Venus, if you Will

By Boak Wiesner

Along with all the flowers and birds and amphibian life that’s “busting out all over” now that it’s June, the sky overhead is also filled with some major occurrences. Following the annular solar eclipse just one-half month ago, a “moonth” ago, the position of the moon remains near a node of its orbit that then can produce the lunar eclipse of Monday morning as the shadow of the Earth swept across the face of the full moon. The morning’s commute for those heading west offered a special treat. The very next day, the planet Venus made a transit across the face of the Sun, proof of how unbelievably closely matched the orbital planes of our sister planet’s and ours really are. Even a glance at a scale model of our Solar System shows what looks to be the high unlikelihood of this happening. But happen it does, as regular as clockwork. To observe the same phenomenon brought Captain Cook to Tahiti two centuries ago.

With the coming of the downpour of rain during the last fortnight, the rivers and creeks around here have risen rapidly to near flood levels. What had been a dry spring has turned into a late spring flood time. Lake levels have shot up drastically.

Sugar Maple, acer saccharum

With all this added water, new growth has burst forth. These new maple leaves really contrast those that came out way back in April. If this much new growth is happening on just one branch of just one tree in the forest, just consider how much air the plants, the trees, are absorbing and turning into sugars and cell walls through photosynthesis. Out of the thin air, literally, the plants make themselves.

With the coming of the rains, the hyphae of fungi also now have a much more expanded opportunity to digest through the dead “stuff” of fallen trees as the fungi turn the once-living material back into nutrients to be absorbed and used again. Their enzymes

Dryads Saddle, polyporus squamosus

need to be dissolved in order to function properly. Though just a smidgen of plant material is made of proteins, it is vitally important, proteins running all the reactions that let the various processes of plant life to proceed. How little of the whole fungus we actually see, just the small portion that erupts out to release the spores so as to continue the species. Rather like the tip of the proverbial iceberg; actually far too pale a comparison. It is thought the largest living organism ever seen is a simple fungus growing concentrically through the soil in the lower “mitten” of Michigan – it’s now larger than a county.

Down along the muddy trails around the wetlands on the eastern part of the Arboretum, the “crickety” rattle of a yellow-billed cuckoo tricks me for a moment, as I thought I may have disturbed a raccoon. The bulging black eyes of the cuckoo harbor who knows what intent on the caterpillars in the vicinity.

Along the trail next to the wetlands an Alder Flycatcher reminds me of what one could only hope that a hawker would call out at some lovely evening Twins game, “Free Beer!”

Boak Wiesner is a Minnesota Naturalist volunteer.

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