Wednesday, March 4, 2020

North Umpqua Trail, Mott Segment

I learned something new today. For years I had been taking photographs of a certain lichen which looked less like an actual lichen and more like a film of dry green dust of death spores from a science fiction movie. But while the lichen itself looked like dust, the fruiting bodies appeared to be more like small fungi. Because I had never seen the lichen without the fruiting bodies in immediate proximity, I had always assumed they were organs of lichen reproduction but left open the possibility that the bodies might actually be a true fungus living in a symbiotic relationship with the lichen. But while cruising the internet on an unrelated information quest, I accidentally found out the name of the lichen: Fairy Barf. 

What fairy barf looks like
Really, that's the name! I was somewhat disappointed because I always assumed that fairies farted glowing fireflies and barfed glittering rainbows. Another belief from childhood cruelly debunked! But no, fairies apparently hork up an unremarkable green dusty looking lichen. The lichen does have a scientific name and everything: icmadophila ericetorum, and you can even look it up on the Internet. Just to make sure, I did look up "fairy farts" on the Internet and found out there is a cottage industry of children's books on the subject. I wonder where these books were when I was a kid, they would have been a lot more fun to read than Dick and Jane, but I digress.

The river just looks cold
This was a midweek hike with usual suspects John, Jennifer, and Diane on our old friend the North Umpqua Trail's Mott Segment. Besides lichen, we also got to experience the North Umpqua River (from a dry distance) and springtime in a shady forest. A very shady forest. I swear, that no matter which side of the river the trail is on, it is always on the shady side. And in late winter/early spring, it's a deep cold shade.

Reflections were a thing today
All we could do was to stare wistfully at the other side of the river which was bathed in more sunlight than that side could ever need or want. All that sunlit warmth just lying around over there and they don't even share. However, the hills were bathed in sunlight and reflected poetically upon the quieter parts of the North Umpqua glowing goldish due to the second-hand sunlight. The reflections were a thing and I soon found myself behind the gang because I made frequent stops in a never-ending quest for the perfect reflection photo. I suppose I shouldn't complain so vociferously about the sun-stealing north side of the river, but a little warmth to go along with the reflections would have been nice.

Roll up the sidewalk!
There's a part of the Mott Segment that we euphemistically refer to as "The Sidewalk" because it is paved with cement down close to the river. Over time, erosion has kind of left The Sidewalk hanging a little bit higher above the river than originally intended. I don't know the story of why the need to cement this little piece of the North Umpqua Trail but no doubt hikers and mountain bikers are happy not to have to negotiate the ankle-breaking or rim-bending minefield of jagged rocks next the river. 

A saxifrage pushes up through the moss
At this primitive sidewalk a large cliff plunges straight down, landing right next to the trail. Water seeps down the cliff-face and the moist air in the river canyon also contributes to the ample moss and other water-loving vegetation hugging the cliff's facade. Saxifrage and stonecrop were some of the other flourishing plant specimens adorning the cliff in addition to the moss, the saxifrage already displaying it's dainty white flowers with distinctive pink-tipped stamens.

A platoon of British soldiers
A large log had rolled down the cliff and apparently a woodland sprite had puked on it, because a colony of fairy barf was happily thriving on the decaying log. The fairy barf was surrounded by  a rather large army of British soldiers, also a lichen but with distinctive red-caps, who were faithfully executing their duly assigned mission of capturing and arresting the miscreant fairy barf for some perceived offense.

The trail went up and down all day long
Naturally, I tarried at this spot way too long and it was pretty much a solo hike from there on in. I figured I'd walk until I encountered my fellow hikers on their way back to the trailhead. That point turned out to be within a quarter-mile of Fisher Creek, so Zane Gray's fishing camp site would have to wait for another day and another hike.

The color of the river amazes
As the afternoon wore on, the sunlight edged ever so closer to our side of the river. Whereas the river in the morning had that frigid looking slate color in the shade, now in bright afternoon sunlight the river was lit up into that vibrant and distinctive North Umpqua blue-green. During the last mile or so of the hike, some sun actually filtered down to the trail and I stood in a sunbeam, basking in the light and warmth. "It's so...(sniff)...beautiful" he said, wiping away a tear. 

Peace like a forest
Because I had so much alone time on the trail, a lot of the hike was spent pondering and ruminating upon life and the recent loss of my daughter. As I walked, the river was always nearby as it flowed below the trail. The noise of the river all hike long soothed, and I let the sound wash right over me as I walked. There is just something about the rush of a river, it's a figurative massage for the soul, rubbing out all the sore spots in one's psyche. Just call me a grateful customer of the North Umpqua Trail.

Cougar Creek, as it flows under a bridge
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.


  1. You are so funny with some of the things you find out and how you phrase explainations....can't wait to be on the trail with you again sometime this year. Hang in bro, time and nature will help heal.

  2. Always entertaining, thanks for the new names.

    1. Thanks, Susan.

      It's always a pleasure to spread the word about a new lichen discovery. I don't think I'll ever get tired of uttering the phrase "fairy barf".