Lichen

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This little lichen (Usnea Florida) hung from the limb of a eastern red cedar (Juniperus Virginiana – not to be confused with the live oak (Quercus Virginiana)) dithering ever so slightly in the wind that had been left over from the storm the day prior.  I chronicled the Sunday walks I take through the swamp in Nocatee Preserve in an earlier post, and this day was no different, save for a different lens.   Instead of capturing the hidden beauty of the swamp in a macroscopic, wide angle tilt, I opted to only bring along my macro lens and lighting apparatus, which makes for a very serious looking photography setup to the uninitiated.  Few people passed me this day, on bike or foot, as the paths were still muddy from the day before.  The epiphytes, like this lichen, were bright and renewed from the downpour.  This particular varietal reminded me of the microscopic pictures of neural pathways and ganglia in the brain.  The common pattern, I am certain, is no coincidence of nature.

Interestingly, I later found out that usnea lichen contain potent antibiotics which can halt infection and are broad spectrum and effective against even tuberculosis. Usnic acid (C18H16O7), a potent antibiotic and antifungal agent, is found in most species, including this Usnea Florida.  This, combined with the hairlike structure of the lichen, means that Usnea lent itself well to treating surface wounds before sterile gauze and modern antibiotics.  It is also edible and very high in vitamin C.  As I mentioned in a previous post, I am not confident enough in my sight identification of mushrooms or lichen to test the medicinal properties of either, though there are no lichens nicknamed “Death Angel” or anything so nefarious, so I might be more willing to nibble on the ganglia of this lichen than an anonymous mushroom–if push came to absolute shove.

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Quarry

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As I stared at the tall, sheer rock face of the long-abandoned quarry, in the middle of the Pisgah National Forest, my dad reminded me that one of my relatives had been a dynamite man for a quarry back in Maine many years ago.  Whether he was deaf from the work, or simply unsocial, my father never knew.  The long drills would bore vertically into the solid stone, and then he would carefully lower the dynamite into the channel to blast thousands of tons of rock and rubble from the mountainside.  Most of the bores in the Pisgah quarry were high on the stone face at least ten feet long, irregularly spaced, but distinctively smooth interstices in the jagged profile of the mountain.  The small paper birch trees were deceptively omnipresent in all of the photographs I attempted, and I was not satisfied with any of them–even as I took them.

As we began to walk on, however, I saw this remnant of a small bore, and I snapped a quick photograph of it, not thinking too much about it at the time.  This hole was unique from the others.  It was only a foot or so long, and its edges were not smooth like the channels higher up.  The crevasses and splintered stone that surrounds the bore suggests that it was an afterthought, and the jagged striations within the shallow channel evidence a blast that wrought the uniformity from it.

This photograph is a microcosm of the quarry, but far more representative than a wide-angle shot of the sheared-off face of the mountain with its uniform bores.  It is evocative and telling that the work was violent and loud and dangerous, but the quarry no doubt was necessary in supplying building materials for the early denizens of Brevard.  Though Robinson Jeffers noted, as I have quoted before, “Not everything beautiful is pleasant,” I have to believe that the opposite might be true.  The violence of a volcano or a blast-torn bore can be beautiful if the time is taken to appreciate it.

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Behind the Falls

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This photograph of my dad standing behind a waterfall was taken in Panthertown Creek near Brevard, North Carolina.  We hiked about three miles and were prepared to turn around, when we ran into a sweet older lady who said, “The falls are really running today.”  We asked for directions, and she pointed us down a side path, which we traversed for about ten minutes until we heard the roaring of the waterfall.  I took many photographs and wanted to get closer.  I found a not so well-worn path, and my dad and I followed it until we found ourselves behind the waterfall.  He remarked that although walking behind a waterfall had not been on his bucket list, it should have been.  It was truly remarkable.  The hike behind the falls had been tough, but it was so very worth it.

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A Sunday Walk (In Florida)

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Being from Florida and going to college in North Carolina, the natural questions often arose as to whether I kept an alligator as a pet or whether I lived in a swamp.  The latter question was more on point, as most of Florida is a swamp.  We live near two nature preserves, Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve and Nocatee Preserve.  I love taking Kemper in either, as his wonder for nature is still brimming with optimism and zeal.  I could not pry him away from his animal figurines, and so I went to Nocatee Preserve by myself.  I made a concerted effort to view the swamp that surrounds the paths through his eyes, and I snagged a number of photographs that captured a child-like whimsy that I had lost long ago (when it comes to swamps).  This photograph of grove of bald cypresses (Taxodium Distichum) typifies this approach.  I have seen so many in my life, that I take their majesty for granted.  In the wild, these august trees can live for thousands of years.  The largest and oldest, the “Senator” was estimated to be 3,500 years old.  One of the bald cypress’ most unusual characteristics is its “knees.”  The knees are conical growths protruding up from the root system that radiates out from the tree’s trunk.  They often have a knobby, knee-like appearance at the top.  Their function is unknown, although studies suggest they may help the cypress absorb oxygen and remain stable in loose wet soils.  Approaching the swamp with a renewed perspective (a truly Florida tack) was a great lesson for me to learn.  As this photo attests, there is beauty even in the brackish, tannin-dyed waters of the Florida swamps.

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Nascent

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I debated (at greater length than I care to admit) what to call this photograph, which typified to me the life cycle of the swamp near my home where I went hiking this weekend.  (In Florida, we hike in swamps, have snapping turtles as pets, and casually brush away alligators with nine-irons when they encroach on your golf ball to the horror of your father-in-law, who grew up in Maryland.)  This small laurel oak (Quercus Laurifolia) sprouted at the very base of the gigantic live oak (Quercus Virginiana), and I nearly passed by without paying it any heed.  I found myself gravitating towards the bright green moss that was overcoming the live oak’s hollowed trunk.  As I was musing on the etymology of the word phoenix (which bears its own post), and how, in the swamp, death feeds the living, I noticed this little laurel oak, no more than a year or two old, quite literally rising in the shadow of the live oak, which would have been more than three hundred years old, judging by its size.  The English word “nascent” has its origins in the deponent Latin verb, nascor, meaning to come into existence or to spring forth.  As I thought about calling this post “Ancient and Nascent,” I balked.  This photograph, though set against the old live oak, is, in truth, about the laurel coming into existence and its embryonic roots taking hold betwixt and between the taproots of the dead oak, which could stretch for hundreds of feet in all directions.

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