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Tuesday, December 5th 2017


Alaska 2:Ferns and Mosses

  • STATE OF EXISTENCE: okay, but surprisingly sleepy

The woods are lovely dark and deep ...

I know. That line comes shortly before the one I used in the last entry, and I'm not being creative. But really: I'm just being economical since it occurred to me that I could mine yet another line from "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" by Robert Frost, one of my favorites.

In order to get into a manageable rhythm again, I'm thinking of devoting one entry each to what I learned about some plants and animals. After that, we'll make a few observations about the culture.

On the first day there, Wolf and I went for a little walk through a forested area right at the edge of Sitka. He has been a tour guide in Sitka for many decades, even before he retired from the police department. Combined with his third cap as a naturalist, it is impossible to walk with him without his frequently calling your attention to something fascinating by the wayside that you would have missed otherwise.

For example, he directed me to a fern which was obviously in its cold-weather mode. If it had been summer, the leaves in all three examples below would have stood up vertically. This one's blades are arranged in a tight star-shaped cluster.

sword fern

It is called a "sword fern" and is quite common, particularly in the North American West.

I was no sooner done taking a couple of pictures of the sword fern, when Wolf was on the other side of the trail, calling me over to greet a "deer fern." It, too, is strongly represented in the West, but it is also found in Europe. I'm guessing that it may have been imported to America, though for all that I know, it may have gone in the other direction.

deer fern

As you can see, deer fern also likes to bunch, but not nearly as tightly or with as much precision as a sword fern.

The third type of fern Wolf showed me was just another few feet away. I would just have noticed that there were a lot of ferns, but I would not have given a thought to the idea that two genuses and three species in all were living there in the same neighborhood.

licorice fern

The licorice fern shares its genus with the sword fern. It loves the soggy, relatively warmish weather in that part of Alaska and far West British Columbia. In fact, to illustrate the conditions, here is a picture of the moss-covered ground in this part of the forest.

moss in the forest

I can't help but think of Terry Brooks's forests in the Shanara series looking at this.

After a while, the forest became lighter. There was more air and what the good people of Sitka call "daylight," and the environment changed in response. Between the somewhat sparser trees there were little "systems" of lychens and sphagnum moss, as illustrated below.

moss-lychen system

Sphagnum moss doesn't seem like much, but if you look closely at it, you can see how the top of an individual plant form what you may want to call a crown or a star, as Wolf is showing it to me.


I hope that you may have found this little description of some aspects of the flora of Baranoff Island worthwhile. Still, you may be wondering whether all of this is going to lead to some insights into theology or apologetics, or whether we're just looking at some interesting facets of life in the pacific north-north-west.

The answer is, of course, "Yes, I'm heading somewhere with this." But maybe you're a newcomer to my newly revived blog and aren't familiar with my methods. First step: learn the subject matter (which in this case is the cultural and environmental setting of Sitka), then uncover it and analyze it. And, by the way, I doubt that anyone can figure out yet where I'm heading. It may start to become a little clearer next time, when we talk about the fauna of Baranoff Island.

Next time: ravens, eagles, herons, and salmon.

1 Comment(s).

Posted by Paul Reid:

Thanks for this! I am convinced we need to be looking for the "eternal power and divine nature" revealed in the creation around us--or we will miss it. Thanks for signs pointing this way. Looking forward to birds and fish!
Wednesday, December 6th 2017 @ 10:15

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