Chasing Rilke’s Turkey Tails

Good naturalists,

This morning I walked in my home-woods and found turkey tails on broken redbud under a red oak. I took a picture:

Trametes versicolor,

Trametes versicolor, “turkey tail fungus,” on Cercis canadensis.

Upon returning to the house my son Cub oddly handed me an English translation of Ranier Rilke’s Sonnets to Orpheus. There I read a sonnet that speaks to the rhythms of earth, time, and the life of a curious naturalist:

We puzzle over flower, vine-leaf, fruit.

They speak not just the language of the year.

A thing of succor rises from the dark

and its hues may gleam of the jealousy

of the dead, those who strengthen the earth.

What do we know of their share in it?

It has long been their practice to enrich

the loam with their own free marrow.

We spend every day and season puzzling through prairies and woods, our own marrow strengthened by the earth and by those mysteries that give strength to the earth. Now as autumn fires give rise to softer days, our walks are met with the jealous hues of lichens and fungi that quietly devote themselves to making loamish marrow.

On Saturday, December 12th we will spend the day in the bush with our generous NTS experts Katie Thompson (Iowa State University) and John Pearson (Iowa Department of Natural Resources). The Loess Hills will gleam with Rilke’s brightness as autumn approaches the Solstice. Join us:

Late Fall Lichens and Fungi in the Loess Hills with Katie Thompson and John Pearson. Saturday, December 12th, 9am to 3pm at Hitchcock Nature Center near Honey Creek, Iowa. Tution: $30 (full-time students free). Dress like a field biologist and expect rugged walking. Bring a water bottle, coffee cup, a hearty sack lunch, mushroom field guide (if you have one), and a favorite book of poetry (if you are so moved). We’ll provide hot drinks. Register with Jack Phillips at by December 9th.