Date: November 30, 2014
Place: Little Darby Environmental Education Area, Willits, California
Coordinates: 39.437045, -123.257777
Length: about 1.5 miles
That Subday after our strained hike at Grizzly Creek State Park we woke up in Willits, to the last day of Our Thanksgiving vacation. There was a general glumness in the air and a subtle pressure within the family to skip the hiking plan for the morning and drive straight home. It wasn't raining, but a heavy and grey dampness hung over us that might have contributed to the overall feeling. That, and the mute awareness that a regular work/school day was coming up just a single Earth-rotation away.
|Fog on the Forest, Water in the Sky|
The place is under the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), is habitat of the endangered spotted owl, a scouts camp, and a lovely place to hike.
The trail begins with a drop down to the canyon. Below, the creek was running beautifully. As were all the tributaries.
We crossed the bridge and came across a sloped forest clearing where we found the remain of a primitive wood shelter, probably the work of the scouts from the summer before.
Bright orange spots littered the ground near the shelter. At that time we didn't pay much attention to them. On our way back, however, after completing the loop, I stooped over to see what they were.
Mushrooms, of course. Of a species I haven't encountered previously.
The clearing is where the loop trail starts (and ends). We took to the right and hiked along the creek.
The trees were all wrapped in a sheath of moss and fern, lush and moist.
Lichen, often seen at the most hostile environments, flourishes in the rich wetness of the California coastal forest.
The chikas were in a much better mood than the day before. They were eager to find new mushrooms for me to document.
Many of the mushrooms I've seen are edible. But I am never absolutely sure and I'm to afraid to try. The one wild mushroom I am sure about is the Suillus that grows under pine trees. At Little Darby I saw a close relative: a bolete mushroom that grew under a broadleaf tree that I didn't recognize.
Mushrooms don't have to be edible to be enjoyed. I have been admiring these fascinating organisms ever since I learned about them and the crucial role they play in the biome. But it is when they fruit above ground that I can enjoy their aesthetic qualities and sheer beauty.
Fungi decompose biological materials underground but also work inside dead logs to break down and release the locked-up nutrients, making them available once more to growing plants.
|The view from the hilltop at Little Darby|
Papa Quail and the chikas were eager to go back to the car, while I lumbered along on my injured knee, steadying myself on the slippery slope with my hiking poles. Half way down, when I caught up with them for the umpfth time, I told Papa Quail to take the girls and hurry along. He wasn't happy about it, but conceded. Soon, all three were out of my sight.
With no one to hurry me along, I slowed down again and took more time to appreciate the local beauty.
Not to mention that some wildlife encounters are more chancy when conditions are wet :-)