Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Colorful January

That sounds like an oxymoron doesn’t it! “Colorful January.” We usually think of white snow, a scene dominated by blues and cold grays, or else we think of tan, brown, gray, and more tan. At least around here, anyway.

But Sue and I have been hiking as much as we can (post-holiday fitness attempts). And we’ve been seeing things. Maybe we’re just being mighty hopeful, looking for signs of spring wherever we might find them, and imagining we see them when we don’t.

Anyway, on Saturday, we went for a nice little hike at Spring Creek Gap Conservation Area. And we did see some color!

For one thing, there’s the beautiful coppery shine of the many clumps of Virginia broomsedge, or broomsedge bluestem (Andropogon virginicus), one of our native warm-season grasses. I have always admired this plant, recognized it as being quite different from other grasses, long before I knew its name. It’s quite common, but it really shines in winter, after its bluish-green leaves have cured to a glorious copper color.

And as we hiked a little further, we started noticing there were several fallen logs with an eye-popping orange bracket fungus on them: Cinnabar polypores! These tough polypore brackets are bright orange-red above and below.

. . . As you can see.

With fungi this bright and colorful, you almost don’t miss the flowers.

In the creek, there were delicate patches of bright green filamentous algae, flowing after rocks like mermaid hair.

And here are some pretty little mosses and lichens. The tiny goblets are the reproductive structures of the lichen. Lichens, you know, are a life form that comprises both a fungus species and an algae and/or cyanobacteria species, living in a mutually beneficial relationship.

Yeah, yeah, whatever. . . . But mostly, we love them for their cute little pale blue-green fairy goblets, which contrast so nicely with the yellowish greens of the nearby moss!

As the afternoon went on, the sun drifted behind some milky white clouds. Once the golden beams disappeared, it was as if the color had been sucked out of the landscape. The sky was dull white, and it was hard to tell how close we were to sunset.

As we hiked back on the main ridge trail, the sun repaid us for its earlier shyness by dipping down below the clouds that had offended us earlier. As the sun sank below the horizon, its beams poked the bellies of the clouds, tickling them pink and orange, revealing their ripples of relief.

We just stood and took pictures!

What a great day!

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