Views of Lake Fort Smith Part II: Scientist

There’s a phenomenon science students experience. Perhaps there’s an inspirational, rare term assigned to it though I do not know what that would be. The landscape is no longer a cohesive environment of greenery and blotchy earth colors punctured by charismatic creatures and dramatic waterfalls. It…becomes millions of things that non-sciency friends rare their eyebrows at.

I’ve used Unearthed Comic’s illustration in the past and I’ll probably use it again, but this time around I’ll point out The Biologist’s Garden’s post, which compares a scenery seen by a civilian versus the same scenery seen by a biologist–amateur or professional.

Beyond that, here’s the alternate version of my Lake Fort Smith hike: the Wandering Eye and Fine-Tuning Mind a.k.a. scientist version.

Puffy White Flower and Bee on Bush

A bee has to keep busy, but what is it busy with? For while it wouldn’t come to me, my books didn’t have it or I didn’t know where to look, and as of typing this I thought, “Aha! Button bush!” Also known as Cephalanthus occidentalis, it’s a relative to the coffee plant and hangs out at the boat docks at Lake Fort Smith.

Sometimes seeing the details of the landscape means seeing smaller flowers (especially in the spring), less colorful flowers, more stealthy critters, dead tissue, fungi, or simply being able to name things adds detail to your mental and physical view of the world. Often this is from the class of Insecta and should not be underestimated–they practically rule the world and we’re ignorant subjects.

Cicada Shell on Mossy Trunk

We have a lot of cicadas in the area. Not in this photo though. This is an empty exoskeleton clenching moss on a dead tree stump. I’d hazard I see cicada shells more often than actual cicadas even though I hear the males all summer long. There are more than 13,000 species and they can live up to 17 years–impressive for a true bug (Hemiptera order).

However, to be specific to Lake Fort Smith around midday and midsummer, there’s a lot of a very distracting kingdom of residents….By this I mean what I’ve heard professors and graduate students say one should never take a mycologist on a hike for they will forever be distracted by discovery.

Funnel Fungi

Some kind of funnel-shaped fungi. Yes, funnel is the technical term for this form. Take that cell biologists always using weird word combos to describe shapes.

Spikey Puffball

Puffball! All powder on the inside.

Chocolate Rainbow of Nature

Bracket or shelf fungi. Also known as a polypore. Like previous fungi I’ve shown the words merely describe the form and not necessarily of genetic relation.

Shelf Fungi and Slime Mold

Here’s something I truly amused with every time: fungi on fungi! Slime molds are a category more and more scientists consider a member of the fungi kingdom instead of the adoptive, non-related community of multicelluar small things, Protista. The slime molds live on a shelf fungus.

Fruit of the Litter

Depressed or sunken gilled fungi. This one is a little bigger than the puffball and about 1/4 of my palm across the cap.

Double Fungi Trouble

Another favorite because it’s full of mystery. It’s at the end of it’s fruiting period and thus beyond general recognition and covered in mold! Work of art, Nature!

So clearly I went on an hour or so hike and my eyes flew from one thing–ahem, fungi–to another. It happens. My favorite statement to share with whoever is hiking with me is, “I was distracted by nature!”

But there is one other element to the scientist’s view of the outdoors. To show that I will bring back a photo of a creek landscape from part I:

Quaint Stream

Part I’s view:

  • A quaint stream.
  • Let’s see what kind of frogs, crawfish, fish, and bugs we can find!
  • Grass, trees, moss, ferns.

Part II’s view:

  • Why are the ferns only on the hillside? Ferns prefer shade and moisture.
  • Indeed, let’s see what kind of frogs, crustaceans, mollusks, fish, invertebrates, we can find! Bring a microscope and prepare a slide to look at algae and other freshwater microbes, too!
  • What type of grass is that? One type looks like a miniature version of river cane–does this also prefer frequent flood zones? What kind of disturbance allowed grass to grow despite a full canopy? Is it on a thin layer of soil on top of the stream’s rocks and thus can’t support anything other than grass?
  • How many kinds of fungi are here? Where there’s a tree there’s a dozen fungi hiding somewhere (especially slime molds and mycorrhizae, the fungi that coat or attach to plant roots and exchange nutrients).
  • What types of rocks are here and how did they form? (Arkansas has a lot of limestone due to being a part of the ocean in not-so-far geological history.) What does the type of rock mean for the plants?

Essentially your brain runs on questions, trivia, and connecting ideas while being astounded by how amazing it all is–the big picture and what’s immediately in front of you. One of my ecology professors kept calling it, “reading the landscape.” Kind of scientific and yet mystical.

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