty sure this perfume came from the Poison Oak; maybe Poison Oak is good for something after all.
On the way back down the trail, Carol said that these tree roots, balanced precariously on a gradually eroding bank, looked like a huge Muppet monster:
By the time we got back to the car, it was cloudy and cool, down to 52 degrees. We had walked about 11.4 miles, with a total elevation gain of about 2,500 feet. We felt kind of tired.