Beryl, Basalt, and Gnats

I went to the Chisago Loop of the Riverview Trail yesterday, a trail that goes through  the Osceola Bedrock Glades State Natural Area.  The trail loops around a knob that is an outcrop of Canadian Shield basalt bedrock.  The top of the knob is relatively flat.  The bedrock crops out in many places and there are loose slabs and boulders some that look like stones from a small Stonehenge.  Between the rocks is shallow soil with sparse grass and a lot of mosses and lichens.  There are scattered, straggly trees mostly jack pines.

Dinnertime At Osceola Bedrock Glades
Dinnertime At Osceola Bedrock Glades

I went to the knob planning to take a photo to satisfy The Daily Post‘s challenge Dinnertime.  I finished the photo but wasn’t as careful as I should have been because the gnats were ferocious and drove me out.  Look closely at my self-portrait and you can see the gnats hovering around my head.  (Hovering?  They were attacking.)  I even poured out a half-bottle of beer because I was so desperate to get away from them (OK, maybe just anxious.)  Once I got the first acceptable photo, I left as fast as possible.  That wasn’t very fast because I had to be careful making my way down off the knob and through the treacherous footing in the loose chunks of basalt.

Prairie-fame Flower (Talinum rugospermum)
Prairie-fame Flower (Talinum rugospermum)

On my walk to the knob, I photographed a rare, prairie-fame flower (Talinum rugospermum).  The flower and the dinnertime photo are the only shots I got.  By the time I reached my car I felt like I was in a mild version of anaphylactic shock.  Well, that may be a bit of an exaggeration, but the gnats had certainly spoiled my outing.  This was the second time I’ve been driven out of the area by insects.  The first time it was mosquitoes.   Other than the bugs, this is one of my favorite spots.  The one time there weren’t bugs, I spent my time reclining on a large rock soaking up the sun like a lizard.


Later

I took a break after drafting the above and read a bit from Beryl Markham’s memoir West With the Wind.  What I read gave me some perspective on being bothered by a few gnats.  Beryl Markham writes about her life in east Africa when roads were mostly non-existent.  She was one of the first pilots in the region.  She writes about elephant hunting:

Scouting [for elephant] by plane eliminates a good deal of the preliminary work, but when as upon occasion I did spot a herd not more than thirty or forty miles from camp, it still meant that those forty miles had to be walked, crawled, or wriggled by the hunters – and that by the time this body and nerve-raking manoeuvre had been achieved, the elephant had pushed on another twenty miles or so into the bush.  A man, it ought to be remembered, has to take several steps to each stride of an elephant, and, moreover, the man is somewhat less than resistant to thicket, thorn trees, and heat.  Also he is vulnerable as a peeled egg to all things that sting – anopheles mosquitoes, scorpions, snakes, and tsetse files.  The essence of elephant-hunting is discomfort in such lavish proportions that only the wealthy can afford it.

All I was doing was eating a sandwich and drinking a beer on a hill in civilized, western Wisconsin, and I complain.  Markham quotes Baron Von Blixen saying “Life is life and fun is fun, but it’s all so quiet when the goldfish die.”

West with the NightBy the way, I highly recommend the book.  A good friend and my favorite bartender recommended it.

Bartenders should always be trusted.

Late-Fall Colors In the Forest

Stream With Pondweed
Stream With Pondweed

There is not much color left in the woods; lots of grays, browns, and tans.  The leaves are off the trees.  There are no wild flowers left.  There is, however, some surprising color in some of the smaller bits of the forest:  fungi, lichens, mosses, and some remaining small, green plants.  Among the green plants, the most vivid are those growing in or close to water.

The slide show below is of some of the color I saw over the last two days on the Osceola Loop of Ridgeview Trail north of Osceola, Wisconsin.

Under the slide show are some words about toadstools and mushrooms from Colin Tudge’s book The Tree.

 

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Fungi in general consist of a great mass of threads (known as “hyphae” which collectively form a “mycelium”) and a fruiting body that typically appears only transiently, and often manifests as mushroom or toadstool.  Many of the toadstools that are such a delight in autumn, and are avidly collected by gourmet peasants in France and Italy and elsewhere, are the fruiting bodies of fungi, which, below ground, are locked into mycorrhizal associations with the roots of trees and help them grow.  Thus the fungi are even more valuable that they seem.  The wild mushrooms and toadstools are often only a tiny part of the whole fungus.  The whole subterranean mycelium, including the mycorrhizae, sometimes covers many acres and weighs many tons.  Forest fungi, mostly hidden from view, include some of the largest organisms on earth [emphasis is mine].

 

The Sixth Extinction

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural HistoryI have been aware of the large number of extinctions that we’re causing.  What I haven’t been aware of is the idea of ecosystem extinction.  “It is likely that [coral] reefs will become the first major ecosystem in the modern era to become ecologically extinct.”  Very frightening because “it is estimated that at least half a million and possibly as many as nine million species spend at least part of their lives on coral reefs.”

There have been five mass extinctions, The Big Five, in the earth’s history plus a number of lesser extinctions.  We are in the midst of the sixth biggie.

Amphibians enjoy the dubious distinction of being the world’s most endangered class of animals; it’s been calculated that the group’s extinction rate could be as much as forty-five thousand times higher than the background [extinction] rate.  . . . one third of all reef building corals, a third of all freshwater mollusks, a third of sharks and rays, a quarter of all mammals, a fifth of all reptiles, and a sixth of all birds are headed toward oblivion.

We are driving this latest mass extinction by these geological-scale changes:

  • Human activity has transformed between a third and a half of the planet’s surface.

  • Most of the world’s major rivers have been damned or diverted.

  • Fertilizer plants produce more nitrogen than is fixed naturally by all terrestrial ecosystems.

  • Fisheries remove more than a third of the primary production of the ocean’s coastal waters.

  • Humans use more than half the world’s readily accessible fresh-water runoff.

  • People have altered the composition of the atmosphere [and the oceans].  Owing to a combination of fossil-fuel combustion and deforestation, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the air has risen by forty percent over the last two centuries, while the concentration of methane, an even more potent greenhouse gas, has more than doubled.

What, in the midst of this sixth, mass extinction, is going to happen to us, to homo sapiens?

One possibility is that we too will eventually be undone by our “transformation of the ecological landscape.”  The logic behind this way of thinking runs as follows:  having freed ourselves from the constraints of evolution, humans nevertheless remain dependent on the earth’s biological and geochemical systems.  By disrupting these systems – cutting down tropical rainforests, altering the composition of the atmosphere, acidifying the oceans – we’re putting our own survival in danger.  Among the many lessons that emerge from the geological record, perhaps the most sobering is that in life, as in mutual funds, past performance is no guarantee of future results.  When a mass extinction event occurs, it takes out the weak and also lays low the strong.

Another possibility – considered by some to be more upbeat – is that human ingenuity will outrun any disaster human ingenuity sets in motion.  [No logic presented for this possibility.]

I have little hope than mankind can think or invent our way out of the dilemma we have gotten ourselves into.  I fear that those who believe that human ingenuity will ride to our rescue are the same one who will not take the threat seriously.

What, me worry?  The scientists will think of something.