Simple observance

As we turned she pointed to an enormous fungus, on a tree, at eye level.

My immediate thought was that it was a mezuzah.

In the Jewish tradition the mezuzah is, rather than a talisman or charm, a reminder of God’s presence. It is a small case intended to be placed by the doorpost as a simple observance, a mitzvah. It contains a parchment with words that read … Love the Lord with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you are to be on your hearts. Write them on the door frames of your houses and on your gates (Deuteronomy 6). If you faithfully obey the commands I am giving you I will send rain on your land in its season, both autumn and spring rains, so that you may gather in your grain, new wine and olive oil.  I will provide grass in the fields for your cattle, and you will eat and be satisfied (Deuteronomy 11).

I thought the sentiment particularly appropriate, given the environment within which we found ourselves.



Long ago we walked east to watch the stars.
The Nereids sang as I held her hand.
A lifetime later, we walked again. This time by light of day.
I held her hand and knew that not a thing had changed.


Doll’s eyes

We’ve spotted it on several occasions but it wasn’t until the weekend that we came across an individual pretty and pristine enough to tempt me. The fruits of Actaea surely do resemble their namesake, and are highly toxic. The sclera, the fleshy white berry, is the mature fruit and the pupil is the stigma scar. My guess is that pachypoda, its specific epithet, refers the stout, and beautifully colored, stems.

In quite another context a diagnosis of Doll’s eyes may be indicative of a traumatic brain injury. The brainstem forms the connection between the peripheral (sensory) nervous system and the central (processing) nervous system. The vestibulo-ocular reflex is responsible for stabilizing visual images, when you turn your head, by driving movements of the eyes in the opposite direction. Sensory information and motor impulses which coordinate this activity must pass the brainstem. Comatose patients whose eyes remain fixed, when the head is turned, are said to display Doll’s eyes. The condition indicates that the brainstem is, functionally, not intact.


A cornucopia of mycological delight

Although the weather is now cool and dry ...
... the preceding weeks have been hot and humid.
The fungi ...
... have been delighted.


The foliage and berries of Belladonna (Atropa belladona) contain tropane alkaloids, such as Atropine, which are extremely toxic in high doses, causing delirium, hallucination, and death. These chemicals are common in plants belonging to the family Solanaceae; more benign members of the group include the potato, the tomato, and the eggplant. These alkaloids prevent nerve transmission by blocking the binding site of acetylcholine and this has beneficial, pharmacological, application relating to surgery of the eye.

The beautiful specimen seen here was photographed on the southern coast of Appledore Island, the largest of the Isles of Shoals off the coast of Maine.


In the zone

This cove has no name. It is narrow and the tide moves quickly through it. Rockweed (Ascophyllum) grows prolifically, to a height, mirrored on either side. Its habit is influenced by the environment within which it lives. Space is limited, in this intertidal zone, and organisms have evolved to tolerate water loss rather than avoid it. Seaweeds are sessile organisms and the higher they settle, the longer they will be exposed to the air as the tide recedes. Ascophyllum’s upper reach tells of some maximum amount of time that individuals may be without water during the receding tide.

Competition is the force which limits the growth of Rockweed lower down. Competition from another alga, Irish Moss (Chondrus); which you can just make out as a dark band of reddish-brown on either side of the channel and in its swirling water.

And, what lives above the band of the Rockweed? Look and you will see a thin yellow band and then a black one. It is within the former that one finds barnacles, limpets, and encrusting algae, while the latter represents countless numbers of individual blue-green algae.

All of these organisms have evolved to live and thrive at the tidal height at which they are found, balancing physiological tolerance (mostly to what is above) with the pressures of competition (from below).

The next time you look at a beautiful, seemingly barren, seaside expanse such as this and wonder where all the organisms are … think again.



Here is another image from Appledore Island, of the Laighton family cemetery there. Celia Laighton Thaxter was born in Portsmouth, NH in 1835. When she was young, her father became the lighthouse keeper on White Island, one of Appledore’s neighbors to the south. In 1851 she married Levi Thaxter and within a few years her husband and father had become business partners and opened Appledore House, one of New England’s first seaside resorts and a meeting place for literary and artistic luminaries. Celia became well known in her own right and her poems appeared regularly in the Atlantic Monthly. Her beautifully illustrated book, An Island Garden chronicles a year in the life of her island garden, includes illustrations by American impressionist, Childe Hassam, and is, to this day, considered a fine example of horticultural writing.

More than a century later we were Pelicans on Star Island, another of Appledore’s neighbors to the south. She worked the desk while I lead nature tours. We like to tell folks that it was our mutual admiration of Boltenia ovifera, a stalked Tunicate, that brought us together (which is closer to the truth than you might want to believe). We visit the islands infrequently now, but when we do we take time to sit at this place. It is our way of thanking Celia and all of the others who came before us for recognizing the natural beauty of these places and for preserving them for all of us to study, share, admire, and to appreciate.


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