January 15, Southwest Nature Preserve
Cool, dripping days like today help recharge the water beneath the woods. This hill, a knob of iron, sandstone, and clay, draws the rain down into the sandy soil where some of it will emerge one day in seeps near the base of the hill. The preserve supports a nice patch of post oak, blackjack, and juniper, with little bluestem and other grasses standing tall in some of the open areas. Moss grows on many of the rocks that are shaded from summer’s hot and drying sun, and today’s mist and fog brought much-needed moisture.
Wherever an oak branch has died or broken off, lichens set to work, covering the surfaces and ultimately helping return the wood to the soil. Many of the lichens I have seen in the cross timbers are the ruffled, greenish-gray variety, along with some of the branching yellowish ones with tiny cups of yellow-orange. These always remind me of neurons, with the little branches resembling dendrites and the “cups” suggesting the bouton, where the axon of one cell widens and forms a synapse with an adjacent neuron. Lichens are symbiotic partnerships between a fungus and either an algae or a cyanobacteria, and so they may violate our sense that an organism should be either one thing or another. Lichens are multiple things working together, and they are very tough and resilient. And yet, they manage to be delicate and beautiful, like little abstract sculptures.
The woods today were a study in brown, fawn, sienna, and all the other earth tones. And those colors appeared in a range of shapes and textures, from the fine vertical strokes of bluestem to the dark twists of tree branches. And near the ponds, the dried remains of last year’s flowers were beautiful still-life artworks for anyone who stopped to notice. I was fortunate to be able to come here today, even for a short while.