Thursday, 20 October 2011

Foxfire and Fairy Lights

Occasionally when one lives in a rural or wooded are one can come across some of the delightful and mysterious forms of nature.  In my case it was in the form of a block of firewood brought indoors.  The gray, cloudy, rainy low pressure system that has swirled overhead and plagued us for days brought some middle-of-the-night lightning and thunder, waking me out of my sound sleep.  Hoping to photograph some lightning I set up the camera by the livingroom window, but alas, it was "up in the clouds" lightning, no clear bolts, just a brightening of the billowing clouds.  I sat on the couch watching the occasional flash, and as my eyes grew accustomed to the darkness I noticed a strange pale green glow by the firewood box.  A bit of investigation showed the source to be a block of firewood, from one of the small dead trees that I had gathered the day before.  It had begun to rot, and the fungi in the decaying wood was creating bioluminescence.  A search on the internet tells me that this light is caused by a chemical reaction.  A substance called luciferin reacts with the enzyme luciferase.  The luciferin is caused to oxidate, creating the emission of light.  That's the short explanation, a google search of bioluminescence in decaying wood will turn  up several sources that will give the academic details, and historical notes of observations  that go all the way back to Roman times.

 Advice is also given on how to find it in the forest.  On a dark and cloudy night one can get the eyes adjusted to the dark and then look for the glow of decaying wood on the ground.  At this time of year when the temperatures are dropping and the conditions are wet, I feel lucky to have found it in the warmth and comfort of my livingroom.  Next summer I'll have to try looking for it when going out in the woods at night is more inviting.  I'm sure that being out in the woodlands, listening to owls, loons and crickets calling, maybe even the howl of a coyote in the background, it would be more fun  to think of finding the place where the fairies danced, leaving foxfire in their wake.

                                                                                                                    - posted by R. Burke

A long exposure shows the glow of bioluminescence in a block of decaying firewood.