poetry and prose about place

Archive for the ‘‘niche’ on a rock’ Category

snippets of landscape – ice falls on rock walls

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When highways are built, they often cut through the bedrock, leaving rock walls along the margins of the road.  If these intersect a brook or seep of water, the result is a waterfall on the face of the rock.  In spring or summer, rains can create wild cataracts.  In winter the water freezes, building frozen walls of blue-shadowed ice.  In sunlight, especially when they begin to melt, these ice falls are dazzling.



one warm hand


icicles seep between

layers of rock frozen

curtains separate

inner room from winter storm

glass barrier between blue

light and sheltered eyes

memory of water flows

along the face of the rock

one warm hand melts ice

consolation, condensation

on the inward glass



© Jane Tims  2012

Written by jane tims

March 10, 2012 at 7:43 am

air to breathe

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As I approach retirement, I find I am thinking a lot about my past work.  My first job was as a botanist in the field of air quality. 

Some plants are very sensitive to air pollutants and develop ‘herring bone’ patterns on the leaves when the levels of pollutants like sulphur dioxide get too high.   Other plants can be used as monitors since they absorb pollutants from the air. 

I worked to diagnose air pollution injury to sensitive plants and designed ways of using plants to assess air quality problems.  We grew tobacco to measure ozone pollution, set out  ‘tea bags’ of sphagnum moss to monitor levels of trace metals in the air, and collected reindeer lichens to determine their pollutant exposure.  I had wonderful days identifying plants, collecting lichens and being a botanist.

My favourite air pollution monitors were the reindeer lichens.  These are like all lichens, a symbiotic organism consisting of an algae and a fungus.  They have no roots, so they absorb all their nutrients from the air, making them an excellent monitoring system for air pollutants. They were a challenge to identify and the habitats where they grew took me to some very interesting places in New Brunswick.  These included peat bogs where the lichens grew beside pitcher plants and sundews, mountain-tops dominated by ericaceous species like sheep laurel (Kalmia angustifolia L.) and blueberry, and high flung rock outcrops where I could see all the world below me as I picked my specimens.

Although we collected many species, the three reindeer lichens most useful for our studies were Cladina arbusculaCladina rangiferina, and Cladina stellaris.   These are all ‘fruticose’ lichens, species with a ‘shrubby’ appearance, consisting of a main branch with many side-branches.  A single ‘plant’ fits nicely in your hand.  The Cladinas all have hollow branches and could be (and are) used as little trees in HO scale train models. 

Cladina arbuscula (left) and Cladina rangiferina (right) growing on a rock by the roadside in Maine. You can tell the difference by the greenish color of the arbuscula and the bluish-grey color of the rangiferina.

Cladina arbuscula (Wallr.) Hale & Culb. grows in extensive colonies, and is yellowish-green.  The tips of the branches all point in one direction, a distinguishing characteristic of the species.  Cladina rangiferina (L.) Harm. is often found growing with Cladina arbuscula and can be distinguished from arbuscula by its very blue-grey appearance.

Cladina stellaris (Opiz) Brodo is yellowish-grey, and grows in distinct clumps which resemble small ‘poofy’ trees.

Cladina lichens and moss on the rock at Moss Glen Falls in New Brunswick. The clump of lichen towards the center, looking like the ice cream in a cone, is Cladina stellaris.

On our travels this summer, I reacquainted myself with the Cladinas.  And I remembered all the remote places I have been as a result of my work.  One of these was Turtle Mountain in southern New Brunswick, now protected as part of the Loch Alva Protected Natural Area (PNA).  It is a very old mountain, worn to a granite hill.  At the top of the hill, is an ericaceous meadow where Cladina lichens flourish. 


Turtle Mountain, 1979


afternoon air at the base

of the food chain

rewards obligation to breathe


grazing tickles the nose

and grey-blue lichens know

laurel and balsam


flume of curtain billows

across the daybed

into the room


into the space between

Kalmia and wintergreen

meadow heat rising from stone


marbled weave of oxygen

hydrogen nitrogen

bilberry and salt ocean


© Jane Tims   2011


Written by jane tims

October 29, 2011 at 8:50 am

cascade across the rock

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Earlier this summer, in July, we visited Little Sheephouse Falls, northwest of Miramichi.  The Falls are part of the watershed of the South Branch of the Big Sevogle River.

To see Little Sheephouse Falls requires a short hike through mixed woods.  The trail to the Falls is very well maintained by the forest company who manages the area and was an easy walk in spite of my arthritic knees. 

The woods were green with ferns and other woodland plants.  My favourite of these was a little vine of Mitchella repens L. cascading across a lichened rock.  Commonly known as Partidge-berry, Mitchella is a small vine with roundish opposite leaves, often found growing in shady, mossy woods.  It has pinkish flowers and small red berries.  The Flora I consulted says it is found where it can be free from the competition of more vigorous plants.

Mitchella repens growing across a rock in the woods

We did not go to the base of the falls, but kept to the trails navigating the escarpment.  The falls are about 20 meters high, with a large pool and a cave at the base.  They were a white torrent on the day we visited, making a rumbling thunder in striking contrast to the quiet woods.

Little Sheephouse Falls

Directions to Little Sheephouse Falls, and other waterfalls in New Brunswick, are contained at Nicholas Guitard’s website and in his 2009 book Waterfalls of New Brunswick (see ‘books about natural spaces’).

Waterfalls are spaces to soothe the soul and inspire love for natural areas.  They engage the senses… the sounds of the gurgling stream and the roar of the waterfall, the feel of cool, clean water, and the sight of water bubbling and boiling, following the contours of the landscape. 


the three fates, spinning



wound on the rock

mended by waterfall thread



at last I touch

the water

real, wet water

(not a report or diagram

but the flavor feel and smell

of water)


it pours through my fingers

delivers to me

the mosses

the lichens

(the moth on the pin where she has always

wanted to be)



the doe must feel this

as she crosses

the road-to-nowhere

when the birch and aspen enfold her


or the ant

as she maps the labyrinth

on the rotting morel

when she touches the ground

(blessed ground)


or the needles of white pine

when they find the note

split the wind into song



the three fates



the waterfall

diverted by the rock

Published as: “the three fates, spinning”,  The Antigonish Review 165, Spring 2011.


© Jane Tims

needles of white pine...split the wind into song

‘niche’ on a rock

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In July, we went to the Saint Martins area  for the day and spent some time exploring the caves and beach-combing.  We  also took the short drive to the lighthouse at Quaco Head.  The lighthouse is perched on the cliff overlooking Quaco Bay. 

the Quaco Head Lighthouse ....... “The present Quaco Head Lighthouse was constructed in 1966 and consists of a square tower rising from one corner of a concrete fog signal building. The light in its lantern room produces a white flash every ten seconds, while the fog signal emits a three-second blast every thirty seconds, when needed.” from

If you look out over the Bay, you can see some exposed rocks where sea birds make their home, and,  to the north-east, Martin Head, about 30 kilometers away.

the view to the north-east ...... Martin Head is on the horizon, to the left

Wildflowers were everywhere, but what caught my eye was a lichen on a flat rock at the base of the lighthouse.  It was bright orange, like a splash of paint. 

There are two orange lichens that live on rocks in the coastal area of New Brunswick, Xanthoria and Caloplaca.  The orange lichen I found at Quaco Head is likely one of two species: Xanthoria sorediata (Vain.) Poelt or Xanthoria elegans (Link) Th. Fr.

bright orange Xanthoria lichen on a rock .... there are also two or more other species of lichen present

A lichen is not a plant, but a composite organism, consisting of an algae and a fungus, living together in a symbiotic, mutually beneficial, relationship.



                       Swallow Tail Lighthouse, Grand Manan


air saltfresh and balsam

walls lapped by a juniper sea

pale mimic of the salt sea

battering its foundations

                      its endurance

                      a mystery

until I found

an iron ring

anchored deep

in rock

almost lost

in lichen

                  Xanthoria orange

lifted and dropped

run round

its axis

                  clashing on stone

                  creak and clank of the metal door

                  echoes climbing the welded stair

                  ground glass grit of the light 

                  fog washed clang of the channel bell

rock lashed to the lighthouse

salt breakers turned to stone


Published as: ‘Ringing’, Spring 1995, The Cormorant XI (2)


© Jane Tims

exploring the intertidal zone

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Every summer, we take a day to drive along the Bay of Fundy and explore some of the beaches and rocky shores.  Last summer, we found a small cove where the fog was just lifting. 

Through the mist we could see the ghostly form of a fishing weir and the distant rugged shore. 

a cove along the Bay of Fundy coast

The beach was pebbles and sand, perfect for beach-combing.  We wandered at random, watching for sea glass, shells and wave-smoothed rocks. 

The intertidal area, between low and high tide, is an extraordinary space, not quite ocean, not quite land.  The plants and animals who live in this area have very particular ‘niche-needs’.  They need the rise and fall of the tide twice daily.  Some plants have adaptations to help them cope with changing conditions.  For example, the brown algae Ascophyllum nodosum has bladders to help it float at high tide and reach the sunlight.   

When we explored the cove, it was low tide.  Where the sea water was trapped among the rocks, there were tidal pools, small natural aquariums of sea life.  One rock with a large hollow in its surface had its own population of bladder wrack (Fucus vesiculosis), green algae (Enteromorpha), barnacles, and a lone crab. 

The barnacles are fun to watch.  They are crustaceans, and live with their shells securely attatched to the substrate.  An opening in the top of the shell is covered by a pair of  ‘sliding doors’ called the operculum.  Under water, the operculum opens and the barnacle reaches out with modified legs, designed to capture its food.  The legs, known as cirri,  look like feathery fingers, reaching out and pulling back, reaching out and pulling back.  

The ‘niche’ of a particular plant or animal can be thought of as its ‘occupation’ in the space where it lives.  For example, with respect to food gathering, the crab feeds on the larger prey in the pool, the barnacles filter out the smallest creatures, and the algae take in their nutrients from the water itself.  Although they live in the same space, the crab, barnacles and algae each occupy a different ‘niche’.

one of the smallest tidal pools ever... in the hollow of a rock


Deep Cove detail

low tide

weirs and dories indistinct

pillars of fog

glide up the long beach

attention to

drifts of mica

periwinkle paths

breaking bands of wave

water kicked into rainbows

sunlight above the fog

plover tracks sprinkled on sand

cobbles, coloured glass

float ropes, plastic pink


plaited by the sea

© Jane Tims

Written by jane tims

August 5, 2011 at 7:02 am

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