June 16, 2010

A Walk in the Woods: Circular Gestures

Today was another of those cool, gray days which we've seen so many of in June. I felt myself sinking into a gloom like the dim light of the day. To cheer myself, before the rain arrived I took a walk with my camera on my alternate woods path, an infrequently wandered one because it's a logging road, so less intimate than my usual walk. Because it isn't familiar to me so far this season, there are many new treasures to find. Looking closely around me, at the ground, through the underbrush, and focusing my camera on ordinary marvels takes me out of myself and elevates my spirits.

The most wonderful thing I saw was this huge mushroom, at least a foot across, a polypore growing on an elegantly curled tree stump. Both looked as though carefully sculpted to express the rhythms of curving forms, with the textures used to play one element off against the other. The mushroom flows gently into the wood, with both having dark centers that draw our eye deep.

Here is the underside, showing large yellow pores, plus a couple of smaller mushrooms growing. When close to it, I noticed a pleasant scent, not mushroomy at all, light and slightly sweet. I always try to find mushroom identities in my guide at home, but am rarely successful. This time I may have found it: polyporus squamosus or Dryad's Saddle, also known as Pheasant's Back Polypore. The book lists it as edible, and that the "tender edges of the caps can be pickled, sauteed, or fried". But since I'm not sure, I will just admire; also, mushrooms not listed as "choice" edibles are often not worth picking.

I am charmed by this toadstool; seeing it, the childlike name for mushroom took over my thoughts. A three inch umbrella with crimped dangling skirt and radiating lines on its cap, it seems ready to pick up and take a walk while sheltering a small creature beneath.

I found this jelly-like cup shaped mushroom growing alongside a tiny stalked one, both on a downed tree covered with a pale yellow mat of lichen slime mold. A comfortable seat with shade for a miniature potentate of the woods, perhaps?

To end this post, some green: a fern growing in a clear form, stems radiating perfectly from a center, creating an arching circular vase structured by textured fronds. A circle, even in its imperfect incarnations in nature, is deeply satisfying and beautiful to see.


  1. I found a most amazing polypore called pitoporus australiensis or currypunk at easter time that someone had ripped off the tree and took it home with me. I have been getting the most amazing intense saffron yellows from it ever since.

  2. Hi Altoon,
    That is indeed a dryad's saddle -- and I share your feeling about "edible" mushrooms. They aren't great, usually.
    And wow -- the stuff surrounding the mushroom in the next-to-the-last photo is a slime mold! Do go back tomorrow and see how it develops -- they are amoeba-like organisms that get together to migrate and form fruiting bodies every once in a while.
    Myxomycetes, if you get interested.
    I spent a lot of time outside today too -- maybe it's not warm and sunny, but it's still green June.

  3. Thank you both, Soewnearth and Susan, for the terrific pieces of information. I had no idea that you could get dyes from polypores. And, I thought that stuff around the cup shaped mushroom was odd looking, but I assumed lichen because of its spread. I'll put a correction in the post, and will try to find it again to see how it's doing. Amazing: slime mold! a new thing to get excited about.

  4. This lovely post reminds me of Rudy Burckhardt. Another great eye that was entranced by mushrooms and ferns.

  5. Looks like another grey day today. Well, reading this early in the morning cheered me up, and made me think I'd better get out in the woods myself today since it's too gloomy to be in the garden.

  6. ah, Kim, I love Rudy's woods paintings; how nice that this post reminds you of him.

    Susan, I hope you got to do a woods walk; finally the sun is out, so good gardening tomorrow!

  7. This may be the best mushroom so far. The dark centers of the two circles are terrific; not nearly as strong and noteworthy an image if only one had that dark middle. And the toadstool is fantastic; something I've rarely seen so thanks for this glimpse. We have had slime mold in the garden proving even urban gals get some wild nature glimpses without leaving town!