Country diary: nature’s minute and various works

he greys and greens of lichens, mosses and ferns on the wall capture my attention. Walking past Wenlock priory within the last wintry light before rain, heading elsewhere, I’m transfixed by way of a half-metre square of stones within the perimeter wall about what grows an assemblage of tiny plants. What I’m watching begins with the mysterious allure on the painting: a the surface of colours and shapes, the relationships with regards to creating something which has no pretence to meaning; it just is.

Looking further, the composition has garden qualities: the natural fantastic thing about juxtapositions of plants and stones, but for a vertical plane sufficient reason for no human involvement bar the building of the wall centuries ago and periodic maintenance to stop it falling down. The plants arrived independently and exist devoid of the good a gardener.

Looking more closely, I’m taken with the architecture of the plants. The grey may be a lichen that appears similar to a small amount of zinc powder thrown at the wall. It is a dust lichen, Lepraria, a soft powderiness made from granules of fungus hyphae (feeding filaments) plus the alga that will the photosynthesis; there won’t be sexual reproduction bodies, no defining outline; a saxicolous lichen that grows on rock.

The greens are cushions of wall screw-moss, Tortula muralis, as well as other Schistidium mosses they love masonry. They cover the stone like tiny woods, coverts and copses gathering within the spectacular little maidenhair spleenwort, Asplenium trichomanes, using its fronds of black stems holding yellow-green pinnae, leaflets, emerging from a crack between stones.

In search of the delicate flapwort-and why we start to use tricorders | @FriendsofDarwin

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I look up, for the ruins on the medieval priory, to get quite a different check out this slow, natural means of erosion and dereliction. Pondering individuals that worked on these great stone buildings, I’m reminded of John Ruskin, the Victorian visionary, writing associated with a sculptor who took inspiration on the “study on the minute as well as work of Nature” it “made him feel more forcefully the barrenness of the items was the best in that regarding man” (On Art and Life). Whole lifetimes of sculptors and masons were spent before such works because these were accomplished. Now, how beautifully they fall back into Nature’s minute besides other works.


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