The Forest Floor

Some of the most magnificent artistic creations of nature can be found on the forest floor. Of course that sometimes means being down on hands and knees, camera close to the ground to capture something from an unusual angle.

One of the things I’ve been trying hard to do this summer is really observe what is around me, rather than just walking through life seeing what I expect to see. I miss so much of what nature has to offer when I forget to truly explore like a four-year-old.


Fungi fascinate me. Their unique shapes, colors and ability to pop up out of seemingly nowhere (and sometimes overnight) are amazing. Like this Amanita. It reminds me a bit of a dumbbell the way the bottom is of similar shape to the top. There are several hundred species of this type of fungi. Some are vivid colors or red or yellow.


These are Summer Oyster mushrooms. They are vividly brilliant white and look so delicate when seen from underneath. Their intricate gills remind me of an old fashioned silky pleated skirt. A true work of art, or at least to me it is.


But along with the beautiful and delicate also come what most would describe as a “standard” mushroom, but is really one of the most deadly ones in the forest – the Eastern North American Destroying Angel. Part of the universal veil on this mushroom can be seen at the bottom of it. A universal veil refers to a membrane covering on a fungi when it is starting to grow. As it grows, this breaks sometimes leaving bits on the top of the fungi and/or at the bottom, such as shown in this picture.

My take on fungi: DO NOT EAT MUSHROOMS FOUND IN THE WILD. Even experts in the field have been fooled by fungi that look similar to other edible ones. I just admire them and buy my mushrooms from the grocery store.


But the forest floor isn’t all about fungi. It’s a wonderful world to explore, with new trails around every corner. Who wouldn’t want to find themselves on this boardwalk on a cool summer morning. Doesn’t it look inviting?


Or on this magnificent trail…where birds, chipmunks and squirrels keep you company. Where troubles and worries seem to cease to exist, and it’s just you and the forest. The sound of leaves rustle gently in the trees. And peace surrounds you.


And flowers, of course, like this little yellow jewel. I believe it’s a Woodland Sunflower but not positive. This group of wildflowers always keep me guessing, but I so admire their beauty and ability to thrive in all types of circumstances.


But look closer, and you will see the tiny little bug that likes this flower. This little one is in the Geron genus, but I couldn’t identify it beyond that due to the poor photo quality (and inexperience identifying bugs). The bug capture was pure accident, but it just goes to show when you take a photo you sometimes never quite realize what you’re actually getting.


And sometimes you just get lucky and manage a quick photo of something you happen upon, like this Green heron. There were somewhere between six to eight Green Herons in this small wetland area just off a very-little used trail in Blackhand Gorge state nature preserve. They were not very happy that we were sharing their wetland area, so we quietly observed and left them to their day.


Sometimes when I’m hiking I find beauty in things most would probably consider very unconventional, like the moss-covered roots of this tree. So many shades of vivid green and roots that stretch out across the ground like fingers holding onto the earth. Rather artistic. Mother Nature should be proud of this one.

Perhaps next time you find yourself in the woods, you’ll take a look around. Admire the beauty there and be sure to look at what great works of art you can find on the forest floor.

Nature at our Doorstep

I’m finding after months of hearing way too much news about Covid that I’m a bit on edge and desperately searching for avenues of normalcy. But, as always, I make sure I have a mask in my pocket when I walk out the door of the house with camera in hand.

In an effort to explore further afield, I’ve been trying to include a weekly “day trip” to different nature preserves. It feels a bit like a mini-vacation and provides the fun of exploring new areas while staying away from news headlines. That’s a win-win in my book.


There’s a terrific 200-acre old-growth forest in north eastern Ohio in Wayne County called Johnson Woods Nature Preserve. Some trees are said to be 400 years old. Signage states “Johnson Woods appears to be the largest and best old-growth woods found in Ohio.” And I would agree with them. My photos do not do it justice.

Upon entering the forest and walking on the 1 1/2 mile boardwalk trail, we were greeted by newly fledged Eastern Wood-Pewees being fed by a parent. Cute little guys that couldn’t quite fly straight nor land on a branch without wobbling a bit. But they’ll learn.


Eastern Gray Squirrels were plentiful, including black ones. I always thought the black ones were a separate breed, but found otherwise. Smithsonian says they’re a result of interbreeding between gray and fox squirrels which results in a faulty gene giving them their black color. According to Wikipedia, this occurs in less than 1% of gray squirrels. Some say the black squirrels are more aggressive and territorial.

The boardwalk is quite an accomplishment all by itself. The woods looks like it could be quite wet in the spring, so this would be the only way visit and maintain dry feet. More than 60 species of wildflowers have been documented here in the spring. Cardinal flowers were blooming quite well this past week and close enough to the boardwalk to get a picture.


While you’re in this area, it’s well worth a trip to Barnes Preserve as well. It’s a nature park that is very close by. While it also offers walks through a woods, it’s the flowering meadows, vernal pool and pond that attract the eye here. And very few visitors. Makes one feel like it’s your own private nature preserve!


Follow the trail through the meadow and down a wood-chip path to this glorious little pond. A wonderful place to contemplate the world – or just watch nature around you and absorb the peaceful setting. Like the mother mallard duck with her 8 nearly-full-grown babies following her every move through the pond. Or watch the Azure Bluet damselfly or Widow Skimmer dragonfly flit about the pond and grasses.

The wildflower meadow there is spectacular. Blue vervain was growing in magnificent patches, along with milkweed which was attracting many butterflies like this Eastern Tiger Swallowtail.


Also in the meadow was what I think is a Rosepink. It’s a beautiful flower that has the most magnificent color. It’s a biennial which flowers in its second year and grows up to three foot tall. It’s common to the eastern United States, but it’s a new one for me. Looks like Mother Nature got out her water color paints to do this one.

Tucked into a corner of the woods was a little wetland pond that had been built as a class science project. It was shallow enough to attract quite a number of frogs as well as the most beautiful red Meadowhawk dragonfly. I thought perhaps it was a Ruby Meadowhawk (a new one for me), but I later learned that this dragonfly is very difficult to identify unless you have it in hand, and even then it’s not a sure thing. Oh well, a girl can dream…


I hope you’ve enjoyed the travels through these preserves. There’s so many wonderful things in nature to observe and explore. And it may be even closer than you think.

I can highly recommend a day trip to a preserve to give you a new perspective and appreciation of nature. It’s a great way to let go of problems and worries and ground oneself to what really matters. Nature doesn’t seem to be one bit bothered by Covid. Stay safe.

Until next time, keep exploring nature up close.