Leaf Litter: An occasional nature note

While reading The Practice of the Wild, a book of essays by Gary Snyder, I came across his ode to leaf litter:

Living activity goes right down to and under the ‘ground’ – the litter, the duff. There are termites, larvae, millipedes, mites, earthworms, springtails, pillbugs, and the fine threads of fungus woven through. ‘There are as many as 5,500 individuals (not counting the earthworms and nematodes) per square foot of soil to a depth of 13 inches. As many as 70 different species have been collected from less than a square foot of rich forest soil. The total animal population of the soil and litter together probably approaches 10,000 animals per square foot’ (Robinson, 1988, 87).

As I’ve been trying to learn more about the natural world, I’m often left feeling overwhelmed at the magnitude of the task. The leaf litter alone is writhing with more things than I can pin a name to. How can I ever tell one fungi from another?

To that end, I’m going to start a new category here called, appropriately enough, Leaf Litter. This is where I’m going to dump all the stuff I’m trying to figure out. I’m doing this for my own purposes to help me keep track of what I’m learning and to refer back to it when I’ve promptly forgotten the name of the mushroom I found while hiking recently.

Consider this the first installment, though this blog has been prejudiced in this direction for a long time. This is something of a catch-all post, collecting things I’ve been seeing for the past few weeks, pretty much since Christmas.

Enough words for now. Let’s close with more Gary Snyder:

Life in the wild is not just eating berries in the sunlight. I like to imagine a ‘depth ecology’ that would go to the dark side of nature — the ball of crunched bones in a scat, the feathers in the snow, the tales of insatiable appetite. Wild systems are in one elevated sense above criticism, but they can also be seen as irrational, moldy, cruel, parasitic. Jim Dodge told me how he had watched — with fascinated horror — Orcas methodically batter a Gray Whale to death in the Chukchi Sea. Life is not just a diurnal property of large interesting vertebrates; it is also nocturnal, anaerobic, cannibalistic, microscopic, digestive, fermentative: cooking away in the warm dark.