Monday, July 14, 2008

Tenacious Plant

I take a camera with me nearly every time I leave the house (except, perhaps, for three out of four dog walks). Most times, the camera is a nuisance, hanging on a shoulder or around my neck and flopping in the way when I walk quickly, bend over, carry things, or otherwise do something active. Occasionally, I see something beautiful, odd, or unusual that begs me to capture an image. While it seems more likely I see such sights when I don’t have the camera along, now and then I get lucky and shoot a scene that has “blog entry” written all over it.

In fact, I don’t write enough blog entries to keep up with the photos I’d like to share, so eventually I’ll put together a photo album or a very image-intensive article about some of the lovely sights in the Susquehanna Valley. The photo included with this blog entry is a throwback to my family’s vacation in early June.

The kids and I spent a week at my dad’s lake cottage north of Ithaca, NY on Cayuga Lake, and Stacy joined us for the last two days of the trip. During our stay, I relaxed alone on the boat dock twice, musing about nothing in particular, and trying to capture in pictures the tranquility of the place and the jarring contrasts between that tranquility and the lurking civilized world.

On one boulder that defines the entrance to a wading area along the shore, there was a single small plant growing as certainly as any plant growing in soil. Where the plant meets rock, there is a smear that could be mud, sand, or rotting seaweed deposited by waves during a storm. The smear had landed in a crack that had formed, probably, over dozens of years.

It’s possible the boulder had some small cracks or scratches it received when it broke away from the face of the cliff and fell decades or centuries earlier. Lichens—organisms that are a happy community of fungus and algae working together—might have grown on or near the crack; the chemicals they produced weakened the crack a bit, making the rock a bit porous.

The weakness in the rock captured some water that froze in the winter, expanding the void. The next winter, the crack held slightly more water which did more damage when it froze, and so on. After enough freeze-thaw weathering, there was a cavity deep enough to capture silt, sand, and detritus… and, apparently, a dandelion seed. The seed rooted, the plant emerged, and there it clings, its roots now hastening the erosion of the boulder that is its home.

What are the chances a seed would strike that little smear of soil just so? What are the chances that the smear of soil could hold enough water to keep a plant alive? I guess it’s not so crazy impossible, because only a few feet away on another boulder, another plant grows… and there are more on still other boulders and on the cliff face. Such tenacious plants must be the norm on planet Earth.

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