Friday, February 16, 2007

Mycelium And Aurora Borealis

It has been raining for several days now, and it can surely rain in the Highlands in the autumn. For one or two days it was windy as well, bringing boiling black storm clouds from the Atlantic Ocean to rush eastwards across the Highlands. Today, however, a gentle rain splashes intently on the surface of the loch, the woods are damp and sodden and a smell of moist earth pervades the lochside. But everywhere there is a riot of new colours. Fungi of all sizes, shapes and colours have suddenly appeared around the loch and in the woodland. There are red ones with white spots, small yellow ones, sticky brown ones, tall graceful inkcaps, round puffballs and large mushroom-shaped boletus. The names are also lovely: blushers and blewits, inkcaps and deathcaps, lawyers’ wigs and stinkhorns, and very many more the Latin names. Some years are better than others for fungi and the relative proponderance of different species also fluctuates from year to year. Where has this fairytale landscape erupted from, if not by the magic wand of the raingods? Of course, the real body, or mycelium, of the fungi has been growing away all year in the soil or in rotted branches of fallen trees and many other places; but now the fruiting bodies appear as familiar toadstools and mushrooms, throwing out millions of spores to ensure future generations of fungal beauty.


Last night, 1 February, there was the most spectacular display of northern lights or aurora borealis. On these nights, the whole northern sky can be lit up by flashing, changing bands of green or blue or white or red lights in the sky. The northern lights this time started at about 7 p.m. It was a quiet night, quite cold, crystal clear, with sounds carrying for miles. Looking upwards, there were patterns of shadowy curtains moving across the sky, greenish, glowing and eerie. They sort of crackled, or at least you felt they crackled, as they changed direction, rather like searchlights in the night sky. As I watched, a red glow started to appear above me; in fact, as the evening progressed, it was like being inside a great dome of the deepest red or magenta, illuminated with green bands in the northern sky. These displays at times are absolutely stunning; little wonder that they are also called the ‘Merry Dancers.’

Sadly, nowadays most people miss them, because they live in towns and cities where the all-pervading orange glow of streetlights makes it impossible even to see the stars, let alone the ghostly dancers of the northern lights. These last couple of winters have been particularly good for them, but only on a few nights are they really spectacular. I am told this has to do with sun-spot activity and that the best displays occur at regular intervals of every eleven years or so. On a few occasions in the last two winters I have witnessed and enjoyed this spectacular celestial phenomenon.

Two winters ago, we had a heifer who was due to calf. In the evening she looked as though she was very close, so at 9 p.m. I went out with a torch to check progress; it was obvious that she was about to give birth to her first calf. My wife and I stood in the field and, as the newborn calf struggled to its feet for the first time, above us was the most fantastic display of the white and green shadowy curtains of the northern lights. We will always remember that special night, for we named the calf Aurora and she is still with us as part of our herd on the farm.

Roy Dennis
The Loch: A Year In The Life Of A Scottish Loch

No comments: