Carla Brennan's Blog

Reflections and Photos from The Big Trip and Beyond . .

2017 Wildflower Photo Bouquet #1

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Here are some highlights from this year’s spring bounty of wildflowers. The most spectacular display has already been posted from the Carrizo Plain superbloom in March 2017. Go to: https://carlabrennan.com/2017/04/02/carrizo-plain-national-monument-march-2017/.

The photos in this post are from much closer to home in Santa Cruz, Santa Clara and San Mateo counties. By now, I know where and approximately when to find specific flowers, although there is some variation year to year. I may not see the same individual, but I am likely to discover an offspring.

BTW, I’ve given up trying to identify which wild iris is which. This area is home to a variety of native and endemic showy irises. Some iris species can vary widely in color, from pale yellow to to deep purple, making identification confusing. And, honestly, I haven’t buckled down to learn the distinguishing characteristics. In the past, I tended to call everything a “Douglas iris” but they could also be a native Fernald’s iris, Central Coast iris, bowltube iris, or one of the invasive non-native species. So now an iris will just be called “iris.”

Many of the flowers and other plants in California are non-natives brought here by the early Spanish explorers, ranchers, farmers and gardeners. Some native species, especially grasses, have been pushes aside, becoming rarer to find. I have indicated which of the plants I’ve photographed are non-native.

I stumbled upon a few flowers new to me this year (or at least I don’t remember them): Elegant Cat’s Ear (mariposa), California Milkwort, Prettyface, White Brodiaea and Yellow Glandweed. And I love that crazy reed with the strange reproductive organs as well as those berries with thorns.

More flower photographs are likely to come. June and the summer months bring a host of additional blooms. However, sadly, the biggest display is probably behind us for this year (except at high elevations!).

Please do not reproduce any photographs without permission. Prints are available for purchase for some photographs. If you are interested, contact Carla at: brennan.carla@gmail.com. You can also find Carla’s photographs, paintings and jewelry on her Etsy site (Stones and Bones): https://www.etsy.com/shop/stonesandbones

This gallery contains 59 photos

Don’t Hurt the Mushrooms!

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I walk through the forest for exercise and the feeling of aliveness in my body, to breathe in the refreshing exhalations of the trees, and to see what might reveal itself to me. After the rains begin in the fall, I also look for mushrooms and related fungi. Hiking in the Pine Flats area of Henry Cowell State Park last November, I wandered down a side trail encouraged by some mushrooms I spotted near the path’s beginning. However, I soon discovered that someone had recently stomped on every mushroom that grew on the side of the trail. The only people I saw were a man and his perhaps 10-year-old son. Were they the mushroom mashers?

Sadly, this is not uncommon.

I recall as a child being with other children who had been told that mushrooms were “bad” and should be destroyed. This was unfathomable and disturbing to me. I suspect this is still being taught. Mushrooms are associated with death and decay. A few are, of course, poisonous and can kill, others cause illness and hallucinations. But these are rare and easy to avoid. Cars kill and houseplants can poison; do we stamp those out? Mycophobia is the fear of fungus and, like all irrational fears, is based on what is perceived as unknown, out of our control and vaguely threatening. But mushrooms and the fungal world are truly our friends; they keep the world in balance.

My grandfather shared his love of mushrooms, teaching his grandchildren how to make spore prints to help with identification. He had books about mushrooms and a collection of his own photographs. Although I like being able to accurately identify mushrooms (and wildflowers and birds, etc.), I am actually most excited by the treasure hunt of finding them. The reward is in the surprise, the beauty and the unearned gift of witnessing an ephemeral wild thing.

I rarely pick mushrooms anymore and usually do so only if I plan to consume it. There are several species that are hard to get wrong and are reliably good to eat. But mostly I leave the prize edibles, the uniquely beautiful mushrooms and the commonplace ones alone, sometimes creating a record of our encounter through photography.

The true living organism of the fungi – the mycelium: all those white threads found throughout healthy soil – are the veins, lungs and nervous system of the forest. (The mushrooms are the fruiting body like an apple on a much larger tree.) There is generous exchange between the trees that create sugars from photosynthesis and the mycelium that transport minerals and fluids. They provide inter-plant communication and distribute the wealth of resources. This intricate web of tiny fungal fibers is so extensive that in a cubic inch of soil there can be eight miles of these cells. It’s called the “Wood Wide Web.” Listen to Radiolab, “From Tree to Shining Tree”
http://www.radiolab.org/story/from-tree-to-shining-tree/

Did you know that fungi are more closely related genetically to animals than plants? Once considered part of the plant world (which is what I was taught in school) they now have their own separate kingdom.
Watch this TED talk, “Six Ways that Mushrooms Can Save the World.”
https://www.ted.com/talks/paul_stamets_on_6_ways_mushrooms_can_save_the_world#t-150788

So please do not harm the mushrooms. If not for the mushroom’s sake in its attempt to reproduce, then for the nature lovers who share these trails with you. Each time a mushroom is spotted, respect its essential role in the forest and its rare appearance like an exquisite wildflower.

All mushroom photographs were taken in the Santa Cruz Mountains in Santa Cruz County, CA between November 2016 and March 2017. Please do not reproduce any photographs without permission. Prints are available for purchase for some photographs. If you are interested, contact Carla at: brennan.carla@gmail.com. You can also find Carla’s photographs, paintings and jewelry on her Etsy site (Stones and Bones): https://www.etsy.com/shop/stonesandbones

This gallery contains 49 photos

Carrizo Plain National Monument – March 2017

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Carrizo Plain National Monument, CA
March 2017

The main event was yellow. Pale yellows, golden yellows, lemon yellows, schoolbus yellows. Acres of yellow carpeted the wide flat plain, yellow crowned the foothills, yellow stretched up the mountain sides, yellow was underfoot everywhere. It reminded me of the spectacular autumnal display of yellow aspens in the Rockies and Sierras but here there are no trees, the color flows along the ground.

The next color in competition was green. There were at least fifty shades of green (and much sexier than gray.) It was our first trip to Carrizo Plain but I knew that green is not its usual color. Most of the year it is dry, dusty and brown. It is semi-arid natural grassland (the last great stretch of it in California) and the annual rainfall is only 9 inches per year.

Other shades of the rainbow were blooming too, if you looked closely. Purples made a show of it and highlighted the yellows. One hillside was painted sky blue with baby blue eyes. Pinks, oranges and whites were scattered about. Below the taller plants, tiny many-colored flowers vied for their place in the sun close to the earth.

After an exceptional season of rain and previous years of drought, it is a superbloom of tremendous proportions. In the Santa Cruz Mountains where I live, this rain brought down trees and power lines, washed out roads and triggered land, mud, and rockslides. We are gradually cleaning up the mess and rebuilding our roads. But in the deserts in central and southern California these rains created great masses of flowering plants. The most stunning superblooms are supposedly in the deserts much farther south, but we could only fit in the four hour drive to Carrizo Plain.

I was in my bliss and glory among the blossoms!

Please do not reproduce any photographs without permission. Prints are available for purchase for some photographs. If you are interested, contact Carla at: brennan.carla@gmail.com. You can also find Carla’s photographs, paintings and jewelry on her Etsy site (Stones and Bones): https://www.etsy.com/shop/stonesandbones

This gallery contains 46 photos