September 28, 2015. I believe the word that best fits the mood of the swamp this morning is somber; some may even call it gloomy. The sky is 100% overcast, and the trees are dripping with moisture from all the rain we’ve had the past week – over six inches at my home in Columbia. The dense, tall tree trunks are darker than usual, and the lack of sunlight restricts visibility, giving the forest a closed in, almost oppressive feel. In damp weather the normally gray Spanish moss develops a green cast from the plant’s chlorophyll that shows through the gray scales that cover it in dry weather.
The muck swamp has been recharged from all the rain, and pools of standing water are everywhere. The wet and damp have also brought on a mushroom explosion, particularly for the crust and jelly fungi that are numerous on downed limbs and logs. The most visible of these is the parchment fungus, Stereum complicatum, which in some cases completely covers downed twigs and small limbs with a crust of rusty orange. There is also a fair amount of bright orange “witches butter,” Tremella mesenterica, and “jelly ear,” Auricularia, both jelly fungi with the latter being edible (at least according to the books, but please don’t take my word for it).
The ladies-tresses orchids are apparently taking this year off to recuperate from last fall’s bountiful exhibition, as I see only a small number of them growing near the low boardwalk where I was seeing dozens of plants this time last year.
A gray squirrel, unconcerned at my presence, is feeding on the ripened nutlets of ironwood. Although not as desirable a food as acorns and hickory nuts, it is nevertheless considered an important squirrel food, perhaps because it is such a common understory tree that produces a regular crop every year. Except for cardinals, I don’t recall seeing other songbirds eating the seeds.
In an uncommon reversal of events, all of the guts leading into Cedar Creek are flowing backwards (upstream) due to the inordinate amount of local rain we’ve received. The Cedar Creek gauge is reading five feet this morning while the river is barely reading three feet, at least ten feet below flood stage. To show how quickly things can change in nature, a crystal ball would reveal that in less than a week, unprecedented flood waters would be surging several feet over my head at the point where I’m now standing, a difference of seventeen feet of water!