Friday, August 23, 2019

Wierd Wild Neighbors: Chocolate-tipped Devil's Claw

Welcome back to the blog for day two of Weird Wild Neighbors! The more we grow in our understanding of the weird wildlife that shares this good earth with us the better equipped we will be to treat our wild neighbors with respect and love.

Yesterday afternoon Erin found something growing in the back yard (we live in Wellsboro, PA) that we both found extremely strange. There were three relatively long and skinny tubular shaped things that had popped up among the green grass. Each was white at the base fading to red at the tapered end and each one was coated near the tip with a brown chocolatey-looking substance. Make no mistake; these are not the chocolate-dipped-pretzel-rods your grandmother made for Easter last year.

There were a couple of things that most anyone might take note of rather quickly; there were small flies flying around that melted-chocolate looking slime and the slime itself put off an odor that smelled like musty garbage...a long way off from the romantic poetry with which John Muir describes the American dipper (see blog post from August 20th).

The reason for the odor is that flies aid in the dispersal of spores for this particular species of mushroom. If you want flies to help with the dispersal of your spores first thing's first; you've got to attract the flies. The musty garbage odor put off by the chocolatey slime smells much like a flies typical meal so of course they are attracted to it! As butterflies aid in flower pollination, flies aid in the dispersal of spores for the chocolate-dipped devil's claw. There seem to be some very interesting ecological relationships with this particularly putrid smelling phallic looking fungus.

Yesterday it was the flies, and today, as the "chocolate-tipped devil's claw" as we have taken to calling it, begins to deteriorate, ants and slugs seem to have a sweet tooth for the red and white stalks. 

Before finding out that this was a type of stinkhorn mushroom I made up a name for it, calling it "chocolate-tipped devil's claw." What can I say, it seemed appropriate. The closest I can come to an identification (and I do this tentatively because I'm no mushroom expert) is that it may be the mushroom that apparently has no common name but whose Latin name is Mutinus ravenelii.

If I have temporarily ruined your appetite for chocolate I sincerely apologize. And if you're asking the question, "for what purpose was this made??" I would refer to John Muir's reflection on poison ivy about which he says, "...first of all it might have been made for itself." And then there's the first chapter of the book of Genesis (which is not a history book, but certainly is a book of theological and relational truth) that expresses the theme that when God looked upon all that God had made as well as upon each individual, "God saw that it was good." There is something intrinsically good about all living things, even if we find it difficult or impossible to perceive with our limited human senses, even that weird and smelly chocolate-tipped devil's claw mushroom!

The reference guide I used for the mushroom related information in this post is as follows:

(Mushrooms of the Northeastern United States and Eastern Canada. Timothy J. Baroni. Timber Press, Inc.; Portland, Oregon, 2017. Page 507)

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Weird Wild Neighbors: Spiny Oak-slug

It's been about three years now since I've been highly intentional about my decision to live into community with all that has life by following the teaching and example of Jesus who tells us that one of the most important things is to love our neighbors as ourselves. I want to live this way with my fellow human neighbors as well as with my non-human neighbors (aka my 'wild neighbors'). I know that if I want to love my neighbors then first thing's first; I've got to take time getting to know and understand them.

One thing I'm learning along this journey is that as I give of my time and attention to get to know our many and varied wild neighbors, from time to time, things get weird; I mean like other-worldly weird! It's true; there is no need to travel to distant galaxies or watch science-fiction films to experience weird. There is enough weird wildlife on this good earth we call home to keep us occupied with weird. Heck, If I'm fascinated by weird, there's more than enough weird to keep me occupied in my home state of Pennsylvania!

That is why, over the course of the next week I'll be showcasing a different wild neighbor who expresses characteristics or behaviors that might seem totally weird to us.

As I welcome you into this week of Weird Wild Neighbors I'm gonna kick things off with a caterpillar that I happened upon along the trail this morning that made me do a double-take.

As rain clouds moved in like a blanket bringing with it a very welcome cool breeze my friend Ken and I were birding. As we traversed the Moccasin Trail at the West end of Cowanesque Lake we noticed a very peculiar looking creature on the underside of a milkweed leaf.

I introduce to you the SPINY OAK-SLUG.  It is not a slug; it is actually a caterpillar, belonging to the order Lepidoptera (which includes caterpillars/butterflies/moths). Within the order Lepidoptera the spiny oak-slug belongs to the family called Slug Caterpillars (Limacodidae).

Part of the reason it is called a slug caterpillar is because it seems to move like a slug; as I watched it move it seemed to glide across the surface of the leaf in a way that was very different than the locomotion of other "normal" caterpillars. The spiny oak-slug eats a wide variety of plants found in deciduous forests and forest edges and it can most reliably be found hanging out on the undersides of deciduous leaves.

Notice that its covered in many tiny spines. These spines have the ability to temporarily irritate the skin of would-be predators much like when our skin brushes against the plant that is called nettles. The bright red and yellow coloration of this little fellow warns birds and other creatures that might like to make a meal of it that they might want to think twice about that decision. That being said, I wonder how a prolific predator of caterpillars like a black-billed cuckoo would handle the spiny oak-caterpillar.

While the larval caterpillar is brightly colored, the moth that it will become is very unassuming (small and creamy brown with a tiny spot of green on the wing).

My first thought upon seeing the spiny oak-slug was, "Wow! This looks like something out of a Dr. Seuss book! But it's even better because this is real life!"

I hope you've enjoyed the Weird Wild Neighbor for today on the blog... the spiny oak-slug...but its not a slug, its a caterpillar...WEIRD!

The information about the life history of the spiny oak-slug was obtained from this following field guide:

Caterpillars of Eastern North America: Princeton Field Guides. Daniel L. Wagner. Princeton University Press; Princeton NJ, 2005. Page 49.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Blue jay’s Sermon

As I walk through town after spending the first half of this day working to prepare Sunday’s sermon, I realize that the gentle wind, warm summer rain, and call of the blue Jay from atop the tall pine near the intersection of Waln and Walnut Street speak more profoundly of Divine creative love than I ever could from the pulpit. 

Why do you think every Sunday I long to take the church into the beauty of wild spaces to worship there?

This is why.

Let your voices be heard wind, rain, beautiful iridescent jay! Inspire the hearts of many until the whole world is rejoicing!

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

John Muir reflects on The Dipper

As I read John Muir's reflection on his observations of the American dipper during his adventures in the Sierra Mountains of California in the year 1869, I think that I would like to take the time to observe some wild neighbor so intensely that I might be able to tap into its unique beauty with words in a similar manner to what Muir achieves here with his.

"June 29.- I have been making the acquaintance of a very interesting little bird that flits about the falls and rapids of the main branches of the river. It is not a water-bird in structure, though it gets its living in the water, and never leaves the streams. It is not web-footed, yet it dives fearlessly into deep swirling rapids, evidently to feed at the bottom, using its wings to swim with under water just as ducks and loons do. Sometimes it wades about in shallow places, thrusting its head under from time to time in a jerking, nodding, frisky way that is sure to attract attention. It is about the size of a robin, has short crisp wings serviceable for flying either in water or air, and a tail of moderate size slanted upward, giving it, with its nodding, bobbing manners, a wrennish look. Its color is plain bluish ash, with a tinge of brown on the head and shoulders. It flies from fall to fall, rapid to rapid, with a solid whir of wing-beats like those of a quail, follows the windings of the stream, and usually alights on some rock jutting up out of the current, or on some stranded snag, or rarely on the dry limb of an overhanging tree, perching like regular tree birds when it suits its convenience. It has the oddest, daintiest mincing manners imaginable; and the little fellow can sing too, a sweet thrushy, fluty song, rather low, not the least boisterous, and much less keen and accentuated than from its vigorous briskness one would be led to look for. What a romantic life this little bird leads on the most beautiful portions of the streams, in a genial climate with shade and cool water and spray to temper the summer heat. No wonder it is a fine singer, considering the stream songs it hears day and night. Every breath the little poet draws is part of a song, for all the air about the rapids and falls is beaten into music, and its first lessons must begin before it is born by the thrilling and quivering of the eggs in unison with the tones of the falls. I have not yet found its nest, but it must be near the streams, for it never leaves them." (John Muir. My First Summer in the Sierra. Dover Publications, Inc. Mineola, NY 2004. Pg. 36)

(an American dipper that I photographed in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming in July of 2017)

Monday, August 19, 2019

Gift of a Tree

At a recent Church Council meeting a member of the Trustees suggested the removal of the weeping cherry tree that's located on the front lawn of the church building. I said to the Church Council, "You know how I feel about cutting down healthy trees. I'll abstain from the vote and let you all decide." I also recall saying, "If you disagree with your pastor (me) on this, I will still love you."

A motion was made, it was seconded, and with a majority vote the tree's fate was sealed.

But that was not the end of the story. About one week later I was to visit with one of the members of Church Council. When I dropped by his house he handed me an envelope with a card in it. When I opened it here is what I found:

On the front of the card was a quote by John Muir that read, "The clearest way to into the universe is through a forest wilderness."

On the inside of the card it read, "Pastor Rich, In your honor a tree is being planted in a National Forest. Since I recommended removing the tree in front of the church I've made a donation to the Arbor Day Foundation."

I remained faithful to my convictions to live into community with all that has life in Jesus' name; and while initially I did not get what I wanted, by the grace of God working through the kindness of that member of Church Council who felt bad about recommending the tree's removal something even better happened!

Remain faithful to your convictions; and even if you don’t get what you want, by the grace of God working through the kindness of others something even better might happen. All things are possible with God.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Chipmunk in the Garden

Planting a garden has many benefits. For us, some of them are as follows:

-Enjoying fresh vegetables
-Sharing some with our neighbors
-Letting our dog Ivy enjoy the fresh carrots and sugar snap peas that she loves so much
-Allowing our wild neighbors to partake in some as well.

Two young mammals have recently been frequenting our garden in close proximity to each other. The young eastern cottontail rabbit has been enjoying our bush beans, and that's okay because we like the peas better anyway; and since all we have growing is vegetables we're guessing that the young eastern chipmunk is probably eating insects, snails, and slugs that it finds among the plants.

Planting and managing a garden plot is one more way for us to live into community with our local wildlife, and even to find ways to share the love of Jesus with them.

How important is it for you to help your local wildlife to thrive and in doing so share the love of Jesus with them?

Saturday, August 17, 2019

...Go to the Pine

I recall a quote from the 17th century Japanese Haiku poet named Matsuo Basho. He writes:

“If you want to know the Pine go to the Pine.” 

This simple phrase speaks volumes!

If I possess in my heart a desire to know the pine as well as other wildlife and wild spaces I’ve got to step outdoors, hit the trails, explore the mountains, valleys, marshes, and more. Books, articles, and web sites about wildlife and wild spaces are fantastic; but there is a deeper level of knowing that comes only from experience.

Yes, when we take the time to go and get acquainted with wildlife and wild spaces there is a knowing that happens through the use of all of our faculties; our minds, our hearts, our sight, smell, hearing, feeling, and yes, even our taste buds. 

Speaking from my own experience and resonating with Basho; if you want to know the Eastern hemlock pine tree, go to it. Observe it's structure; take note of the mammals, birds, and insects that frequent its branches; Feel the strength of its trunk and branches; pluck a few fresh needles, smell them, and taste them. What a beautiful tree is the Eastern hemlock!

And anyone who has spent time with wildlife in wild spaces knows that those moments of getting to know the wildlife are also moments of intense self-discovery.

As I sit here at Ives Run Rec Area Campground next to the visitors parking lot, there is a gray squirrel watching me; and I do believe that as I become acquainted with the squirrel, the squirrel has something to teach me.

I can’t tell you how, I only know from experience that this is true. 

I believe it has something to do with the Spirit of God in me recognizing the Spirit of God in another; in my wild neighbor. As the One Spirit of God who is the author of all life reconciles life with life in the knowing in my every experience of intense awareness of my wild neighbors and of myself my heart overflows with thankfulness!

If you want to know...then go. Make no excuses. Go to the pine, go to the scarlet tanager, go to the swamp milkweed, go to the mountains, go to the rivers, go to the marshes...go because the salvation of this good God-given earth depends on it!

Let us take time to know our wild neighbors until there is no more us and them, until we come to know ourselves as one species among many that all together are like a great kaleidoscope of life, and the awareness that none of us can truly be at peace until we all get there together becomes our collective awareness. 

Wierd Wild Neighbors: Chocolate-tipped Devil's Claw

Welcome back to the blog for day two of Weird Wild Neighbors! The more we grow in our understanding of the weird wildlife...