Honey Mushroom

Armillaria, the Parasitic Fungus

fungus on adult cedar base

This summer we planted my cedar garden in an area that is protected by wire and situated just below the cabin by the brook. My intention was to create a safe place for northern white cedar seedlings to thrive; they are slow growing second succession trees and hungry Whitetails (deer) feast on their tasty fronds during the winter. In this small area there are a number of dead trunks that are decomposing; two have been cut at ground level producing beautiful patterns. Moist rich fragrant woodland soil made planting each seedling easy. 

Just to the right of the garden a thirty year old adult cedar (rough estimation) was spreading her shallow roots over this ground. Because mycorrhizal fungi live around the ‘mother’ tree I believed that these rootlets (hyphae) would seek out others, hopefully providing the little cedars with nutrients (I say she out of habit – some trees seem more female than others to me – and this was one of them-  but each cedar has male and female parts).

I have been watering my cedar garden every day since mid summer and I am pleased to note that none of the seedlings seem to have suffered transplanting stress. If all goes well, someday a small cedar grove may thrive here…

About a week ago (9/21) I was sitting among the cedars on a bench when I noticed that mushrooms were springing up around the base of the spruce that was last cut down because it was dead. Because we are suffering a severe drought I was surprised to see mushrooms, even here. I had only glimpsed one amanita, and one shelf mushroom this month so I found the fruiting odd. I broke a cap off and brought it back to the house to make a spore print as I researched the mushroom’s identity.

While waiting for the spore print I discovered that the mushroom was probably one of the species of Armillaria that appears growing out of the base of trees or stumps for only a few days a year in late September or early October.

The spore print was white, confirming my identification.

Oh dear.

I remembered Merlin Sheldrake’s remarks about Armillaria. These honey fungus were long lived and form some of the largest living organisms in the worldArmillaria ostoye/solipedes one of two most deadly parasitic Armillaria species covers more than three and a half square miles in Oregon’s Malheur National Forest and is more than 2500 years old. Armillaria ostoyae started from a single spore too small to see without a microscope. It has been spreading its black shoestring filaments through the forest killing trees as it grows.

(This organism rivals Pando, the trembling giant who is a single aspen clone who is geneticially male. A forest of one he is a grove composed of 47,000 quivering aspen trees connected by a single root system).

Honey Mushrooms are not only circumpolar in the northern hemisphere, but are recognized as one of the most widely distributed mushrooms in the world as they can be found at the appropriate latitudes in the southern hemisphere as well.

Honey fungus is a “white rot” fungus, a pathogenic organism that affects trees shrubs and other plants. Honey fungus can grow on living, decaying and dead trees and plants.

At times the honey mushroom’s fungus is saprotrophic—that is, it decomposes the heartwood of plants, turning the non-living part of trunks and roots into soil, but this is a temporary state. Eventually the fungus gets hungry for more food.

Honey fungus spreads from living trees, dead and live roots and stumps by means of reddish brown to black root –like structures called rhizomorphs. These grow close to the soil surface and invade new roots or the place where the roots meet the trunks or stems. An infected tree will die once the fungus has girded it or after significant root damage has occurred. This can happen rapidly or take years.

Initial symptoms of honey fungus infection include shortage of spring leaves or dieback. Rhizomorphs appear under the bark and around the tree, and mushrooms grow in clusters from the infected plant in during September and October. Thins sheets of cream colored mycelium beneath the bark at the base of the trunk or stem indicate that honey fungus is the pathogen. The sheets often have a strong mushroom scent. On conifers honey fungus often exudes resin from cracks in the bark.

 The mushroom, the reproductive structure of the fungus, grows on wood or roots, typically in small clusters that last only a few days (mine lasted four days). The mushrooms are yellowish brown and may range in shape from conical to having convex depressions in the center (mine were honey colored and displayed both of these shapes). The stalk or stipe may or may not have a ring (some of mine did; others did not). All ten Armillaria species have a white spore print. Some species of Armillaria are bioluminescent – they glow in the dark.

Of the ten species Armillaria mellea and ostoyae are the most aggressive killers. Armillaria gallica frequently infects plants that are suffering from environmental stress or other infections. One of the former grows in the mountains of New Mexico.

I was not able to determine what species of Armillaria I have growing in the cedar garden but I do know that there are two more dead trees in this small area, one a spruce and the other a maple.

Oddly, also in this one small area many tree seedlings – balsam, spruce, hemlock, white pine, maple – are sprouting and virtually all of them seem healthy. It may be that the fungus has yet to enter these plants?

I read that on the west coast that red cedar seems to have some immunity to honey fungus disease and because the northern white cedar and red cedar are related (Thuja) I wonder if my seedlings might have some protection from the invasion of this pathogen. These new world cedars are actually junipers. 

Honey fungus is particularly damaging to lilac, privet, apple, many flowering cherries, willow, birch, walnut, cedars, and cypresses. Box elder, Californian black walnut and yew seem to be virtually immune. Other resistant species include fir, bamboo, hornbeam, beech, ash, junipers (hah, found this information after writing the above), larch, and oaks,

Symptoms of attack by Honey fungus include:

1. Yellowish-brown (honey) colored mushrooms, usually in clumps, on or near tree stumps or recently felled trees or dead plants. The mushrooms may not appear every year but when they do the spore print should be white.

2. Occasional death over the years of previously vigorous woody plants in a relatively small area.

3. The best indication of attack by Honey fungus is the presence of white fungal growth beneath the bark on roots and the collar portion of a dead or dying tree. Peel back a section of the bark from the lower trunk or upper roots. Honey fungus mycelium forms white or cream paper-like sheets sandwiched between the dead bark and underlying wood. The sheets have a strong mushroom smell. 

Control of Honey fungus

The stumps and roots of dead trees are ideal breeding grounds for the fungus, therefore the most effective way to prevent the spread of the disease is to remove all dead stumps and roots from an affected area. 

Do not replant on the site for one year and then replant with resistant species.

Ironically as deadly as this fungus can be for trees and plants their fruiting bodies are considered to be delicious to eat. Honey Fungus are regarded as one of the best wild mushrooms by many, but they must be cooked thoroughly, and even so may cause gastric upset in some people. Don’t harvest honey mushrooms from spruce trees. They may make you ill.

My notes:

I conclude that I have honey fungus in the cedar garden although I have no idea which species is growing there.

I planted my 2-5, inch seedlings in the beginning of August (2020)

I ringed each tree with cedar chips and sphagnum moss.

I continue to water my cedars each day and will continue this practice until it gets cold.

I observe that the little seedlings have exhibited little or no signs of transplant stress.

The older cedar has dropped more than 50 percent of her foliage and looks unhealthy to me – this happened suddenly two weeks ago – around the middle of September. Maine is experiencing severe drought.

The seedlings get plenty of light but little direct sun at this time of year.

The mushrooms first appeared in a cluster around the spruce stump (9/21) and then I saw scattered ones popping up next to roots. On (9/22) I took a spore print and left it for 24 hours. Three days ago (9/25) I discovered a cluster of honey fungus on the east side of the adult cedar and more nearby on the right side lying close to Trillium rock. All mushrooms disappeared fast. (Darn, should have marked exact spots where fungi appeared next to roots)

I have checked the decaying bark around the dead spruce and so far can’t identify the white mycelial network under the bark – but I am not confident I know exactly what I am looking for, and maybe its just too dry to see the threads? Marcus might help… I had no idea when I began this project that I was beginning an experiment.  Although unwelcome, I am very interested to see what happens to the seedlings when they encounter the honey fungus… will they be able to resist infestation? 

Merlin Sheldrake’s


Dear Sara, 
Thanks for your kind note. I’m thrilled you enjoyed the book. Unfortunately I don’t think I can be much help with your question. There is little one can do about Armillaria – in your case the best thing would be to keep a close eye on it. 
Very bests, 

One Year Later:

This has been the year of the mushroom. For the last three months I have been captivated like never before by the mushrooms in the forest and have not only expanded my knowledge with regard to mushroom identification but have been pulled into the underground ‘field of mycelial networks’ that stretch across the forest floor just under the surface in a visceral way. So many mushrooms have made this networking REAL to me on a level that my imagination and my research can’t compete with!

Meanwhile, every single cedar that I planted last year is thriving. This kind of success is unusual unless I consider my relationship with these cedars. I love all trees but there is something about cedars that ‘call’ to me on a level I don’t quite understand. All I know is that I want them around me. What I have learned from being in intimate relationship with some plants is that those closest to me, like my animals, are influenced by what’s going on in my life. If I am suffering in some way the former respond by dropping leaves or in extreme instances if my life is threatened a plant will die. This outrageous claim isn’t outrageous at all if we recognize that we share more than 50 percent of our DNA with these ‘elders’ cedars and all trees. Plants and trees love those who love them. What I have learned from loving house plants is that during difficult periods I have to keep plants as far away from me as possible – preferably upstairs. Physical separation helps. Outdoor plants don’t seem to be quite so vulnerable. This may have been a tough year for me but my cedars are growing happily.

This cedar has outdone herself – S/he is three times her original size – last year at this time she had turned brown which I now know was a response to being transplanted in an area where there was too much sun. Cedars turn brown to protect their lace -like foliage. She adapted and is presently thriving!

Down in the cedar grove I have been keeping a close eye out for the appearance of the Honey mushroom. Not only have none appeared (it is now the end of September) but the entire area is so full of new mosses and lichen, new seedlings and saplings that I can hardly see the tree stump that was cut just a little over a year ago. This entire area is bursting with new life. Oddly, this area seems almost free of mushrooms. When Forest scientist Suzanne Simard’s book came out last spring I discovered that her studies indicated that birches slow the spread of Armillaria. Armillaria, I discovered, is the greatest threat to managed forests and forest plantations – places that have been strip -logged and replanted with foreign species, not an area like mine. In a forest that has been left alone to care for itself Armillaria almost always acts, not as a pathogen killing trees, but as a saprophytic mushroom, helping dying or dead trees to decay. In some instances like with orchids Armillaria acts as a mycorrhizal mushroom exchanging nutrients with the orchid. Just think about the flexibility that is part of this mushroom’s ability. Depending upon the environment it can change its behavior in very dramatic ways!

I have reached the conclusion that the Honey mushrooms that appeared here last year were acting as saprophytic mushrooms helping to break down the decaying wood. As mentioned previously, this area is full of new green growth, mushrooms are scarce and very tiny, none are honey mushrooms, and mosses are quickly covering the stump… Of course, its only been a year and my conclusion may be premature, but I am excited by what I have learned, and happy for the cedars!


When we meet 

our deep

brown eyes

 mirror a

mutual need

for light

to penetrate

 human darkness.

 – Your eyes are

wary and fearful;

Mine hunger

for your touch.

I cry out softly

“Don’t be afraid…

I love you”.

We share

a haunted skin –

  hunted down

by Difference.

You are slaughtered

by men with guns.

I am knifed by wounding

 man words,

– boy threats,

 a ‘gift’ of a still warm

grouse – her neck twisted

and broken – dropped

at my door.

There are so many ways

 to kill an animal.

You have shiny black fur

and my skin is light

but our senses scream

as One in torment –

our bodies feel

the earth moving

 under our feet.

We have no place

left to go –

no hope of peace.

What’s left?

  Courage to endure.

Our Maine Woods

 Let’s not forget our Moose Maples 

Moose maple seeds – a bridal veil

In September we are all awaiting the vibrant color that the fall foliage will bring. The combination of decreasing daylight and the sudden cold weather brought instant changes to the trees this year.

 Hiking in the forest especially on mountain trails I come upon sudden splashes of intense crimson or bittersweet orange that literally take my breath away. Even now although the equinox has passed my body feels saturated with these remarkable glimpses of the Red maples that have already caught fire. This tree grows almost anywhere around here and has smooth gray bark. In swamps I call it swamp maple. Along the roads, in fields, or in the forest I pick up its toothed, multicolored or scarlet serrated leaves with their red stems and marvel at nature’s ingenuity. Each leaf is unique, although similar in shape to others of its kind. 

The hard Sugar maples for the most part seem a bit behind, although some show promise. Their leaves are similar in shape but have smooth edges and green stems and when these trees begin to lose their chlorophyll their deep golden, orange, scarlet color rivals that of the Red maple in ways any artist would admire. Many of us know that as the leaves stop producing chlorophyll anthrocyanin gives the reddish and purplish color to sumac and Norway maples and turns the other maples brilliant orange, fiery red, lemony yellow or gold. This year the drought has already taken a toll on the trees; many leaves have fallen early. For the past couple of days the wind has brought down drifts of parched leaves that crunch like paper under my feet and I find myself hoping that this trend of wind driven days will not continue…

On this property many years ago I encouraged the Red maples to grow as they pleased knowing that one day I would have a veritable feast for my eyes without even having to leave the cabin. That day has arrived and what I love best is watching the process of subtly shifting shades that intensify day to day. As much as I love to hike into the higher spots on surrounding mountains I take, if possible, even more pleasure from gazing out the window the moment I awaken each morning…

from my window

One maple tree escapes most people’s attention even in the fall and that is the Striped maple. Lately when I have been hiking up the mountains I notice that many of these understory trees have leaves that are browning, drooping pitifully, with leaves curling inward due to the drought. Others have turned that pale lemony hue, providing a lovely contrast with browning vegetation on the forest floor. Occasionally, I find fallen branches with leaves attached. Witnessing a “Moose maple” leaf as large as a dinner plate is always a surprise. In the filtered light of the forest these trees seem especially beautiful to me, and I wonder why so few people notice them…

Down below the house I have a striped maple growing by the brook that has managed to survive deer browsing winter after winter. This tree is now about 35 feet high and its spiraling sprays or wings of seeds that cascade below the leaves are the most beautiful of all the maples to my mind. When I gaze at the tree in the fall I am reminded of a bridal veil. In the spring after leafing out bright yellow bell-shaped flowers appear in long, pendulous clusters. Curiously Striped maples are predominantly male trees, that is, their flowers are male. But the species exhibits sexual dimorphism or plasticity. If changes occur in the canopy and new conditions seem favorable, trees can alter sex, bearing female flowers in a single generation.

These trees thrive in shady landscapes as well as providing food and habitat for birds and pollinators. They are native to the forests of eastern North America favoring slopes and ravines because of their need for moisture. They are not long lived trees. And many don’t survive intense browsing by ungulates to make it to adulthood. Mine has multiple trunks, probably a result of browsing. Moose maple has smooth pale green striated bark. One interesting fact is that the smooth skin of Moose maple can photosynthesize in winter.

The leaves of striped maples are the largest of any of the maple family, seven inches across at the base, nearly twice the size of the leaves of sugar maples. The leaves are long-stalked, and have three to five finely-toothed lobes. If you pick up a leaf and compare it to that of another maple it is easy to see the correspondence between the leaves in spite of the size difference. The lime green of the striped maple during the summer is one of the forest’s most vibrant colors. In the fall the pale yellow leaves indicate the absence of anthocyanin that transforms most other maple leaves into a festival of reds and oranges.

 Although I haven’t mentioned the Norway, Silver or the Mountain maple I must include them in this general discussion because we also have these trees in Maine. The Silver maple is a coastal tree.

 After having spent four winters in New Mexico I am perhaps even more appreciative of this astonishing autumn painting that stretches across the land. Although the golden Cottonwoods along riparian areas in NM are a feast worth seeing, nothing can compare to astounding colors of the trees in our own Maine woods.

Woods’ Walk

Woods Walk

A flash of crimson

lights up the forest.

Drumming splits

the air –

A glimpse

into the joy

of bird flight.

My feet crunch

parched leaves.

I am grateful

for the Frost

that has ended 

the thirst

of ground covers.

Death brings relief.

That night

I learn

that perhaps

a million birds

lie dead –

the canaries 

in the coal mine

of the Southwest 

  where Earth’s struggle

to keep her 

birds alive

is over

for multitudes.

I stare at 

the woodpecker

at my feeder 

with starving eyes,

imprinting him


in my heart.

Hairy is a frequent

year round character

that will

not be migrating

into the maelstrom

that has

killed so many

of his

avian friends –

but how long

before his time


There is something

about the death of birds

that brings home

the horrors

we face –

 Worse than

all the fires, floods, 

the drought, 

a mutating virus,

 mighty smoking winds…

Birds embody Hope

 with feathers –

as Emily once said.

Unlike the Frost

that took tender

ground loving plants

this death

speaks to a Great Calamity

of Permanence –

the particulars of which

are as yet unknown.


In Abiquiu, New Mexico where I have spent winters for the past four years they are finding dead birds… I can’t help feeling relief that I am not there to witness this horror – there is something about avian death that cements grief into the eternal.

Audubon – dead birds – Kevin Johnson

The Southwest Is Facing an ‘Unprecedented’ Migratory Bird Die-Off

Scientists and birders have found large numbers of migratory species disoriented and dead in recent weeks. Here’s what we know so far.

A dozen dead Barn and Violet-green Swallows huddled together on the dusty desert floor of southern New Mexico. Numerous Western Bluebirds packed into a crevice in southern Colorado as if they panicked. Sparrows, lined up almost wing-to-wing, lying limply along the banks of the Rio Grande.

These are just a few of the grisly discoveries recently made in what is likely a mass death event for migratory birds occurring across the Southwest. At the moment, there is no clear explanation. 

The die-off is “unprecedented,” says Martha Desmond, an avian ecologist at New Mexico State University (NMSU) in Las Cruces, who is leading the research team documenting the event. She estimates that hundreds of thousands and possibly even up to a million birds have died across at leastfive U.S. states and in four Mexican states. “It’s enormous, the extent of this,” Desmond says. “We haven’t counted all the species yet, but there are lots of species involved.” Online reports show dead owls, warblers, hummingbirds, loons, flycatchers, woodpeckers, and more—representing the wide diversity of migrants heading south to their wintering grounds.

The exact reasons for the deaths aren’t yet known. A cold snap that brought snow, wind, and low temperatures across the region on September 8 and 9 could have forced birds to migrate early or brought down birds already weak from migration. Similarly, wildfires raging along the West Coast might have spurred premature departures while also interfering with birds’ migratory routes, vision, and breathing. Some combination of both factors may also be the cause, but experts emphasize that nothing has been proven so far. “There’s more questions than answers still,” says Jon Hayes, executive director of Audubon Southwest.

Scientists first began reporting avian deaths throughout New Mexico in August. Initially they didn’t think anything particularly unusual was going on: Birds expend a massive amount of energy flying hundreds or thousands of miles while also dodging deadly threats like bad weather, predators, and buildings. “The tragic but true fact of migrations is that birds die,” Hayes says. “Migration is very tough.”

But as reports of bird deaths became more widespread and continued into September, researchers started to become alarmed. More and more photos showing dead or disoriented birds on the ground were posted to a regional listserv, and observations of abnormal behavior, atypical flight patterns, and stray or vagrant birds across the Southwest further supported some sort of mass catastrophe.  

With the situation growing more dire, the NMSU scientists sprang into action. Desmond quickly convened wildlife experts from the university, the Bureau of Land Management, and White Sands Missile Range, where a large number of birds were found dead on August 20. Since then, the collaborative research team has already begun a sweeping study of as many migratory birds as they can collect, living or dead, to understandwhat might have happened. Along with examining bird carcasses—more than 300 so far—researchers are catching and banding migrants passing through. 

The first possible cause the researchers considered was recent unseasonal weather in the Southwest, which brought temperatures in the 30s and 40s, high winds, and snow to parts of the region. “A lot of birds probably died with the weather event that happened a week ago,” Desmond says. It’s also possible the cold spell forced birds to depart on their migration earlier than anticipated, she says. But the storms abated last week and birds continue to die. “It’s also very troubling that all of this started well before the [cold] weather, and it’s still continuing after the weather.”

The ongoing wildfires in California, Oregon, and Washington could also be playing a role.

The ongoing wildfires in California, Oregon, and Washington could also be playing a role. Wildfires are known to force early migration movements from bird species, and the smoke can poison the air while decreasing visibility. “The wildfire smoke is significant . . . You couldn’t see across the street,” Hayes says, regarding air quality conditions from his home in Placitas, New Mexico. “There’s no doubt in my mind that’s going to affect birds, too.”

Hayes sees a connection between these different extreme weather events. “This is about abrupt changes in our weather patterns as a result of climate change,” he says. “All these things are going to cause long-term declines, long-term losses [of birds], and they’re gonna be punctuated by big scary events like this. It’s part of this bigger problem.”

A 2019 study led by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology found that North America is currently home to 3 billion fewer birds than it was 50 years ago due to multifold changes to habitat and food sources. Also last year, scientists with the National Audubon Society used 140 million bird sightings to project how birds will be affected by climate change in the coming century. They found that 389 bird species, including some killed in the current die-off, are threatened with extinction as temperatures and rainfall patterns shift. Many are also at risk from weather events like wildfires made more extreme by the warming climate.

Terry Tempest Williams

A Burning Testament 
Terry Tempest Williams
15 September 2020

“With these ashes in hand that have fallen from near and far on the drought-cracked desert of Utah, I raise my fist to a smoke-choked sky to honor the holy creatures, human and wild, who have lost their lives and homes to the galloping flames like rider-less horses burning through the West . 
We are witness to ghostly horizons lit with the scalding colors of, red, orange, purple, black, the blowout of close to five million acres of land being ravaged by fires with such velocity it is melting our capacity to feel the full magnitude of what is happening – We are not okay. We are anxious. We are scared. There is no place to run. There is no place to hide. There is only our love and grief to hold us in the terror of all we are seeing, sensing, denying. We can’t touch the source of our despair because we can’t touch each other. And so we retreat inside when everything outside is screaming. We are sitting in rooms watching screens alone, waiting, as if this is a pause instead of a place, the place where we find ourselves now.
The facts do not tell the story of how our hearts are breaking, nor do the photographs of blackened forests or lone chimneys standing as monuments to homes once inhabited, or does the news speak to the terror of fleeing fires lapping at our heels that we can never outrun only pray for a change in the wind. No one is reporting the smells of burnt fur or feathers or leaves and sap or the cold hard truth of those who find the missing frozen in their last gestures of escape beneath a blanket of ashes, ashes — not even the stories reported by biologists in New Mexico who are picking up the bodies of hundreds of thousands of migrating birds in mixed flocks of warblers, flycatchers, sparrows, and finches found dead on the ground in Great White Sands with no explanation but the conjecture they died from exhaustion, forced to flee the forests before their bodies were fattened ready to make the long journeys south.  
Our valley is a steady stream of birds who stop and drink from our well, our bird baths and tubs we have waiting for them. And there are nine known bears in our valley who have come down from the mountains looking for food and water. They wander through our community in shrouds of smoke they have been unable to shake off from last month’s epic fires in Colorado, a few wing beats away as the raven flies.
Unable at times to distinguish day from night, we have only have a blood red sun and an orange-faced moon exchanging places in the sky to orient us as temperatures rise, fires rage, and before our eyes, in a flash, a neighboring national forest becomes the charred citadel of a vibrant world – gone. We are saying farewell to what we love and why we stay. How can we stay? The landscape of the American West is burning and we are burning, too. 
We have been living a myth. We have constructed a dream. We have cajoled and seduced ourselves into believing we are the center of all things; with plants and other sentient beings from ants to lizards to coyotes and grizzly bears, remaining subservient to our whims, desires, and needs. This is a lethal lie that will be seen by future generations as a grave, a grave moral sin committed and buried in the name of ignorance and arrogance.
It is true, We have mismanaged our forests and suppressed fire for decades. We have ignored and failed to listen to the wisdom of Indigenous People who have understood and lived with fire for generations. We have built our homes within the woods when we should have respected the necessary breathing spaces between the domestic and the wild. We have overbuilt and overridden the carrying capacity of arid landscapes and underestimated the limits of water in times of drought. We have sacrificed the integrity of fragile and iconic landscapes for the development of oil and gas to fuel “the American way of life.”  
This is freedom unmasked. We have a right to live as we wish. Until we can’t. Our reckless history of human habitation in the American West is on a collision course with the climate crisis. Climate Change is not a hoax. It is real and it is a fire-breathing dragon blowing fire at our doors.
We cannot breathe. This is our mantra in America now. We cannot breathe because of the smoke. We cannot breathe because of a virus that has entered our homes. We cannot breathe because of police brutality and too many black bodies dead on the streets. We cannot breathe because we are holding our breath for the people and places we love. 
I was asked to write an obituary for the land – but I realize I am writing an obituary for us, for the life we have lost and can never return to – and within this burning of western lands, our innocence and denial is in flames. The obituary will be short. The time came and these humans died from the old ways of being. Good riddance. It was time. Their cause of death was the terminal disease of solipsism whereby humans put themselves at the center of the universe. It was only about them. And in so doing were have been dead to the world that is alive.
To the power of these burning, illuminated western lands who have shaped our character, inspired our souls, and restored our belief in what is beautiful and enduring – I will never write your obituary–because even as you burn, you are throwing down seeds that will sprout and flower, trees will grow, and forests will rise again as living testaments to how one survives change. 
It is time to grieve and mourn the dead and believe in the power of renewal. If we do not embrace our grief, our sadness will come out sideways in unexpected forms of depression and violence. We must dare to find a proper ceremony to collectively honor the dead from the coronavirus as we approach 200,000 citizens lost. We must honor the lives engulfed in these western fires and the lives we will continue to lose from the climate crisis at hand — Only then can we begin the work of restoration, respecting the generations to come as we clear a path toward cooling a warming planet. 
This will be our joy.
Let this be a humble tribute, an exaltation, an homage, and an open-hearted eulogy to all we are losing to fire to floods to hurricanes and tornadoes and the invisible virus that has called us all home and brought us to our knees — We are not the only species that lives and loves and breathes on this miraculous planet called Earth – May we remember this – and raise a fist full of ash to all the lives lost that it holds. Grief is love. How can we hold this grief without holding each other? To bear witness to this moment of undoing is to find the strength and spiritual will to meet the dark and smoldering landscapes where we live. We can cry. Our tears will fall like rain in the desert and wash off our skins of ash so our pores can breathe, so our bodies can breathe back the lives that we have taken for granted.
I will mark my heart with an “X” made of ash that says, the power to restore life resides here. The future of our species will be decided here. Not by facts but by love and loss.  
Hand on my heart, I pledge of allegiance to the only home I will ever know.”

Death Knell

I found ten in all…

Birds nests –

Too many I knew.

 Woven of grasses, 

tufts of hair

these spiral shells

fell out

of trees

at my feet.

I stared up

at branching canopies –

shuddered in Silence.

Shallow roots

can’t tap water

from a ground

  this parched. 

Thirsty trunks and frightened limbs 

 are held fast –

imprisoned by an unforgiving sky.

Caterpillars suck down

  nourishing sap.

Leaves curl and droop –

  Skeletons crackle 

  under my feet.

Beloved cedars

are losing their glorious fans.

Browning ominously.

My brook is going dry…

I no longer weep.

Death flies through dry air

on a fiery Warlock’s Broom

crafted from Human Stupidity.

Once I dreamed this

Nightmare when

waters flowed freely.

Peepers sung up spring nights –

 silvery veils and curtains fell –

 a chorus of tree frogs

 heralded wet autumn days…

I slept well in thickening fog.

Oh, for the sound of those poignant refrains

Oh, for the scent of rain sweetened songs.

Now I live the drought

month after month.

Witnessing the Dying.

Once I fled to a desert

to escape Climate Despair.

My body’s thirst for water

My heart’s thirst 

My head’s constant ache

  all visceral reminders

that our precious Life Force

is draining away –

Even the mycelial net

beneath the ground

needs Water to live.

The Autumn Equinox approaches.

Once, a moment to celebrate Balance 

between Light and Dark,

This year the Earth 

 is forced to Grind

 one Dying Seasoninto another…

Lichen Land

Lichen Land From Maine to New Mexico

Sunburst lichen

A couple of weeks ago I had to cut down a sixty seven year old White pine near my house. And yesterday I found the most beautiful lichen that must have fallen from that tree, something called Fringed Wrinkle lichen, a lichen that thrives in the uppermost branches of Eastern white pine and hemlock trees.

Fringed Wrinkled Lichen

 I am frankly fascinated by lichen. Because this summer has been so hot and dry I have spent more time in the woods than usual. Mushrooms have been scarce and I have been looking at various lichens marveling over their ability to deal with drought conditions. During dry spells lichen become dry and crispy but don’t expire. Lichens grow on rocks, trees, and in the soils in many different environments. Around the house I must have at least twenty different types of lichen, maybe more. I haven’t counted all of them.

Lichen is composed of two organisms that arise in a symbiotic relationship. One is an alga or cyanobacteria and the other is a fungus. The algae live among the filaments of fungi. Evidently the fungus is the predominant partner because it determines the majority of the alga’s characteristics, from its curious shapes to its fruiting/spore producing bodies. Some lichens have more than one algal partner. 

Fungi depend upon the algae for nutrients since they do not contain chlorophyll and cannot photosynthesize. Algae and cyanobacteria can manufacture carbohydrates with the help of light via the process of photosynthesis. By contrast, fungi do not make their own carbohydrates. Every fungus needs existing organic matter from which to obtain carbon. Fungi provide water for the algae and decompose the organic matter around them. When looked at microscopically the fungal partner is composed of filaments called hyphae. The hyphae grow by extension – branching and fusing. In lichens some of the carbohydrates produced by the algae are, of course, used by the alga but some is ‘harvested’ by the fungus.

 There are 20,000 lichens on earth. They can be found growing in almost all parts of the terrestrial world, from the ice-free polar areas to the tropics, from tropical rainforests to those desert areas free of mobile sand dunes. While generally terrestrial a few aquatic lichens are known. The surfaces (substrates) on which lichens grow vary from soil, rock, wood, bone to the man-made concrete, glass, canvas, metal etc.

 Amazingly, Lichens possess structures not formed by either of the partners and produce chemicals usually absent when the fungus or the alga are cultivated separately and so lichens are more than a sum of their parts. In fact, lichens synthesize over 800 substances, many of them not found elsewhere in nature. That they produce powerful antiviral properties that protect them and could be useful to humans is a fact. Why are we not studying them?

Lichens come in many sizes forms and colors. Around here some of my favorites are the bearded lichens that hang from the dying spruce down by the brook, and even in drought they keep their sage gray green color. Others like the Fringed Wrinkle lichen intrigue me because they are bi –colored and so wave-like in appearance. The neatly puffed shape of Reindeer moss, (yes, it is a lichen) is another. There is a pale pink lichen that grows along my road and the crimson topped British Soldiers is yet another much appreciated lichen species.  

Part 2

 As much as I love the gray green lichens my absolutely favorite lichen is orange. Sunburst lichens grow from the coast of Maine to New Mexico. When I lived on Monhegan island I was surrounded by these lichens which grow on rock outcroppings near the sea. I don’t recall where I have seen any sunburst lichen around here except in graveyards. Parietin, the pigment that colors sunbursts intensifies under sunlight. The stronger the solar irradiance, the denser the pigment. When growing in the woods most sunburst lichens don’t need sunblock so they are more yellow than orange. Parietin protects the sensitive algal partner from exposure to ultraviolet rays. This pigment also protects the slow growing lichen from slugs and other herbivores who otherwise might denude them because of the way the pigment tastes.

On the porch of the casita in New Mexico I have a slightly squared stone that a friend found on a hike and gave me a couple of years ago that has a thin crust of orange lichen on it. I have watered it from time to time noting that despite my attention the color has dimmed. Is this because it came from the high country where the air is less congested with particles? I don’t know.

For a naturalist like me sunburst lichens help me to get a reading on who might have once been in the area. At the seacoast the color orange suggests that seabirds were present; farther inland the presence of orange lichen over a crevice might indicate a coyote or fox den. Orange lichen appearing on a branch of spruce or balsam provides me with evidence that an owl might have roosted here for a time. Newly laid dung will provide the substrate for a colony of orange lichen to appear in a few years. 

Lichens are usually described as having a leaf -like (like my fringed friend), crusty, or branching/shrublike forms. Lichens often play an important part in the weathering of rocks. When lichens attach to rocks, they retain moisture and are instrumental in breaking down the stone. This process is an essential component for producing soil in a barren environment, but it takes years.

 In the desert it is easy to spot dark clumpy soil areas, which are actually a layer which can include cyanobacteria, lichens, mosses, green algae, microfungi, and bacteria. This living biomass binds particles of soil, reduces erosion, fixes nitrogen, and can add organic matter. These areas are very fragile and even a footstep reduces their functioning which can take years to rebuild. In Abiquiu, the local cattle trample this delicate ground with impunity.

Lichens are widely used for many different purposes throughout the world. The most common use is dye production. Litmus paper is made from a dye mixture extracted from the Rocella species which is then applied to filter paper. Dyes used for clothing were used in the Scottish Highlands and produced red, orange, brown, and yellow. Purple dyes used throughout Europe from the 15ththrough 17thcenturies were extracted from lichens.

Many lichens have been used medicinally. A lichen’s usefulness as a medicine is often related to the lichen secondary compounds that are abundant in most lichen. It is estimated that 50-percent of all lichen species have antibiotic properties. Many lichen extracts have been found to be effective in killing the bacteria that cause boils, scarlet fever, and pneumonia.

Lichen are sensitive to atmospheric pollution including nitrogen and sulfur emissions that lead to acid rain, as well as toxic lead and mercury emissions. This sensitivity makes lichen a valuable biological indicator of air quality.

Some sensitive lichen species develop structural changes in response to air pollution including reduced photosynthesis and bleaching. Pollution can also cause the death of the lichen algae, discoloration and reduced growth of the lichen fungus, or kill a lichen completely. The most sensitive lichens are shrubby and leafy while the most tolerant lichens are crust-like lichens.

Lichens have been around for 250 million years and have learned how to cooperate and live in harmony. These fascinating and sometimes diminutive animal – plant ‘beings’ with their antibiotic/antiviral properties could be powerful teachers helping humans to develop medicines that could help with our current pandemic, as well as modeling the ability to cooperate despite ‘difference’ something our dominate culture has yet to learn.

Quivers of Light

Fringed Wrinkled Lichen

“Quivers of light” pierce darkening thoughts when I examine a piece of lichen – part animal – part plant – these two live together in harmony, each dependent upon each other for life. Lichen are both a fungus and an alga – the latter a photosynthesizing organism… fungi receive sugar from the algae and the algal partners receive protection… this symbiosis or reciprocity is 400 million years strong. As I live with the drought that is stealing the life force from the trees and plants around me, I look at lichen and feel that quivering Earth Light shining through our present crisis. Earth will live on. 

The Graceful Hemlock

Hemlock – foreground – parched fall background

This summer because of the heat and drought I have spent a lot of time across the brook in my woods because it is always so cool in there. As parched as the land is elsewhere, in the forest I can still find the occasional mushroom, examine various mosses and lichens (the latter remind me that the air quality is excellent), peer into rich green bogs searching for new plants, or sit by the feeder brook that still trickles down the mountain.

author standing in front of same tree a few weeks ago

The deep shade I seek is due in part to the graceful Hemlocks that tower over my head. When this land was last cut about 40 years ago the Hemlocks were spared because they weren’t considered to be a valuable ‘resource.’ They are the biggest trees on my land and I love them. Even today although clear cutting removes all trees including the Hemlock this tree is not considered to be of much value in comparison to other trees like pine or spruce.

Hemlocks are the most shade tolerant species of all trees. They can persist in the understory as a suppressed tree for up to 400 years. In places where they are still allowed to grow it is not uncommon to see a one inch diameter Hemlock sapling that is 60 to 100 years old.

Although they grow slowly they can reach two to four feet in diameter and 100 feet or more in height. Our Eastern Hemlocks can take 250 to 300 years to reach maturity and can live more than 800 years. The oldest Eastern Hemlock is almost 1000 years old (988 years).

Hemlocks have to have certain conditions to regenerate. Although they produce their little cones frequently – every two or three years – seed viability is low. In order for the seeds to germinate (many are destroyed by insects) temperature and moisture conditions have to be just right. Temperatures have to be around 44 – 64 degrees for a few weeks and adequate moisture has to be present for seeds to germinate. 

Hemlocks like to grow in pure stands but they also closely associate themselves with white pine, spruce and fir, yellow birch, red oak, and red maple. A tree loving friend of mine would add Northern White cedar to the mix and I would too. Hemlocks are often found along lower slopes and along streams. I have a lot of young Hemlocks growing down by my brook. Hemlock roots help prevent erosion along river and stream banks, and their dense canopies provide cool shade keeping the air around them full of moisture.

Tannaries were a major industry in New England during the 1800’s. High in tannins, Hemlock bark was prized for treating animal hides because tannins are a preservative. The bark gives leather a dark red-brown color. Millions of Hemlocks were felled and stripped of their bark. The rest of the tree was left to rot, a disgusting waste from my point of view but so typical of the American lumber industry…Economy ‘trumps’ Life every time. The tanning industry declined in the early 1900’s giving Hemlocks a chance to reestablish stands before these trees were logged again. 

Hemlock presently represents about 20 – 25 percent of the softwood timber industry in the northeast. 

Today the lumber is used for timber frames, to build barns and is a popular choice for bridges on logging roads and trails, but isn’t considered ‘valuable’ like pine or spruce.

Wildlife benefit from Hemlock stands. Dense stands reduce snow depth and help moderate temperatures helping deer and rabbits conserve energy during the cold winter months. Many birds and other mammals use Hemlock stands for breeding and protection. Owls, in particular like Hemlock and here I have Barred owls living in my woods along with grouse, and turkey. Porcupines feed on Hemlock bark and branches. When walking through the woods if you see an area with lots of Hemlock branches on the ground at once you know a porcupine is feeding in the area. Our collective nemesis, the Red squirrel, eats Hemlock cones.

Unfortunately several insects attack Hemlocks. The woolly adelgid (the worst) is a non native insect that feeds on hemlock twigs and creates a loss of tree needles (it can also be found on Norfolk Island pines – so beware of white “snowy” patches on these or other live trees that are sold as indoor Christmas trees). This insect reduces the ability of the tree to produce new growth, and an untreated infestation can kill a tree in 2 – 12 years. Unfortunately this pest has reached Maine’s coastal areas and is spreading inland. 

Over one third of the Eastern hemlock’s native range has been infested with this bug. The larvae spread rapidly through the air on their own or by wind and birds. Even though a quarantine has been established for Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, the infestation is spreading. The 2013 revision of the quarantine rule is one reason why:

“Hemlock chips with top material, and uncomposted bark with top material from quarantined areas may be imported into non-quarantined areas in the State of Maine provided that said material is shipped only to sites within Maine that are preapproved by the Maine Forest Service, Department of Agriculture, Conservation & Forestry. Such sites must have a compliance agreement with the Maine Forest Service”.


 Here is the kind of legal crazymaking loophole that catches my hair on fire. If you use bark as mulch, which many gardeners do you are probably responsible for the spread of this devastating disease.

In the northern portion of the Hemlock’s range, the color of the Hemlocks infested by this invasive insect will typically change from a healthy, dark green to a sickly, grayish-green color after just a few years, and death typically occurs four to ten years after an initial infestation.  Any trees that do manage to survive the direct effects of this assault are usually weakened to the point where they may die from secondary causes.

Hemlock scale and Hemlock borers are additional threats. Brown flecks on the needles reveal the presence of the scale. Should you note a collection of orange chips surrounding a Hemlock tree (due to woodpeckers drilling into the cambium for insects) then the Hemlock has probably been infested by the borers.

Once the insects are established on Hemlocks there is little to be done. The Maine Forest service has released a couple of non native insects from Japan to deal with infestations, creating of course, another problem in its wake. With the future of these trees so uncertain I take refuge in the present and spend a lot of time appreciating these beautiful woodland trees. One day, they may not be around to enjoy.


Mark’s clump of cedars

Creating Community

Yesterday I trotted down the hill to water my cedar garden with a container full of mineral rich rain-water. I opened the gate and entered the enclosure Marcus had fashioned. The wire stretched around the back of Trillium Rock and followed the uneven contours of the land ending at an entrance that completed the meandering oval. We hoped to protect the baby cedars that had been planted inside from being damaged by woodland grazing animals.

 I felt a sense of peace as I entered the space but was unprepared for the strange blurring of boundaries or the heightening sensation of dissolution followed by oneness that stole over me as I stood there quietly. Simultaneously, I could feel myself being connected as if by invisible threads not just to the seedlings, but to the whole space on a level that also dissolved differences. Dissolution and Oneness. The experience peaked and then evaporated leaving me standing there wondering what had happened even before I bent to water and inspect each seedling. Most peculiar, the two sensations – Dissolution and Oneness – suddenly seemed to me to be the same experience.

 I also thought about the feeling of being connected by threads…Could it also be that the cooperative mycorrhizal network beneath my feet was drawing me in on some level, possibly communicating its desire to include me in something that was beyond my conscious ability to comprehend? As fantastic as this idea sounded, I thought it might be true. I imagined being part of a wild decentralized underground fungal network that stretched across the continent under the land and sea, a network without a center, yet one whose minute hyphae probably explored every inch of this earth, each root tip branching, learning adapting, changing… Yes, anything was possible.  

As I watered each seedling looking for changes in leaf structure or color that might indicate problems, I left this mind-bending tangle of possibilities behind to reflect upon other events that led to creating the garden…

Two years ago I lost a beautiful adult cedar that I had planted in front of the cabin to winter deer grazing. I was still mourning the loss of my Guardian tree, one that my friend and neighbor Mark had let me dig up from his land 15 years ago.

 Last year I replaced it with another cedar seedling, left for the winter, and returned to discover a really nasty tree-hating neighbor had pulled apart my rock garden and crushed my baby cedar. 

 This summer after an earnest conversation with Mark who complained that too many deer were eating the cedars before they could mature, I decided to dig up some seedlings to plant them around here somewhere…  I asked my young friend Marcus, Mark’s son to help me. 

 I chose Trillium Rock as the backdrop for the cedar garden because I loved this granite stone that overlooked the brook. My brother’s ashes had been lovingly placed in the ground on the other side of the glacial boulder that was covered in lichens and moss. Recently a new three lobed trillium graced the top of the rock. A poignant memory surfaced one evening when I was down there a few days ago: my brother had given me a cross section of cedar that looked just like a flower for Christmas the year before he died…He loved cedars too… 

In front of the stone Marcus had felled a couple of dead trees leaving beautiful tree patterns that lay flush with the uneven ground. These created perfect niches for seedlings to thrive in rich woodland soil. A small forest was sprouting inside the enclosure – spruce, hemlock, a clump of balsams, ash, and maple seedlings were thriving, and just to the right of the enclosure stood a young adult cedar who, thanks to the tree felling, now had full access to the sun. I knew that trees helped each other and their kin and I hoped the adult would adopt the seedlings after they were planted, encouraging their growth by funneling nutrients to them by way of the underground mycorrhizal network that supported all the trees in this area. 

 After digging and potting up my six seedlings, Marcus arrived with a clump of cedars his father had rescued while mowing his field! I cared for these too until that last day when, at my request, Marcus dug three more cedars from a nearby ditch to save them from road slaughter, and we planted all but one, bringing the cedar garden to life in the process.

 Marcus dug in the remaining cedar near the spot where my Guardian cedar once stood… he reminded me that this little cedar would have access to nutrients from the decaying roots of the Guardian tree, a thought that pleased me. 

 Although I knew that I wouldn’t live long enough to see any of these trees reach adulthood (cedars grow slowly; they are second succession trees) Marcus certainly would, and I loved the idea of a cedar grove springing up in front of that rock. One day my ashes would provide these trees with precious minerals… I also loved the idea of being able to nurture another cedar that grew so close to the cabin.

Ever since the idea of creating a cedar garden became a reality in my mind I began to see cedars in places where I had never noticed them before. I would be walking along a familiar woods road, when I’d get a weird feeling  – it often seemed like something was watching me. I would look up and a cedar would pop into view – one I could have sworn had not been there before. I also discovered seedlings hidden in stone walls – in much the same manner.

 I reached two conclusions regarding these odd experiences. The first seemed to come from the trees directly. The cedars were communicating that they appreciated my love and my concern for their welfare by capturing my attention. They wanted me to see them to let me know that

The second one made me laugh. I thought Nature might have a sense of humor and was showing me how much I routinely missed even when I thought I was perceptive! 

What I didn’t know was that Marcus, who spent as much time in the woods as I did, was having the exact same kind of experiences. When we traded stories Marcus remarked that as humans (although) we are limited by our perceptive abilities – if we focus on and are deeply engaged with cedar trees we learn more about the cedar story – but this doesn’t mean that relationships with other trees disappear. He believes that with improving focus and attention it is possible to extend our perceptive abilities to include having relationships with other tree species too – at the same time – an idea that really intrigues me. My sense had been that there is a foreground and a background and that we humans can’t inhabit both places simultaneously.

It’s probably important to mention that both of us have intimate relationships with trees and talk to them routinely, believing they respond to us primarily through our bodily senses. Rarely, through words. More frequently through sudden insights. With 50 years between us – Marcus is 21 – it amazes me that this boy and I share such similar perspectives.

  For over a month I have been entering the garden through its chicken wire fence at least once a day. When I water the trees both Marcus and his father are never far from my mind. Gradually I have come to realize that the cedar garden is a place that includes not only the cedars (and a beautiful patch of land), but two other people besides me. Together we have created a community where kinship becomes reality.