forest 2006 ~ Alaska blog archives ~ Nature & Literature Blog
northern forest 2005
Northern Forest - Early Spring (2005-05-04 12:31:41)
The progression of spring through the forest is, thankfully, predictable.
Today, May 4th, it still qualifies as early spring. Although from a distance
the forest appears green, inside the light and ambiance is somewhere between
the decay of autumn,
winter’s skeletal bareness and the overarching blanketing foliage of summer...
Dry leaves and wind blown twigs crunch under foot and the bones of last
summer’s vegetation are clearly visible. Sturdy hollow cow parsnip stalks
mark the place where this year’s growth is emerging, brown curly remains
of ferns and bleached stringy ‘leaves’ of equisetum lay along the trail.
The mass of leaves that dropped in the fall and lay covered with snow
all winter are dried and gray, soon to be absorbed into the forest floor’s
humus mat. The excitement that is spring though is in the progression
of growth. Right on schedule (give or take a few days), the equisetum,
pale and prehistoric, has emerged, like clones that for now own this section
of forest floor. The large plants that will take over by mid June are
just emerging. I recognize their shapes: cow
parsnip, cow parsley, monkshood, mertensia
(a bluebell like flower), and watermelon berry (also called twisted
stalk). I see no sign of the woods fern which fills in as the equisetum
fades. The wild red
currants are blooming tiny understated ruddy flowers, and the first
flush of leaves are out on the highbush cranberries. Across the top of
the small ridge there is a patch of dwarf
dogwood with leaves that are changing from a reddish-purple of winter
to summer green. And the Fairy
Slippers, my rescue plant that I bought from a nursery some years
ago and planted into it’s preferred habitat, the moss covered remains
of a rotting log that fell long ago, has buds just beginning to open.
Fairy Slipper orchid blooming (2005-05-06 16:55:58)
Fairy Slipper, Calypso bulbosa, an orchid
that is found wild in the Matanuska Valley, blooming May 6, 2005. See
bloom image from 1999
Talkeetna (2005-05-07 15:46:27)
Mt McKinley dominates the horizon north of Talkeetna.
Photo of Mt McKinley taken about 9PM May 6, 2005 as clouds are lifting.
Spring comes slower at Talkeetna in the northern Susitna Valley. Black
brackenish water fills low areas, snow melt held in by still frozen ground.
Snow is still piled in protected and low areas, making walking less convenient.
Mid-morning sun (May 7, 2005) highlights the new, bright green birch leaves.
is noisy with many song birds -- robins, chickadees, juncos and maybe
Lichens drape from dead spruce branches, swaying in the breeze, creating
a spectacular, living fractal pattern.
images from the forest, May 8, 2005 (2005-05-09
Watermelon Berry (also called Twisted Stalk, latin: Streptopus amplexifolius)
is a member of the Lily family.
lichen (cladonia) and mosses.
The fern presents
an interesting picture of complexity, and seeming impossibility. its fronds
are packed tightly in the 'fiddlehead' and it unrolls itself in several
Equisetum, also called Horsetail,
early in it's growth before the branches get their full length.
had woven a very large and seemingly messy, but thorough, web anchored
by rose bushes. Several insects were lodged in the deadly and nearly invisible
These photos were taken at about latitude 61, Alaska, in a mixed birch
and spruce forest on 5/8/2005.
Afternoon Walk, May 9, 2005 (2005-05-09 17:55:36)
Walking through the forest
is really like being inside a large living organism., especially in Spring.
It is a busy, buzzing place. (Actually no mosquitos this afternoon.) Growing
plants clearly have some powerful physics...
Equisetum that speared through and lifted up one of last summer's leafs.
Even the leaf has a fascinating texture, somewhere between leather and
a 3-D 'skin.'
Fairy slipper - texture, color, shape and pattern.
The fern has
unfurled slightly since yesterday, with the fronds that will emerge becoming
Ok, mating stink bugs. From eye level they looked like a piece of leaf
on another leaf, you actually have to bend down close and look at the
odd bits of leaf and stick to see whether they are what they appear to
The watermelonberry is not to be outdone by the equisetum for sheer determination
to grow, no matter what.
And as part of the spring chronology of this wood I have to include the
first wood fern that I've seen. These are small low growing ferns that,
in a month or so, will carpet much of the ground beneath the trees. As
they emerge though it is as single stems, spread out, and understated.
Woods Update May 10, 2005 (2005-05-10 22:39:19)
The fern continues
to unroll itself.
This looks like a cottonwood catkin. It's about 3 times life size.
The unusual thing is that I discovered it dangling from a wild rose stem
in the forest, not near the edge of the forest. I looked up and around
at all the trees, all were birch trees, no cottonwoods nearby. However,
we get hellacious winds here so it's conceivable that this catkin
could have traveled some distance. Anyway, there are several interesting
things about it -- what appear to be seeds are purple, there are flat
plate like structures with threads dangling off them that the seeds are
attached to, and all of it seems to be attached in a spiral pattern. I've
seen numerous instances of the alien looking 'plates' stuck in
spider webs and found myself wondering what kind of carcass it could possibly
Woods May 11, 2005 (2005-05-11 22:48:18)
Bits and pieces: today's forest photos are the fern, a web and a stink bug.
Notice the curl at the end of the emerging fern
frond which mirrors the arc of the stem, also the first leaves are perfectly
formed and will replicate down the length of the frond.
The stink bug has a metallic looking shell with a geometric pattern.
Anyone have any idea what this web is all about? It appears that there's
an insect trapped (wrapped?) in what seems to be an excessive amount of
silk, and there was only a very tiny spider near the bottom of the web.
I will check on it tomorrow and see if anything has changed.
Woods - fern and spider update (5/12/05) (2005-05-12
The weather has turned crummier. All afternoon the air was laden with
a glacial silt haze thanks to the Knik Wind blowing out of the south at
about 20 mph...
Here, over 10 miles from the Knik River, it seems more breezy than windy
but the extremely fine airborne silt is clearly visible as a light haze.
It's overcast and threatening rain, which would improve the air quality
Now the update from yesterday: the fern and the unknown inhabitant of
the messy web.
I realized the 'web' - messy as it is - was conical and managed, despite
the breezy conditions, to get a photo looking into the bottom of it. The
insect inside the conical structure is a spider and either the back or
front end of it is visible along with some legs. Anyone want to contribute
any ideas on this?
The fern is continuing to burst out of it's spiral casing and with spiral
replication patterns -- see the spiral shape of the fern leaf in the upper
left. The unrolling 'fiddlehead' of this fern is about 2 inches across.
Once it is finished unfurling it will be many, many times that size.
Forest May 13, 2005 (2005-05-13 23:26:36)
Winnie the Pooh had the hundred acre wood. I have a four acre wood as
well as access to several public ‘woods’ which may be every bit as fascinating
as Pooh’s wood, if you look closely and have a little imagination...
Ben and I ran the trail between Crevasse Moraine and Long Lake today.
There is still mud in places which we skirted as much as possible while
still staying on the trail. The entire trail is through the woods, primarily
birch and cottonwood with some aspen and black spruce. We spent awhile
speculating on why the leaves seem to be so surprisingly green, a level
of green that you just don’t see in regular life. The mall, the store,
any other public places I can think, are drab compared to the northern
forest's luscious green. The leaves are approaching full summer size but
still have the fresh, bright spring color. Ben speculated whether vibrant
green had something to do with production of chlorophyll this far north.
I wondered whether it could be the way sunlight travels through the atmosphere
at this latitude. But, indisputably, here in the spring the leaves are
greener than other places. As we ran a section east of the landfill we
heard gulls squawking and then what sounded like gurgling water, high
in a tree. A raven? Last year when I ran this same piece of trail I invariably
saw a raven fly overhead, above the tall trees, speaking – in the language
of the bamboo wind chimes. Although it may sound dull to run through the
over five miles, not so. The trail crosses many moraines which means hills,
corners and a constantly changing perspective, and the steeper hills provide
an excuse to walk. We startled a spruce hen who flew into a spruce tree
(of course) next to the trail and watched us pass by. It was a gray day,
temperature in the low 50’s and the wind hadn’t come up yet so the air
quality was good.
Afternoon 5/14/05 (2005-05-15 01:39:19)
The Wood Violet (Viola renifolia) bloomed second, after the Fairy Slippers.
It is so tiny and low growing, barely 3 inches high, that it’s hard to
identify as any more than white specks without putting your face down
at trail level...
To photograph the violet I lay on my stomach on the trail, elbowing aside
a prickly rose stem, and balancing the camera on top of my hand which
was flat on the trail.
Notice that as the fern unrolls, the spiral pattern is replicated (see
Notice the strategically planned wrinkles of this watermelon berry.
Insects are abundant—at least I’ve positively identified spiders, stink
bugs, a lady beetle type bug – all alive – and a dead lacewing, not to
mention the very much alive mosquitoes.
A spider on her web holds a lacewing. Her legs are strangely translucent
and hairy. The second photo of the spider was taken looking up from beneath
Spider on web with captured lacewing (view 2).
Stink bug. Notice the colors and geometry of its shell.
Some spiders make places to hide by 'stitching' leaf edges together.
This lady beetle's shell has a geometric pattern of spots.
Some things you see in the woods are fascinating just because they seem
so unusual. This pupa is attached to what's left of a prickly rose stem
by an abundance of spider silk.
Movement is also part of the forest scene--birds in flight, insects walking
or flying, breezes rustle leaves or wind pushes branches around. This
photo, zoomed in on strands of spider silk, shows vibration due to wind
or some other nearby pressure that caused the twigs to move.
The wood ferns are at all stages – from barely emerged to practically
mature. These are different from the fiddlehead type ferns and clearly
go through the stages of growth much quicker.
Woods at Sunset, May 16, 2005 (2005-05-16 23:28:24)
About 9:30 the sun slips behind the ridge northwest of the woods...
For a few moments the leaves near the tree tops are brightly lit before
they succumb to a shadowless state. Dusk. Not brightly lit and not dark.
There’s a different ambiance to the light at dusk compared to a cloudy
day. Perhaps light with color still seeps into the forest
from the brightness along the northern horizon. There’s a quietness, too.
Most of the birds have settled down for the night, except for the occasional
junco, and automobile noise has diminished. Dusk, however, is when the
mosquitoes emerge from their day time hiding places. This briefest of
spring seasons is strange this year. The cottonwoods are already taking
on shades of dark summer green and yet, so far, mosquito repellant has
Photo taken with an Olympus E-10, on a tripod, at F-2.0 and 1/13 seconds.
Woods walk, 5/18/05 (2005-05-18 23:23:11)
Plants that have progressed to blooming are the Highbush Cranberry, Mertensia
(also called Chiming Bells), Starflower (Trientalis borealis),
and Baneberry (Actaea rubra).
The Starflower (Trientalis borealis) is very tiny, only a few inches
high. Each plant has one elegant white flower and forms part of the complexity
of the low growing plant community on the forest floor. (See
photo from 1999.)
Baneberry is a poisonous plant that has understated flowers and by mid-summer
spectacular spikes of plastic-looking berries that may be either red or
white. Emerging from the soil, the baneberry
sends up smooth purpleish stalks. Leaves followed by flowers develop at
the top of the stalks, when the stalks are about 18 inches high.
Baneberry (Actaea rubra) flowers, blooming 5/18/05. Poisonous.
Close-up of Baneberry leaves.
Chiming Bells (Mertensia) will have a lot of hanging small blue
bell shaped flowers. (See
photo from 1999.) As the blossoms open and are still immature they
are a pink color which is less visible to pollen collecting insects. Mature
blossoms become blue which is a color that insects generally see better
and thus they don't waste valuable energy visiting immature flowers but
go directly to those that are most likely to have pollen.
Equisetum or Horsetail. Notice how the 'branches' have elongated
since May 8th.
The fern is still unfurling at the top and has lengthened to nearly 30
inches high. The lower branches along this stem are becoming fully formed,
notice that the tip is still uncurling and the leaves are still elongating.
Spiders, a Caterpillar and a Hummingbird
moth (5/19/05) (2005-05-20
Mid-afternoon, warm and sunny, near Palmer, Alaska, May 19, 2005. Sunny
warmth and energetic insects pervaded the late afternoon forest. As I
walked and photographed, I had to keep swatting at mosquitoes, part of
a small, fast and hungry new hatching.
Although the green caterpillar
is well camouflaged against the green of the Watermelonberry leaf, the
holes that it chews are a dead giveaway to look closer. Initially I thought
the elongated lump was part of the stem, but upon closer inspection it
turned out to be walking across the leaf. Quite plump, the caterpillar
had devoured sections of leaf, leaving empty space where the leaf should
have been. An insect, dead now, was stuck in a bit of spider silk attached
to the edge of one of the holes. It seems that just yesterday all the
Watermelonberry leaves were perfect and unblemished. Now, on closer inspection,
I see many already show the scars of chomping insects. I expect this caterpillar
will become a moth, if it survives the hungry predators.
Yes, these sheetweb spiders are mating. Walking through the woods I noticed
a two-layer spider web. It had enough mass (if spider
silk can be said to have mass) to catch the afternoon sun. I noticed one
spider and then a second. They seemed very tiny, but bending close and
zooming the camera lens in on them I could see them moving around, coming
together, coupling, then one of the spiders would drop down to the lower
level of the web. In a minute or so they’d come back together. This repeated
several times and no one was eaten.
Hummingbird Clearwing Moth (Hemaris thysbe)
The garden is, basically, at the edge of the forest. The Rose Tree of
China blossoms had not opened enough for this Hummingbird Clearwing Hawk
Moth so he ended up methodically
visiting several clumps of Arabis. On May 23, 2002, I photographed a Hummingbird
Clearwing Moth feeding on the Bergenia. More
about Hummingbird Clearwing Hawk Moths.
More notes from the forest (5/20/05) (2005-05-20
Highbush Cranberry (Viburnum edule) is an understated shrub that
grows in the forest
understory. It’s a lanky bush about 30 inches high with dark green lobed
leaves with serrated edges and very tiny, understated flowers. However,
when magnified the flowers actually start as small pink tinged ball-shaped
blossoms, opening into a cluster of tiny bright white blooms. I spotted
the first Highbush cranberry blooms two days ago (5/18/05).
Prickly rose (Rosa acicularis) is a shrub with dark red spiny stems and
pale green leaves. It’s a haven for spiders and their webs. The late afternoon
sun filters through the forest canopy obliquely, backlighting countless
shimmering strands and masses of spider silk attached to and between Prickly
roses. The rose buds are tiny, less than an inch high and already these
are becoming stretched and grooved.
The forest floor. It seems to me like each ‘forest’ has its own character.
There’s a forest south of Palmer which is primarily black spruce and has
very little vegetation beneath the trees. Pine forests in the Pacific
Northwest have virtually no vegetative understory, just a thick layer
of dried pine needles. The forest that this blog thread is devoted to
has thick soil and a rich and complex plant community beneath the trees.
Like the subtle differences between micro-climates, the plant communities
vary even in this small area. Near the south edge of this forest a low
ridge runs in an east-west direction. On the south side of the ridge there
are many low shrub type plants. The north side is more open because many
aged birch trees have blown over and some of the tall black spruce died
in the spruce beetle infestation several years ago; in this area more
grasses grow in the mix of meadow plants and shrubs such as Highbush cranberry
and Wild currant. A second smaller ridge is north of and parallel to the
first ridge. The birch trees are younger and denser north of this ridge
and the underlying plant community is mostly Equisetum (Horsetail) in
early spring which is then supplanted by the low growing wood fern and
wildflowers. This time of year, before most of the flowering plants have
reached their full height, the forest floor is a variegated carpet of
green with the overall effect of a highly textured, complex green underscape.
As summer progresses the height of these plants will become less uniform
and the visual impact of the tiniest plants will be reduced as tall and
large leafed plants such as Cow parsnip and Fireweed mature.
And yes I forgot the bug spray and the mosquitoes were bitingly fierce.
Lichens after the Rain (5/21/05) (2005-05-21
Rain, dense and soaking, started last night and lasted through this afternoon.
The rain is good for the land which is dry after so many warm, sunny days.
The rain also exacerbated the mosquito situation – I remembered the bug
spray and it didn’t help much. Blood thirsty whining insects attacked
any exposed skin. Stepping into the moisture filled woods after a rain
and, even though the temperature is only in the 50’s (F), there’s a humid
freshness that suggests the idea of lingering and enjoying the quietness
of the forest, except for the humming hordes of mosquitoes and the need
to keep moving and whacking them before they bite...
Leaves with upturned edges or grooves and channels capture raindrops which
run together, the molecules connecting and surface cohesion holding them
in big shimmering droplets until scattered by the wind or evaporated.
And one small petal slipped out of a Prickly rose bud.
Lichens. During dry weather the color fades from the Lobaria, a lobed
leaf lichen, and it becomes desiccated and crispy. After a few hours of
rain though it transforms to a pliable green. Lobaria is not actually
a plant but rather it’s a symbiotic partnership between fungi and green
algae. The algae does the photosynthesis, making food that both it and
the fungus consume. The fungus wraps its fungal threads around the algae,
providing structural support and collecting water from rain or airborne
moisture which it also makes available to the algae.
Monks Hood and Cladonia
Other lichens like the Cladonia (a club lichen) are a combination of fungus
Perhaps because of their unusual make-up, lichens grow differently from
plants, exhibiting decidedly fractal growth patterns. Monks Hood or Lobaria
have leaves that seem to be copies of leaves, attached to trees or stumps,
creating a replicating biological pattern. The second generation of tiny
‘club’ shaped branches on the Cladonia protrude from the top of the parent,
a miniature copy of the first generation, more like a fantastic plant
from the literary realm than a biological reality.
Light lichen page. Wikipedia lichen
insects and caterpillars (5/23/05) (2005-05-23
Things interest me about the natural environment and the woods: the ecosystem
and the structure of things, from a functional as well as aesthetic standpoint.
The Watermelonberry, for instance, grows oddly, unfolding more like a
fern than a plant. Its stems look like pipes, which in fact they are in
a way since water and nutrients travel through the stems to the rest of
the plant. And the leaves are built on parallel lines rather than a network
One Watermelonberry plant had the top of it’s buds cut off, eaten I assume.
See 5/19/05 post: caterpillar eating Watermelonberry.
As an ecosystem, the woods teem with insects. Most noticeable are the
hordes of mosquitoes. This afternoon, with rain threatening and a periodic
rumble of thunder from near the Talkeetnas, I walked through a whiny mosquito
hum. I remembered the bug spray (necessary but sometimes of questionable
efficacy) and so walked slowly, hoping the DEET would work and pretending
I was invisible to the mosquitoes. Through the whine I thought about whether
these might be mostly male mosquitoes that consume plant juices and nectars,
rather than the blood thirsty females. This is a long post with quite
a few pictures so I guess the strategy worked.
I saw a number of wasp-like flying insects. I think this one might be
a digger wasp (Pemphredon sp.). It was walking across Equisetum branches.
Wikipedia: digger wasp
And I wonder if this is insect is maybe a spider hunting wasp (Pompilidae
family) or perhaps another digger wasp. I can imagine spider hunting wasps
inhabiting these woods since there are many, many spiders. On a sunny
afternoon countless spider silk strands shimmer, attached to Highbush
cranberry, Prickly rose and other low growing plants. I’m pretty sure
it’s a wasp, anyway. It was walking across Prickly rose leaves, up the
stem, and across the next set of leaves, the whole time waving it’s antenna
This moth was hanging on an Equisetum, an uncamouflaged mottled black
and white against a totally green background .
I won’t bore you with the same spiders that I’ve included in previous
posts, but this one is different. Its residence is the intersection of
a couple of leaves. It looks like it’s taking care of something and it
has a strange black and white pattern.
Eating. Probably don’t want to dwell too long on the plant eating insects
and their capacity for destruction. However, considering the insects as
being within the eco-realm of the forest, I assume each has a place and
a function. It looks to me like there are enough cow parsnip leaves and
if some are pretty much destroyed, well that’s probably ok…
Some years ago nettles showed up in a couple of disturbed places near
the edge of the woods. Coincidentally, some years later we noticed Red
Admiral butterflies, which happen to feed on nettles. This is the first
hatch of caterpillars I’ve seen this year on the nettles. I hope they
are butterfly and not moth caterpillars.
The first blooming prickly roses in 2005 are at the southern edge of the
The exercise of leaves
– thinking about forest themes (2005-05-26 00:12:57)
Stand back and look at the forest as if peering through a wide angle lens.
It is shades of green, blended together. Step in and look closely and
it is many shades of green, many shapes and textures, heights and growth
habits, territories and preferences.
to plant names
Many plant communities reside within a forest. The obvious is the community
of trees—they’re big and easy to see and name. Five full sized trees grow
here – black and white spruce, birch, and cottonwood. Aspen is a newer
arrival near the edge of the forest. Smaller trees include willow and
alder, also easily identifiable.
But the ground hugging plants are more difficult to name. It’s easiest
to identify them when they’re flowering. The flowers present more obvious
visual clues than just leaf and growth characteristics. However, this
time of year few plants are flowering, and the clues as to their identity
reside with the unique shape, texture, vein pattern and even hairiness
of their leaves.
Consider individual plants or a small section of the forest floor that
contains a subset of the forest plant community. Somehow these plants
have worked out spacing and distance from their neighbors. Is this plant
Consider the forest as if it were a musical theme. The music of forest
plants. A two square foot piece of ground in the forest is composed of
layers. Underneath everything are the dead leaves and detritus from last
summer, slowly decomposing into forest mulch. Plants sprout from it, possibly
where their ancestors grew or where seeds landed.
Equisetum is a theme, dominating an area of forest early in the spring
followed by masses of wood fern that emerge as thin, dark green curled
stalks that then unroll and unfold into a large community of horizontal
bright green, each fern plant seemingly identical to its neighbor. Starflower,
wintergreen, twinflower and dogwood inhabit thin strips of ground. Single
plants are an accent. A geranium may grow near a clustering of starflower
and fern or some distance away with dogwood and Watermelonberry.
to plant names
to plant names
Woodland plants (2005-05-27 00:33:48)
I've added a plant
key to the woodland plant photographs in the May 26th post: The exercise
of leaves – thinking about forest themes.
mostly bugs (5/28/05) (2005-05-29 18:36:43)
Yesterday the woods offered respite from the gusty breezes and dust-laden
air, where mosquitoes swarmed fiercely and many other insects went about
their business. I'll spare you the photo of the aphid encrusted rosebud
and I wasn't fast enough to get a photo of a butterfly but here are the
rest of them.
Stinkbug on Mertensia (Bluebells).
Soldier fly dragging an apparently dead soldier fly.
Beetle at the end of the universe?
And the non-bug pic is a Dwarf Dogwood (Cornus canadensis).
Forest plants: blooming or nearly blooming (6/2/05)
Dwarf Dogwood (Cornus canadensis) See
Wild Geranium or Cranesbill
Inside the woods
Cranesbill nearly flowering
Biting mosquito swarm
Watermelon Berry (Streptopus amplexifolius)
The Watermelon Berry flower is tiny and delicate. It doesn't call attention
to itself like other more flamboyant flowering plants you'll find in the
After the lightning strike
It's now several days after the lightning strike. We've been troubleshooting
phone lines, Internet and antenna connections and are starting to get
things working. As we pieced the evidence together Friday night, with
no power and no (land line) telephones we saw that the wire holding the
(empty) bird feeders between two birch trees was broken.
One bird feeder lay on the ground, all that remained of the other was
little pieces of wood and broken Plexiglas scattered across the lawn in
a debris field of 50 feet or so in diameter. The plastic coated wire the
feeders hung from was burned and broken; one tree was visibly scorched
with a section of bark peeled back and holes, apparently created by a
steam explosion, emanated from the base of the trees.
I'm including this in the woods section since we live with nature and
sometimes it is surprisingly powerful. The electrical field generated
by this lightning strike entered the TV antenna and the telephone wires,
destroying phone jacks, phone wire, and electronics.
birdfeeder pieces scattered after the lightning strike
plastic coated wire melted and burned by lightning
steam holes at base of trees, after lightning strike
Wild Geranium (6/8/05) (2005-06-09 09:43:39)
Blooms have opened on the first few wild geraniums inside the woods. Did
I mention the mosquitoes? I took this photo at about 10PM June 8th. Used
a tripod and neglected the bug dope so it was an exercise in concentration,
inside the forest and surrounded by a whining swarm of mosquitoes. The
wild geranium will bloom for a while but I think this is really early.
record from 1999.)
Wild Geranium or Cranesbill (Geranium erianthum)
woods brief (6/9/05) (2005-06-09 23:01:35)
The character of the forest is going through its early summer transformation.
Tiny plants remain in a few select locations but the large plants are
growing rapidly, demanding that they be noticed. Fireweed is pushing through
the 3 foot mark and cow parsnips are easily at 4 feet and developing thick,
furry buds. Wild roses, three to four feet high, cluster along several
sections of trail, giving the woods the appearance of a garden. Insects
are moving through their life cycle--I saw the first spiders with egg
sacks that I've seen this year. And walking along what is a trail during
the other three seasons becomes a much more tactile experience since large
plants (cow parsnip, monkshood, larkspur, Watermelon berry, baneberry
to name a few) crowd the trail.
Fireweed (Epilobium angustifolium)
Spider with egg sack, rolling (or stitching?) leaf.
Meadow rue (Thalictrum dasycarpum)
after the rain (6/11/05) (2005-06-11 18:15:25)
Yesterday about noon a few innocent looking puffy clouds floated in front
of the Talkeetna Mountains in an otherwise clear blue sky. A few hours
later a front moved through, the sky became like slate unleashing a heavy,
steady rain which continued through the night and into this morning. Being
Saturdy, June 11, it's the start of the Colony Days celebration in Palmer
which includes a parade. Amazingly, and right on cue, the rain stopped
and the sun came out. What a day for a parade. I digress, though. In the
woods, after the rain, water droplets glisten like an ephermeral rounded
diamond (if there could be such a thing), lined up neatly across the ferns
and along the veins of the Watermelon berry leaves.
The weight of the water pushed the equisetum, which have developed into
a mass of long stringy 'leaves', across the trail so that walking was
like walking through water.
And insects were gradually coming out of whatever places they go during
a prolonged rain (except of course the mosquitoes which seem to appear
immediately, the very instant the rain stops).
In the woods you might see the most amazing things,
like a ball of baby spiders... (6/27/05) (2005-06-27 19:24:55)
The cottonwood trees are universally disliked, the power company dislikes
their fast growth; gardeners especially dislike the way the female cottonwoods
drop masses of unsightly fluff every summer; gardeners dislike how even
one adjacent cottonwood will suck the moisture right out of the soil.
I mentioned to my sister that, according to Wikipedia, favored food of
Swallowtail caterpillars includes cottonwood, aspen and willow. She said,
“send some over to our cottonwoods." In the woods the cottonwood fluff
doesn't seem to make any difference to anyone, and it seems that the forest
plant community has adapted to the voracious water needs of these fast
In the past week a number of new flowers have emerged, these include Pink
Wintergreen (Pyrola asarifolia), Twin Flower (Linnaea borealis)
and Cow Parsnip (Heracleum lanatum). Larkspur, Monkshood, Fireweed
and Wild Celery will probably bloom within the next week or so.
Pink Wintergreen (Pyrola asarifolia)
Twin Flower (Linnaea borealis)
Cow Parsnip (Heracleum lanatum) -- Notice the fractal pattern in
the flowers, each level of stems repeating at a smaller scale, demonstrating
expertise in packing a space with tiny flowers. Cow Parsnip is also sometimes
referred to by its Russian name, "pushki" (pronounced poosh-kee). It's
a good idea to wear a long sleeved shirt and long pants when bushwhacking
through pushki since it can cause itching and rashes, and might make some
people more sensitive to sunburn.
Baneberry (Actaea rubra) which is highly poisnonous, is
developing berries which have become habitat for some sort of mottled
And the spiders' hard work is paying off. Along the trail this afternoon
I counted 5 hatches like this one.
Although the Tiger Swallowtail butterflies seem to prefer the openness
and brightly colored flowers of the garden, this one was deep in the woods,
working its way through the grass and other thick vegetation to search
out the Bluebells (Mertensia).
Woods Walk Update (7/31/05) (2005-08-12 09:54:50)
The summer of 2005 will be remembered as unusual--an unusually early and
warm spring, an unheardof number of electrical storms lasting from May
through late July, and warmer than usual days. On my walk through the
woods July 31st I saw plants that seemed like they were at a mid-August
growth stage rather than a mere end-of-July stage. The frequent rains
and warmth had been a boon to fungal growth and insects have continued
to chomp and gnaw their way through various plants. I saw fungi that were
either only vaguely familiar or totally unfamiliar to me. I don't know
what they're called, thus the images are labeled as 'unidentified.' Photos
of some of my observations are below.
cow parsnip leaf
Leaf Miner tracks
damaged fireweed leaf
Amanita mushroom (poisonous)
unidentified mushroom with rainwater in center
unidentified fungus and insect
unidentified (and oddly shaped) fungus
unidentified mushrooms in late afternoon sunlight
closeup of previous image
woods (9/16/05) (2005-09-18 22:59:50)
Leaves turned yellow, suddenly, overnight. Even though it's the middle
of September there hasn't been much of a frost yet, barely cold enough
to freeze the cucumbers and some outdoor tomatoes. The birch and cottonwoods
seem to be sensitive to day length as much as temperature so they are
shutting down for the year.
A wild frenzy of Autumn color throughout the forest.
Autumn (9/26/05) (2005-09-27 00:14:14)
Gradually the leaves are being stripped off trees, by the wind and rain.
Cottonwoods still holding onto some leaves. Cirrus clouds moving through,
between storms, apparently.
The texture of fall.
Sun diamonds behind fireweed stalks, between gusts of wind.
water table rising - the fish tail (10/23/2005)
Remember how it was full of water in the early '90s (when some of you
guys were little kids) then it dried out for years... and last August
at Ruth's party there was a fire and people toasted marshmallows and made
s'mores? Here's a picture of the 'fish tail' today.
2006 Alaska blog archives ~ Nature & Literature Blog