Sunday, September 19, 2010

Don't ignore the little stuff

We kayakers tend to look for and photograph the large, sweeping, Ansel Adams-like vistas and panoramas. I'm as guilty or maybe guiltier than most as evidenced by the photos that show up on this blog. Sometimes we just need to get down on our bellies, crank up the macro lens on the camera, and check out the tiny elements that help make up those sweeping and colorful panorama shots that we all seem to love. One of the tiny pieces of flora that add tons of color to those wide angle shots are the multiple varieties of lichen that cling to the rocky shores of the Canadian shield along the north shore of Gitchee Gumee. I was introduced to, and made more familiar with these small organisms on a kayak trip to Devils Island last season by none other than Professor Lichen himself.

Our tri state group rendezvoused in an impressively coordinated mid lake meeting between York and Bear Island. The VOR become acquainted with some of these folks from Iowa and Nebraska on a womens trip the year before. This Apostles trip had been hatched at a Chinese restaurant in Madison when we met the guys during Canoecopia. After intensive fact finding at the Crystal Corner Bar, I may add. We learned that Professor L would be joining the group and that not only would we be able to pick his brain for lichen knowledge but that a coffee table book on lichens was soon to be published.

Apparently places like Devil's Island, Isle Royale, the Susie Islands, and the small archipelago of Islands we call the Sauna Islands are cold enough for most of the year that species of lichens normally found much farther north flourish. They really are amazing when you look at them up close and these tiny organisms are able to survive what Lake Superior throws at them over the four seasons of the year.

One puzzling thing that we saw last year and again this year, was a pool of standing water on a rock where the algae or whatever it is in the water, is blood red. Last year I was accused of cleaning a lake trout in the little rock basin and I don't think my denials were believed. This year we found the same thing and never even got a whiff of a fish. An ID of the mystery algae or whatever it is, would be welcome.

Admittedly I did not gain a ton of specific knowledge. A lack of interest in Latin names, a general mental block when it comes to complex scientific relationships, and the presence of Heidi, our favorite lighthouse volunteer, resulted in only a rudimentary overview of the subject. Basically, I don't know my Xanthoria elegans from my Aspicilia vitellina. My fellow kayakers and I were amazed that, after following Heidi up to the top of the Devils Island light with its intact Frensel lens, we spotted Professor L prostrate on the rocks below, checking out a rare lichen species with his magnifying loop. Now that's focus and dedication!

Enjoy the images. While not as spectacular as the ones in Deep Nature, they are pretty representative of what a person can experience on Superiors north shore. I think a moss may have slipped in there as well, but as I said, I ain't no expert. Its amazing what you can find by spending a little time on your belly.


JoPears5 said...
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DaveO said...

Thanks John. Now you've revealed your secret identity! Hope to see you in a month at Red Rocks. I think most interested folks have the ID book, but not many have a coffee table lichen book. Now that's a rarity!

Silbs said...

Great post, great observations.