Fungal wonder

Summerfields Wood, our local dog-walking stomping ground, is a perennial site for the stunning Hairy curtain crust fungus (Stereum hirsutum)[1], whose bright orange margins illuminate its dank, dark surroundings like the first glimmers of dawn at the end of a long night.

So it’s not an unfamiliar sight.

However, while walking in the woods this weekend, this log, so breathtakingly bedecked with these marvellous mushrooms, caught my attention anew in wide-eyed wonder.

So much so, I decided the fungus-spangled log needed a photoshoot for a page of its own here…

“[Wonder] is one of the purest forms of joy that I can imagine…

Wonder is one of the most powerful forces with which we are born…

My sense of wonder is first and foremost something in and of itself, wonder for the sake of wonder. A small voyage of discovery. Though it can also be the seed that germinates, to bring forth new possibilities.”

Explorer, Erling Kagge, from his wonderful, short book, Silence


[1] I’m not an expert at identifying fungi. I think this is Stereum hirsutum. But it could also be Golden curtain crust (Stereum ostrea). Both species also seem to be known as False turkey-tail, which makes it very confusing. If you’re clearer than I am about which one this is, please let me know in the comments. Thanks!

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Nature the Forgiving Giver

This week I read about a fungus that can survive solely on plastic.

[I don’t have any photos of plastic-eating mushrooms but, to celebrate the role of fungi in our world, here are some pics of other fabulous fungi I’ve taken this Autumn in our local area.]

Pestalotiopsis microspora eats polyurethane and turns it into organic matter! And it doesn’t even need oxygen, making it ideal for cleaning up landfills.

And there are other plastic-digesting mushroom species, such as the oyster mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus). Research has shown that once the plastic is consumed by this fungus, there is none left inside it, so the mushrooms remain edible!

We are still discovering so much about fungi, including their incredible symbiotic relationship with trees and their complex communication systems. They are truly worth celebrating.

Despite our exploitation of Nature and ravaging of the planet, Nature still has a way of offering us solutions to the problems we’ve created. She is so forgiving. A gift that keeps on giving.

I wonder if mankind will continue to turn to Nature for answers to our global eco-crisis.

Like many other people of faith(s), I share the optimism of Julian of Norwich (“despite all evidence to the contrary”, as Philip Carr-Gomm put it[1]), hoping against hope, that “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.”

I do believe, despite our perverse tendency to try and detach ourselves from Nature, that ultimately mankind cannot lose its inherent oneness with her.

We may forget that we are part of Nature…

…but Nature does not forget.

I believe that she – and Yahweh, the Divine Presence behind her – will continue to call to us with wonderful solutions like these plastic-eating fungi, to reconnect us, and to heal us and our planet.

—–

(Photos all mine, but no copyright. Feel free to use / share, with my blessing!)


[1] Also this week I listened to a podcast interview with Philip Carr-Gomm, one of the leaders and former Chosen Chief of The Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, who believes that at the heart of the universe is “a divine force of love, which is both highly personal and also impersonal”. That the universe is a benign and nurturing place. That “despite all evidence to the contrary, I have such a strong faith in the ultimate goodness of God / Goddess / Spirit / the Source of all being…that [quoting Julian of Norwich] all manner of things shall be well and all shall be well in the end.”

Wow! I’m increasingly and pleasantly shocked at how much commonality often exists between my (admittedly, fairly broad) Christian faith and the spiritualities of others.

In Celebration of Spring

English weather rarely follows any sort of predictable pattern. It’s all jumbly, bumbling around all over the place like a drunken bee in winter.

This year, though, a period of spring-like weather has coincided neatly with the official start to Spring. How very un-British.

Just in these last couple of weeks I’ve already seen 7 species of butterfly – a very good start to the year:

Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock, Red Admiral, Comma, Small White, Brimstone, and Holly Blue.

In sheer celebration of this colourful and rapid emergence of Spring butterflies, here are a few photos taken over the last few days, all on the sun-kissed edges of Summerfields Woods, Hastings:

Peacock
Peacocks: two for the price of one
Comma
Holly Blue, on rhododendron leaves
Small Tortoiseshell:
a butterfly that’s been making a remarkable and very welcome comeback in recent years after suffering major decline for many years

April Come She Will

After the beautiful but short-lived heatwave we had this week here in England, lasting a mere two days, it’s a little disheartening to see such a cold forecast for the week ahead, with night-time temperatures as low as -3C.

But despite the fluctuating weather, Spring moves forward. Although she seems slow in her arrival this year, like April (in the Simon & Garfunkel song) come she will.

I love the resilience of nature and the dependability of the seasons, like a faithful lover or spouse.

As the old hymn goes: “Summer and winter and springtime and harvest…join with all nature in manifold witness to Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.”

The divinity of nature and God entwined as one.

Today was the first day this year that I saw wild bluebells (in our local woods).

Every year, the first day of bluebells feels like a landmark moment.

Perhaps signalling the end of winter.

An auspicious icon of something new and beautiful.

A promise fulfilled.

On the way home, after taking these photos, I bumped into a friend and told him about the bluebells.

He pointed to his head and said, “It does something good to the mind – seeing these things.”

Indeed. The eternal spirit of Yahweh in nature bringing healing balm to mind, body and soul.

(The following photos are of Spring Snowflakes, also adorning the woods….)


Urban Butterflies

One of the many things I love about Hastings is its large green spaces, with their surprisingly rich habitats.

Four-spotted Chaser, just outside Hastings town centre, July 2019

I’m talking here about parks and woods that are part & parcel of actual urban Hastings & St Leonards, not Hastings Country Park or any of the other scenic surrounding areas.

Hoverfly on Oxeye Daisy, edge of Summerfields Woods, July 2019

This week, for the first time that I remember, I saw a Ringlet on the edge of Summerfields Woods (a 5-minute walk from the town centre): a butterfly I’d normally associate with the countryside. I don’t have a photo to show you as I didn’t have my camera with me…

But it prompted me to post a slightly nerdy list of the butterflies I’ve had the pleasure of seeing in urban Hastings & St Leonards over the last few years, interspersed with a few photos I’ve taken in these areas. I’ve left some of the rarer treats till the end of the list:

  • Speckled Wood (probably the most prolific butterfly in Summerfields Woods)
Speckled Wood, Summerfields Woods
  • Meadow Brown
  • Ringlet
  • Gatekeeper
  • Small Copper (quite a few in and around Summerfields Woods and White Rock Gardens)
Small Copper, Summerfields Woods, July 2018
  • Comma (lots on bramble flowers especially)
  • Painted Lady (also around the brambles)
Painted Lady, edge of Summerfields Woods, June 2019
Painted Lady, edge of Summerfields Woods, June 2019
  • Red Admiral
  • Peacock (I used to find their caterpillars as well, but haven’t done in recent years. I think this butterfly has declined here.) †
  • Small Tortoiseshell
  • Orange-tip
  • All the usual Whites (Small, Large, Green-veined)
  • Brimstone
  • Large Skipper
Large Skipper, Summerfields Woods, July 2019
Large Skipper, edge of Summerfields Woods, July 2019
  • Holly Blue
  • Common Blue
Holly Blue, on the wall of Bohemia Walled Garden, Summerfields Woods
Female Common Blue, edge of Summerfields Woods, July 2019
  • White-letter Hairstreak (a very special treat, last July)
White-letter Hairstreak, edge of Summerfields Woods, July 2018
  • Purple Hairstreak (just one at the end of the season a few years ago, again on the edge of Summerfields Woods)
  • Clouded Yellow (a few in White Rock Gardens, where I guess is a first stopping point after crossing the Channel)
  • White Admiral (just one fairly ragged specimen at end of season, in the woods at the top of Alexandra Park)

There may be one or two others that I’ve forgotten.

Hopefully there will be a few more to add to the list as time goes on.

Longhorn Beetle (Rutpela maculate), edge of Summerfields Woods, June 2019

In the meantime, it’s good to remember not only that Nature is unstoppable even in the face of humanity’s urbanisation, but also that humanity is in fact part of Nature.

We do well to acknowledge this oneness and thus rediscover our divinely-ordained harmony with all things.

Cockchafer (aka Maybug) on my hand, Briscoe’s Walk, June 2019

Maybugs

Last night we saw 2 Cockchafers – aka Maybugs (or Melolontha melolontha) – on Briscoe’s Walk, just up the road from our house, where we walk Gorka, our dog, in the evening.

Again today I saw 2 or 3 of these scarab beetles as I was walking back home with Gorka just after 9pm, as the sun was setting.

I stuck around to see if I could get a photo or two. As I waited, more and more Maybugs appeared out of their slumber, until about 20 of them could be seen whirring around the tops of the trees.

Unfortunately they weren’t coming down low enough for me to get a photo. And the light was fading fast.

I eventually discovered that Gorka was sniffing at the occasional one that did land on the ground, so I was able to pick one up and photograph it on my hand.

The light by now was very low, and the pictures not that great. †

But a wonderful sight, to see this little swarm of bumbling beetles on this warm June night.

Beetlemania

The other day, in Small Is Beautiful I wrote about a particular, magnificent patch of wildflowers on the edge of Summerfields Woods, that had thankfully escaped the clutches of various municipal lawnmowers.

The same patch that had provided inspiration for Champion Campion and Weed or Wildflower?

Today, in the very same area, I had the delight of watching and snapping this Rutpela maculata (aka Black and Yellow Longhorn Beetle).

Longhorn Beetle on Oxeye Daisy

I love this next view of the beetle peering into a foxglove flower in search of nectar.

This tiny patch of flowers is so dense with wildlife – it just keeps on producing more surprises and delights. I’m sure there will be even more to come….

Small is Beautiful

While land conservation efforts are usually, understandably, focussed on relatively large areas, sometimes just the smallest local patch of wildlife takes on what might seem to be disproportionate significance.

When our local Council cut the grass verges around the law courts here in Hastings recently, I was so relieved they didn’t stray over on to this little area on the edge of Summerfields Woods that was delightfully overgrown with long grass and wildflowers.

This is where I photographed the Red Campion for ‘Champion Campion’, and the Ribeye Plantain for ‘Weed or Wildflower?

It’s also saturated with all manner of other wildflowers, including Oxeye Daisies, Horseshoe Vetch, Foxgloves (pink and white), and Clover (red and white).

Foxgloves

As for butterflies, this week has seen Large Skippers, Common Blues and Meadow Browns enjoying this rich diversity of flora.

Common Blue

Then a few days ago I learned that this wild patch was left alone by the Council only because it in fact belongs to Optivo, the housing association that also owns the neighbouring block of new flats.

I’d been chatting to a fellow dog-walker who lives in the block.

Red Clover

He told me that residents had been complaining to their landlord about their communal garden area which had overgrown; that Optivo had responded and were soon to cut it back.

Large Skipper

My fear was that the housing association would mow down the wildflower patch at the same time. In my experience, Councils and other bureaucratic landowners generally have far less regard for wildlife than they do for keeping green spaces neat and orderly or concreting planet Earth.

I was genuinely worried and even considered contacting Optivo asking them to preserve this mini-wilderness.

Thankfully, however, it was left alone. Another reprieve for one of my favourite little patches of land. Phew! Another answered (unspoken) prayer.

One to watch in future years, though, I reckon.

Horseshoe Vetch

First Ladies and Skippers

Things are hotting up for butterflies around Summerfields Woods in Hastings during this warm spell. Meadow Browns and Large Skippers are coming out in force.

Large Skipper

And today was the first day this year that I’ve seen that famously marathon-flying migrant, the Painted Lady. There were a few of them there today, enjoying the blackberry flowers on the edge of the woods, near the ambulance station.

Painted Lady today, Summerfields Woods

The area must be no more be no more than about 200 metres from the seafront as the crow (or butterfly) flies.

So my guess is that these specimens had just arrived from their ultra-long journey from the continent, perhaps even North Africa.

You can just see a second Painted Lady in the background here

This was probably their first stopping point, replenishing their energy on that bramble nectar.

Ladybird thrown in for free!

Watching these elegant and exotic visitors, knowing they were nourishing themselves at the end of such a mammoth trek, was quite a privilege.

Weed or Wildflower?

When I was a child, my Dad would spend precious time spreading weedkiller over our expansive garden, in a bid to rid his nice, neat lawn of daisies. I never understood it. To me, the daisies enhanced the green grass. Wildness was my way, nature my delight, from early on.

The old saying – one man’s weed is another man’s wildflower – is so true.

Here’s an oft-overlooked weed or wildflower: Ribwort Plantain:

…which, to me, is looking pretty amazing just now – in the same area as the Campion that I photographed on the edge of Summerfields Woods a few weeks ago (see Champion Campion).

Like the Campion, taking a few pics was irresistible.

My Dad and I didn’t see eye to eye on a lot of things for a long time. But the Source of Life, the giver of grass and weeds (or wildflowers) is also the Instigator of Reconciliation.

The Spirit has a way of bringing about profound change in our lives, and the relationship between my Dad and me was miraculously and permanently restored, as you can read about in my autobiographical book on physical, psychological and spiritual homelessness: Coming Home for Good.

Love – the kind that comes from above – transcends not only differences of opinion on flowers, but also personalities, cultures, races, worldviews and, yes, even religion.

Love accepts. Love shatters walls and opens arms.