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Creek Running North

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March 21, 2005

Discovering a better network

After deciding I can't stand to look at my monitor for another damn second, I throw daypack and boots in the truck and go out for another short hike. It's only a paltry eight miles, out and back, but just the restorative I needed. (95 so far this year.)

Becky is out hiking all day with friends, and where she is - about forty miles south - it will rain heavy and continuously. I only get a slight spatter, enough to make me pull my shell out of the daypack but not enough to make me turn around. My rain ends within fifteen minutes or so, and the jacket goes back into the pack as soon as it dries.

At the halfway point I sit on the rim of a concrete horse trough, its edges crumbling and stained verdant with the faintest layer of moss. Three alpacas regard me from a field of meter-tall wildflowers. The smallest- a baby - stands on hind feet to watch me, then drops back down, only his ears visible over the radish and mustard.

On my way back to the truck I find a copse of poison oak... well actually, the entire four-mile trail back to the truck is a copse of poison oak. But one small stand along the way is draped with Ramalina menziesii, the lace lichen of the California coast.

Visitors to California mistake Ramalina for the Spanish moss of the southeast, so luxurantly does it blanket the branches of the wind-blown oaks and Douglas firs of the coast. But true Spanish moss is a Tillandsia, that rootless "air plant" portion of the bromeliad (or pineapple) family whose species are sometimes sold in drugstores glued to driftwood or conch shells. And where the structure of Spanish moss is that of thin, ramifying tendrils closely appressed to one another, Ramalina lichen grows as a loose-woven net, like green Irish lace draped over the branches and leaves of fog-belt plants.

Ramalina is a fruticose lichen, meaning that it grows in long branching tubes rather than as crusts or flattened plates. Most of the body of any lichen is made up of fungal filaments, with an inner cortex of symbiotic algae. The algae make food from sunlight, and the fungus distributes the food while providing structural support.

I'm not used to seeing Ramalina this far inland: it's far more common within sight of the ocean, where fog is a daily source of moisture. Here it is sparse, taking advantage of moist spots in canyons under live oaks and big-leaf maples. Alga and fungus work together to weave loop after slow loop of net to seine the breezes for water.

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decorative line of bighorn petroglyphs


I started thinking after the bunny post that you have just about a perfect life... you live with one of the coolest people I know, you have the world's greatest dog, a fluffy bunny and guinea pig, a nice house with a yard to putter around in and just relax in, good weather. This post points out more - you can easily go places and do cool stuff.

It's no friggin fair.

Posted by: Craig at March 21, 2005 05:15 PM
decorative line of bighorn petroglyphs

Thanks for this picture. I grew up in the Southeast and have seen a lot of Spanish Moss. What you are showing here is unmistakably different; however, it is very cool to see a similar habit and environmental niche occupied by an angiosperm on one coast and a lichen on the other. Thanks for sharing.

Posted by: Michlt at March 21, 2005 08:05 PM
decorative line of bighorn petroglyphs

Same for me on the Spanish Moss (of course it's a bromeliad, as Michlt says). That's one fabulous picture. Thanks for posting it.

Posted by: Wayne at March 23, 2005 08:57 AM
decorative line of bighorn petroglyphs