rising in silence
floating feather light toward dawn
In January, fallen leaves and dying vines make it easier to follow deer trails into the woods. Yesterday, along one of those trails, I found a rotting tree covered with this oddly attractive substance. Hard and smooth to the touch, the strange bits reminded me of scattered pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. I assumed the substance was either lichen or fungus: determining which was the next step.
As it turned out, that next step was relatively easy. Alexey Sergeev, a researcher whose interests are focused on such things as quantum-mechanical perturbation theory and who currently works at Tulane University, also spent time at Texas A&M in College Station. During those years, he photographed hundreds of Texas plants, as well as a good number of fungi, mosses, algae, and lichens, providing the date, location, and scientific name of each.
A search of his site using the phrase ‘fungus on oak’ found a match to my photo almost immediately, in the eighth row on the page. Ceramic parchment fungus — Xylobolus frustulatus — generally forms on the dry, well-decayed wood of oaks: precisely where I found it. Known as a crust fungus, X. frustulatus received its common name because it often looks like whitish tile fragments put together with black grout. Known as a saprobe, the ceramic parchment fungus survives by decomposing dead or decaying organic material and using it as food.
Another site, Fungus Fact Friday, provided a few more interesting details, including a way to determine the age of the fungus:
Each ’tile’ (or ‘frustule’ to mycologists) is shaped like an irregular polygon, has a smooth, white top, has sides that are black or dark brown, and has a wood-like consistency. The upper surface is irregularly lumpy but smooth and bears an uncanny resemblance to ceramic in both texture and color. It is from this surface that the spores are released. As the mushroom ages, this surface becomes pale pinkish to pale orangish with mature spores and then slowly turns brown.
Reading that, I couldn’t help thinking that, with age, this fungus appears less like a ceramic tile and more like a Scrabble tile. In either case, its appearance is fascinating.
Tucked between red-clad Santas and decorated evergreens, this very late rain lily (Zephyranthes candida) bloomed in the San Bernard refuge butterfly garden long after many of its kind had called it a season.
Graced with the colors of Christmas and petals suggesting the open receptiveness of a child, it recalls the words of the beloved carol:
Joy to the world! The Lord is come;
let earth receive her King.
Let every heart prepare him room
and heaven and nature sing…
Remarkably, we don’t sing, “Joy to human beings, joy to those who walk upright and drive cars and open too many credit card accounts and are nasty to their neighbors.” We don’t sing “Joy to the church-goers, the faithful, the few.”
The joy we sing is meant for the whole world: for stars and dirt; mountains and seas; trees, rocks, valleys and hills, and every creature inhabiting them. At Christmas, heaven and nature sing out this truth: the gifts of the season are meant for the world as a whole. We who inhabit that world, who trace a path upon its soil and gaze upon its stars are called to sing its praises, too, and join in its celebration.