The dust has gone, but clouds have taken its place, and there’s little hope of astronomy tonight. But earthly stars thrive in the rain.
This bizarre fungus is an earthstar, which superficially resembles a puffball. Raindrops knock spores from its mouth.
Waxcaps are also thriving in autumnal drizzle. Parrot waxcaps are green with varying flourishes of orange. Like many waxcaps, they are indicator species which signal relatively undamaged ancient grassland.
I have hardly seen the sun today, but when it rose on Tuesday morning, there was still a Saharan edge about it.
Today the sky says that it is not an island. It’s painted sepia from lands far away, and dyes the world beneath into almond and darkness.
The air is coloured with ash from the forest fires in Iberia and dust from the Sahara, sucked northwards by the force of Hurricane Ophelia, which is currently battering Ireland as a post-tropical cyclone. At 3pm the light levels slumped as if in the afterglow of winter twilight, and humanity rebelled by flicking on streetlights and headlights – but it seemed feeble under such a sky.
Before the dust, there was colour: leaves that would seem improbable if a human artist drew them.
And fungi carved into maple leaf-shape by slugs.
Their less-eaten peers were in full show this morning. Meadow waxcaps are one of the largest of the waxcap family, and this is the first time that I’ve found one in my area.
But any giant is relative. The waxcap was dwarfed by a monster in the ancient woods. The lens cap is about 2 inches (5cm) wide, and the mushroom cap would dwarf some saucers. Its identity still eludes me, but possibly it’s an exceptionally big honey fungus.
The dust is sweeping northward and the sky is greying. I would not surprised to find a sprinkling of African sand over the cars tomorrow.
A girl with windblown hair – perhaps. Funny how the imagination sees things at times. Her hairstyle will not last for long; she is a glistening inkcap, and is self-dissolving. Inkcaps turn themselves into inky soup that allows the spores to drip away.
While inkcaps dissolve, waxcaps dazzle. They are often called the orchids of the fungi world because of their glamorous colours. They also conservation waymarkers; it can take eighty years for them to recolonize a site after disturbance. Fields with high waxcap diversity are old by definition, and precious.
Golden waxcaps sprinkle gold dust in the mosses.
Diamonds and rubies may follow – many other waxcap species dwell under that field, each a different and improbable colour. I will keep walking and watching.
Around birch trees, the theme is red and white.
Fly agarics do not look quite real.
Sadly, this one had been knocked over by someone. But even in its severed state, a mature fungus will continue to drop spores; they are only the fruiting bodies of the mycelium which is hidden in the soil. I left it there to continue its work.
I walk fast – my dog expects nothing else. We’ve covered many long miles of the North Downs together and seen remarkable secrets of the wild world. But sometimes, the surprise comes when you pause for breath.
What stilled me was this: a beautiful blackening waxcap. It’s not an uncommon find in this area in autumn but I’ve never seen one such a brilliant buttercup-yellow before.
The grass has so many stories, but I was while reading them, something else was trying to read me.
This is Sooty, the famous alpha vixen of a fox family whom I call the Gatekeepers. This is why.
She watched me from the west, and her mate watched me from the east.
My dog and I were the story being considered between them. Just a small note as the evening gathers pace.
Some artwork is subtle and made to persist, like this composition by lichen and moss. A tree died and became a canvas.
Down in the grass, a blackening waxcap offers brightness, but only for moments. Touched by hand or age, it turns dark. The top of the cap turns first, and the whole structure flushes black.
If the slugs spare it, I’ll keep watching.