Raheen’s, Castlebar Parish

Reviewing 621 photographs taken on 11 September 2021 in Raheen’s wood near Castlebar has been our exercise of the afternoon today 09 October 2021. The photographs are a mix of woodland landscape and ground flora shots and macrophotographs of tree trunk bark and the moss, lichen, liverwort and fungus species in this epiphytic habitat. They were all taken with one camera and the numbers stretch from 9110962 to 9111582.

On the day out in September, we met a wedding photographer, who fell into step and aesthetically came aboard with our agenda of woodland conservation and education. Falling into conversation, He pitched his skills as a short film maker, and in tow had an exceptionally handsome dog Gizmo with extraordinary droopy hairy ear tassles.

The camera is an extraordinary tool for scientists and for weddings. They can be used to tell the story of a day out, with some of the minutae. Reviewing digital media streams of 500 photographs from a day was predicted to become normal (Fox & Cullen 2016), and now five and a half years later, it is becoming normal for us in supporting our forensic examination of the biodiversity detail of Raheen’s wood outside Castlebar.

The roast potato dinner at our second break this evening was sublime. Vegetarian gougons and kale with soy sauce preceded apple pie and vanilla ice cream. They were rather chickeny in their appearances to my palate.

Raheen’s is an exceptional place – Lobaria pulmonaria is among the denizens of this woodland – an indicator of ancientness and ecological continuity over the centuries. The first hundred photographs have resulted in 5 pages of notation in latin of the names of identifiable species from the photography, a good yield in any case. The photograph of Lobaria pulmonaria led us to some respite from the immediate task.

At our first beak in proceedings of the write up today, I was charged with finding a name for a yellow discomycete, probably a Hymenoscyphus on a hazelnut. It turns out to be Hymenoscyphus fructigenus, first reported in Cork in 1845 on a dead hazelnut, the same microhabitat as our Raheen’s photograph and sample.

What is biodiversity has been occupying my writing for a booklet in the last two days. This exercise in documenting biodiversity in a small range of taxonomic groups for one site near Castlebar is today’s output. That there were no coral fungi on show that day at Raheen’s does not mean that they are not there, they did not surface on the day for our scrutiny, or I have not got to the ditch with Leotia lubrica and/or, perhaps Microglossum olivaceum, in Raheen’s in the photograph review.

In this vigil on life …, appears as a line elsewhere on lichenfoxie in a composition I called Cosmos Mundi. Doing what you can to document biodiversity, is to leave a trail of latin in arcs for another person’s mind to understand. To give a gist of the five pages from the first hundred photographs, my memory first deals with highlights of the day – Peltigera collina, a species which was hidden among Sticta limbata as a concept but with a thin textured Nostoc vesicled smooth upper cortex which is itself an unusual grey. Only one thallus of this Peltigera species caught our eye.

The next session goes like this: Lecanora expallens, Betula pubescens, Hypnum cupressiforme, Thuidium tamariscinum, Betula pubescens, Hedera helix, portrait 9110975 mushroom basket with orange pencil, Glechoma hederacea, Blechnum spicant, Dryopteris cristata, Betula pubescens, Thelotrema lepadinum, Arthonia didyma, Isothecium myosuroides … you will understand when you see the portrait …

Harmonising multiple people’s botanical memory of place is, as Bruce McCune put it, hard work for thought police. We have decided on a gift for our dog kennel handler in Cavan who has agree to take Bran the Irish Terrier for the weekend. It will be the late Paddy Reilly’s 2001 Flora of Cavan. We are looking forward to an event at Longueville House Hotel, and teaching and demonstrating mushrooms, with this year’s set of guests in an exploration of the grounds of this wonderful hotel. Mushrooming without dogs is a luxury.

Readers of this text have an insight into my cognitive life and the notation required for botanical activity in floristic studies on the biodiversity of a place in Ireland. I would like to encourage all interested in conservation to try and develop such sublime moments as outlined above in your own daily mental life, and really engage with the biodiversity crisis question – what plant or fungus is that here, now?

Getting ready for COP26 and caring for all life puts readings into another focus onto Laudato Si animators and what can be done around the world to maintain this … vigil on life … especially in tropical countries where the Latin names for plants are not so tip of the tongue, as it is to us, scientists in this Castlebar parish in north-western Europe.

Howard Fox

828 words.  

In a corner, in North Leitrim

I’m in a corner. As a writer It is essential that I write. Writers block is the corner that a writer who is a writer who is not free, finds themselves in. Worrying about writer’s block in pointless, doing something about a corner is of course something else. The corner of a page one starts writing on. The corner in a book, where everything changes. What if, we has a prompt, Corner.

Margaret Geraghty, the five minute writer, comes to my rescue yet again. This book is Oberon eaten, in fact, it is actually a dog bit book, with canine marks arranged like a pock marked North Leitrim road sign outside Loughan House, hit by someone practical with pellets …

The dog knows when I suffer from Writers’ block. He rushes to me and sits by my feet, and then a minute later goes traipsing back to bed. Opposite the page ‘How to plump up thin characters’, page 151, she give the prompt word corner with a choice of 7 others, which has now led to this. Lead shot, 0.22 mm on the road sign to Dowra, or is it Drumshambo.

Now, Corner has another meaning for me. The Wayside trees of Malaya and a monograph on Clavariaceae, two books on tropical botany by a chap called Corner, an Oxford Botany professor. Now for the marathon biodiversity course of a Tuesday. I like to type up from handwritten text sometimes. In fact I have not liked this activity for long, hence the break in posts. Writer’s Corner. On the Wayside trees of Corracloona, Rowan is the tree that stands out today, Tuesday 5th October. The red berries, like thrushes fodder, flop in the light breezes, readily shed when ripe, harvestable by stick, tassles infuriatingly out of reach for the Bean an Ti with rowan jelly intentions and her mushroom basket.

Corner and Harris, the latter an American lichen professor who in his self published taxonomy book that preserves the subversive intention to be contraversial gets to a better result in More Florida Lichens, where he digresses and gives a global monograph of Ditremis, which to us is Anisomeridium polypori, that would be a flask shaped pycnidial species on Elder bark, in that elderflower farm in Longford, near Corn Hill. Coconuts in Malaya might have Anisomeridium americanum on bark of their trunks.

The dog having traipsed back to bed is sound, asleep, book bitten duties having as bidden been done. This piece was supposed to be about Clavarioid fungi and I have not started on them yet. White, yellow, pink, purple, Clavaria, Clavariopsis, Clavariadelphus, Ramaria, Clavulina, are some of the groups. Outgroups include earthtongues, Geoglossum, Microglossum olivaceum, and the pine fingers, Calocera viscosa, Calocera cornea, and the Dacrymyces stillatus, the yellow on spruce laths of old wet several year old fertilizer pallets, left our in North Leitrim farmyards, and repurposed pallets, standing in gaps of old fences by gates. I am getting great value out of Seamus O’Rourke’s book too.

Ramaria formosa, is not a Malayan reference, but rather the formosa, taiwan, Paeony patch beside the Quercus suber, Cork oak, wayside tree in the corner of the Glasnevin Botanic Gardens which abounds with coral fungus in the woodchip mulches. The Ards Forest wood also has coral fungi, along the red walk with the large conifers.

It takes a decade of sightings to populate the Clavarioid fungi of North Leitrim. There is a species Clavaria vermicularis, which is in the limestone Bricklieve hills above Castlebaldwin in County Roscommon. Earthtongues grow there as well, among the waxcap mushrooms in mossy pastures of sheep.

So much for being in a corner, maybe this time the jamboard will share, and we can all become enlightened by a clavarioid type of biodiversity.

Dark Mountain sorting Sphagnum

Repertoire puts you at home

what you can recognise.

Repertoire puts you at ease,

what you can identify

Biodiversity of some choice spot,

a place to live

a place to see

life living and free

life giving to me

Repertoire for a cultures voice

for the taxonomy of the familiar

and the once off

Repertoire for an accolytes education

sounding tunes to call up

each and every part of nature.

When it gets too complicated

simplify the taxonomy as you can;

one site, one list

Sphagnum species is no substitute

for magellanicum or capillifolium

dearg’s or rua’s, auriculatum for an orange one

cuspidatum, palustre, papillosum or tenellum

ones in green, water, marsh, bog and young

on the Dough Mountain are some, harnessed in the mists

Baskerville mists, down for the day, name for the concept,

and a definition of what basis, the group is made

The capitulum, leaf apices, hanging versus spreading branches,

and where the pigment hues

Taxonomy for turbines of another sort

biodiversity investment in crowberry culture

food for ravens, and the odd lapan

a hare that a snipe might disturb

up up to the mountain again

up up and past Boleyboy

with a herd of sheep in between the rushes graze

till they walk out no more

too Sphagnumy for Aries

too pure for carrion

food for ravens

and ravenous walkers

on the Dough Mountain.

After the Heritage Week celebrated walk to Dough Mountain Summit,

some thoughts on how to approach Sphagnum

See Leitrim Observer page 11, Wednesday 25 August 2021

Memories

A red squirrel in the pines

lept from drey to branch

to another in another tree

and off and up into crowns

far above below grounds;

Creating watchers memories

for another day, a red’s.

A red squirrel too

hoarding poetry to read

and words to recite

to instill red squirrel

memories in you.

Kinawley near miss – a view from behind

Coming down the hill after Derrylin, we saw a diversion sign for Enniskillen, road closed. A red car turned off. I do not know why I advised ‘Let us go this way.’ We turned off too to explore the back roads of Derrylin, not that I really knew where Kinawley was at all.

The red car settled on the road ahead of us, but something was wrong. They were driving on the right. It was a small red 19 D volkswagen, a hire car new, with a continental driver aboard, on the wrong side of the road. They went around the bend on the right too. Maria flashed her lights and kept on the horn. I pushed the hazard lights button. Still the car in front 70 yards ahead, stayed on the right. Around the next bend a grey car appeared, and the red car driver just in time dived over to the left ditch, and regaining control of the car, drove on the left. We could see the shock in the driver by the wobbly driving line. At the next cross roads, they pulled in left, on the right. I should have said stop, but we drove on to Kinawley. They must have been embarassed too.

In the near miss, crossing the border was a contributory factor. Moving from a major road to a minor road, the evening light. They were all factors. As a safe driver for decades, I had never witnessed a links fahren error that went on so long. We did OK.

Keeping the Meadows Sweet

On the flowers of Meadow Sweet there is a pale Mirid Bug, a species in the Hemiptera, that seems to occur quite often. Facebook has recently developed citizen scientist media streams for various topics. The Insects and Invertebrates Ireland page of Facebook, has as of August 2021 almost 11,000 members.

The altruism of providing language for names of things is an action of communal education on this webpage. Giving Latin names by specialists for photograph captions is both work of recognition and taxonomic identification and new learning rolled into one. The Latin name is the standard index keyword scientists use for all species in nature that we explore for in the landscape.

Plectania laplatensis is a black bugarioid discomycete from Tasmania, that has appeared on the media stream that has puzzled fungus photographers from Hobart and surrounds. I have been aware of black discomycetes, such as Pseudoplectania sphagnophila, as I wrote about in one of my first papers on discomycetes thirty years ago, but this one, laplatensis, was new to my ken from 5 days ago, when the latin name was mentioned in a tag or a comment on a photograph in this amazing mushroom and fungus media stream on the Tas Fungi facebook page. Bulgarioid is a reference to Bulgaria inquinans, a black jelly discomycete on shed oak boughs, that is gregarious and ruptures through the bark, in places with old oak trees such as Charleville Forest in Tullamore and Longueville House near Mallow. The Tas Fungi facebook page has been moderated since 2016 and now has more than 16,000 members.

These two examples of media streams in their own way are creating a new way of doing Natural History in Ireland and Tasmania.

Ireland suffers from unsettled weather in Summer, and that has a knock-on effect on what species are out and about year on year. Through the 2000’s we all learned from Donegal Hedgerow, an epic site active from 2003 that by 2007 had collated photography of 1300 species. Each year has its own specialities and population surges.

Tasmania is in a different situation. Science there has addressed moderate to high proportion of the species that are being uncovered by photographers of nature. Fungi are difficult subjects for natural history as they putrify and rot in a few days, but that said, if dried, labelled and curated for herbarium storage, then scientific progress can be built upon. As in many places, the quantity of taxonomic guide books that have been made is still very low, and knowledge divulgation to the core set of photographers is difficult. There is a clear need for a fungus guide to genera for photographers, so that they can tag photos with genus names for computing on the cloud.

That aside, people are learning about species every day on the computer with these media streams and that must be a public good. People seldom have the energy to do a review a series of signtings of a particular species, but whenthey do, valuable comparative notes are exchanged, which increased the visibility of species in nature by describing their ecolgy more objectively that has ever been done before. Dates of photographs, species associations across taxonomic groups in photographs and so on are valuable to index.

Keeping the meadows sweet will also have to consider Data Centres and their demand of electricity and computer power. Wind farms provide some of this power.

As a society, the computer people of Facebook need to be congratulated for really taking to this task of providing a citizenship of living things, where they live, where they can be seen, when they can be seen, what conditions they make do with, and information on all sorts of other species associations.  

The myths of biology are gradually been pared back with this new 2020 narrative order of nature. Biological explanation is just that, talk of parasitism, mutualism, photosynthesis, evapotranspiration, pollination, and all these ideas. There is now mush more clarity of what species these biological ideas apply to among the general nature educated public, and people are gradually beginning to move from beyond biology to aesthetics and beauty, and ethics and conservation, via concepts of sustainability in this climate crisis and this biodiversity crisis. We all know and can now clearly demonstrate that low powered mechanical intervention is the least damaging option for nature, and that in Ireland we are learning to see nature in all its variety, and in Tasmania, bush walks are valued for providing nature to contemplate, and allowing our vigil of nature to nourish our souls.

Howard Fox

756 words

An ode for Stewart Dunlop

An ode for Stewart Dunlop

Six spotted Burnets walked on to a bar

Having been seen by a steward, called Stuart

The felt the bar with their antennae

The crawled onto tubular galvanize and sat there

Each held their six black legs akimbo

until they started grooming their antenna

with their pair of front legs.

With dashing black and red spotted wings,

they were seen by a brazen cow,

who started to lick the metal of The Gate.

Yellow Ragwort flowers in the adjacent field

swished their Buachailaun Buis in the breeze.

A Cattle Egret hopped from the cow’s back

onto the top rung and pecked.

He moved his binoculars.

No, it is not ! That is a Pied Wagtail.

This play is about five spotted Burnett’s

who walked on to a bar at The Gate.

In the Burren.

They ordered three red spots each,

and by Midleton

tucked them on to each wing

They were soon tidily …

Is this a red necked footman or what?

The whiskey made the cow red-green colour blind.

She now could not see the red spots.

It must be a Red Necked Footman, so.

She was sort of tidily too.

Friskily swishing her antennae.

And out with the Bodhraun,

And where is your cipin now.

Howard Fox

28 July 2021

Dark Mountain life in a North Leitrim townland

The townland where we live has a range of plants from which we, and all the insects in nature that eat plants, can draw sustenance. I am imagining a new untasted spice made from particular species of lichen that grows here and that we can grow and cultivate successfully here in this townland. I have been reading Dark Mountain this evening and I would like to share some of our cooking ideas augmented by foraged zuzaten, or ingredients. This is a step towards moth farming.

I am now really thinking of which direction to go for a walk, with a basket, where to get the species, what I need to wear to get there, and what I need to cast off from my life to distil this botany knowledge down to its elements. Where to find seed, what to sow, where to till, and what to collect and store in jars for later use. I have a botanical framework for 300+ species on the whole mountain on the computer. It is a matter of honing it, and beginning to cultivate ourselves to the mountain.

My first experiment years ago when I first arrived here was with cheese, by that I mean Crataegus monogyna, the leaves and fruit, the first which could make a lettuce for us, which I have re-eaten for the first time this morning in two years, and the fruits, a peppercorn substitute taken in pairs at the Organic centre.

The next Dark Mountain experiences will be with mint, sedges, dog lichen, and plants that are too specific to mention in print for fear of the pressure we are likely to put on this resource. We had a discussion yesterday on places to look for mushrooms in, knowing that 5 % of the species out there are edible. There are few palaeolithic ancient places here with the vegetation subtlety to match. I am a great fan of Bog Myrtle on the mountain, and every place with it needs sensitive land use. The spring with bog bean, Menyanthes is a special place in this townland, a recharge area that is deeper underfoot.

Last night, moth farming could describe it, I eventually found a way of living here, a Franciscan way, leaving the Augustinian sheep out of it. Some times your life changes. We walk woods through the summer. That is the plan for this year. I need some more pepper corns. The ingredients are a wheelbarrow, a reference to a limestone house in Roscommon, where people moved in and used a wheelbarrow for 6 months, getting the house ready. At the bend in the lane there are Irises roots, which were probably significant. Peter Wyse Jackson’s book, Ireland’s Generous Nature that I gave away to Ted Ahti when he called in to the old office in Dublin, as a gift of Irish botany to influence him when he was going back to Helsinki. Another reference I need to assimilate is Jim O’Connor’s and Paddy Ashe’s 2007 first article on insects that feed on trees in Ireland. This is all about moths, beetles and grasshoppers and would tell us about leaf miners. There have been no agrochemical sprays distributed on this place this year, and the year seems to be turning out well for insects. Another month and we will see.

Last year we were eating some elderflower pancakes, and this year I am looking to name the caterpillar found in the flower heads that turned up last year. Finding function in knowledge is slowly won, and now with this breakthrough, my mind is on fire. The possibilities are intriguing, and the utilitarian approach to plants in the landscape has been give a clearer ethical focus with Dark Mountain readings.

Howard Fox

618 words.

Selected reading:

O’Connor, P. & Ashe, P. (2007) Insects on Trees in Ireland, Lepidoptera, Coleoptera and Orthoptera. Bulletin of the Irish Biogeographical Society.

Watson, M. (2021) https://dark-mountain.net/when-we-eat-we-are-eating-the-world/ Dark Mountain. London.

Wyse Jackson, P. (2014) Ireland’s Generous Nature. Missouri.

Microscopy after midnight

It is low in the morning

as I yawn here in bed.

I am flattened with tiredness

but I’m awake in my head.

I am going to lift

the microscope into position

and make a few new slides

for I need to dream

of ascospores sized

or operculate lids.

All is ready

Leap up for the Matin’s call

Dimensions of Coprobia

Is the task that is set

Two slides to make

And return to the leaba

For a snooze.

I have no wish to be cast adrift.

My delusions of principle put me in the psychiatric hospital. In this short story, I wish to explore what it is like to have instability and turmoil combined with a veneer of easy-goingness and friendliness while homelessness bites.

What you hear back is perhaps what opinion I respond to most. Michael the motor mechanic said a nice thing the other day. I recall. Robert, he said, is easy-going isn’t he. I changed my name for the purpose of this Outburst.

I was crossing the street in Manor to go to Rooney’s and I met a chap who said he was stuck. What do you need? I asked. A lift out a few miles from town. He replied. I did not think about it, so I replied. Sure, I am parked under the shop. I will get the van, and I can do the run while herself is doing the grocery shopping.

So off I went, got the van, and drove up the ramp. I missed himself the first time, so I went around the block, and be-dad he was there. He sat in. He asked me to stop by the laundrette. He had an errand, in take away, and then he approached the van, and I pulled the door handle for him. He was heading out the Bundoran road. Meenagh it sounded like, I was not sure where it was but he could direct me. I handed him my card, fresh from the VistaPrint cache in my wallet. That’s me I said. I am from up near Kiltyclogher, staying. You will have to show me the way. The second errand he requested a stop for was in the grounds of the court house. Here he went to the side of the derelict building. I was a bit apprehensive. All was well when I saw him retrieve a new blue yard brush and a bushman saw blade. He asked where to stow it, and I took the brush handle into the cabin and set it in down in his footwell. We were on our way. The next left was the Bundoran road. Do you do welding, he asked. I have on the home place, we have welding kit there, but I have not done welding in a while. Do you like it here in Leitrim? he asked. I said, I loved it. It was quiet, and you only had to live with yourself, and if that was fine, then it was grand. It was cold last night, there being a frost. Do you keep a few sheep? Yes, he replied. Sean Dolan runs a few sheep, I volunteered, on the place we are at near Kilty. 23 lambs and 23 ewes arrived in about a fortnight back. I am a botanist and writer, so my card says. Do you do things. He was insistent. I said that not really, I was freelancing at the moment. So today, this gentleman has me back writing a Francis MacManus story. And being a botanist, I watched the trees by the road on the way out to his place, birch, willow, ash, hawthorn, nothing particularly unusual except for there was at one place a long leaved willow, I recall now. I talked more that he did, or I volunteered more perhaps. I asked if he had people looking out for him. He said he did. We passed the church, and he did a sign of the cross, as we passed. We met a tractor on the road, an International Harvester, it looked like a 574, with a smiling neighbour on it. He asked me to turn in up right. We drove up the lane to his house and I reversed into the place where one could turn a car. There was a car off the lane with straw on it and no number plates. He was slow to let himself out, so I did not hurry him at all, letting the conversation happen in its own time. He said would you be back. And this is your number. Yes. It is herself, the number on the card. Sure, maybe I could do an errand at some stage, but I would be starting from outside Kilty. So we left it at that. I had asked how he was finding the lockdown. Was it difficult? He said sort of. He had said it was quiet. Apart from that, he seemed fine. I found my way back down the roads into Manor. I came to a junction, not noticing the church, and I took it, and headed down this road which I felt would get me to the main road. Soon I was at the roundabout into Manor. I got back to Rooney’s, headed down the ramp, parked and went up in the lift to the shop, to find herself.

I met Jan and herself talking with a vegetable free trolley in the dog food aisle. Where have you been? Oh, sorry for being late, I was just doing an errand, I had to give a chap, who was stuck, a lift out of town. I selected a quarter pound of butter and some sliced cheese. When it came to do the till, I said it was like a shop not in Leitrim but rather from East Coast North America, Maine, like in a Stephen King novel, with the gherkins first on the conveyor getting confused with the previous person’s shop. He was not a vegetarian, beer drinker with long black hair, looking for all like the eyebrows of Colm Smith. I cannot handle anything else going wrong.

The repercussions came later. You had me worried. On the way back to Kilty, she wanted to know if he had had Covid, and would she be safe. I said I did not know. Who was he? I said I did not know. What age was he. I said in his late 60s. Was he washed. I said he was washed today. He said he knew Sean Dolan and that was good enough for me.

Her mother was in hospital, and we were heading south tomorrow, for a long spin, that would bring the van up to half a million klicks on the way. The amber light came on, informing me that I would need to get fuel in Blacklion, on the way. In my defence, I said that I knew where he was from, and I could get the track and trace done if needs be.

The pressure comes on when you are homeless in many different ways. The instability of it is something I cannot take for granted. When will I feel unstable? When will things get overwhelming. The Starlings probably lost a nest today in the sandblasting of the stone of this cottage. The boss is a boss and sometimes it is hard to know if we will be put out onto the street. If we do nothing, that is certain. We have been in refuge in North Leitrim, provided safe sanctuary away from and after my exodus from psychiatric hospital.

I struggled keeping down a job, while homeless, for a year and a half. August 2018 was when it started. The first few months in Tullamore, I was a guest in a wonderful building occupied by like-minded folk. After a breakdown in January 2019, my employer’s human resources chief went on the warpath. I could not hack the stress. For most of 2019 I was inside. When I came out, I went to a good friend’s house in North Leitrim, God be good to her. Sustainable relationships are essential, and now I am a Botanist and Writer. Eventually with Covid and remote working in the summer 2020, things at work became impossible. They threatened, then acted on it, and I struggled battling on every day until the date they were to let me go after Christmas 2020 arrived. From the 1st January I was on the dole, waiting until 11 February for the first instalment to come through. Thank goodness for Ireland’s civility. I am now better at budgeting, and not going anywhere. So enough about me. You, our poor reader is probably in no better boat. Ireland our home is been fleeced from under us. At least we have the wit to write, and let our story be heard. The Curlew was sounding on the Upper Lough Mac Nean shores tonight. Biodiversity extinction. The starlings, and a nest of a goldcrest is in the line of fire tomorrow. I have work for 2021 thanks to the Heritage Council on the botany of ancient woods. Linked In profile fine. Satellite Broadband since 8th April. Wonderful.

Too late for a submittable tale for the Francis MacManus, so it goes unheralded to lichenfoxie. It takes about 5 hours to work up a 2000-word story. 1500-words is enough on homelessness. The newspaper headline says the ministers today do not believe in the Homelessness crisis. Here lay I before you. A runaway in the refuges of Leitrim. Like the Phoenix from the ashes, I will arise and go now, from Corracloona.

Facing the music tomorrow of a negotiation with home, for a home, the prodigal son that I am. Renting is over, long live renting. Homelessness is real, yes, Minister.

Robert

8 v 2021