This past week, I finally took the initiative to engage with the pluralism of mushrooms happening at the Farm Ecological Preserve. Fungal friend Miles gave me a walking tour of the place to cure me of some of my fungal ignorance. Before I did the ’shrooms, though, I was taking care of the weeds out in front of the Admissions building on 4/20.
It was jacket weather out, but there was so much weeding to do that I broke a sweat after the first hour and took a break. During breaktime, a shadow suddenly came over the admissions lawn. I looked up and saw not one, not two, but three black vultures in the sky looking down at me and licking their non-existent lips. I know one vulture couldn’t pick me up, but I wasn’t so sure about three, especially if they were all regulars at a private bird gym and did a lot of core work. They continued on their way, though, with the understanding that they would probably need some more time in bird gym before they could uproot me.
I hope you celebrated Earth Day last week in spectacular fashion, but if you were like me, this holiday just kind of came out of nowhere and surprised you, like a squirrel falling out of a tree. I think it would be better if you and I weren’t surprised by our national holidays, so if you are reading this on the day it comes out, you’ll have plenty of hours to prepare for Arbor Day on the 29th.
I remember in elementary school they would give every kid a tree sapling on Arbor Day, and I would always think, “Not this again.” Still, my brother and I would plant them in the backyard every year and water them for a while, only to inevitably forget and leave them to die in midwinter. One year, my brother grew one that got through the cold months, but then my dad ran it over with the lawnmower in the spring. I don’t really know what this anecdote was for, but I guess maybe if you plan on planting a tree this year, try harder with it than we did. Also, maybe my elementary school shouldn’t have entrusted people that had barely been people with trees that had barely been trees.
I brought up Earth Day because, although it surprised me this year, it also happened to be the day the aforementioned Miles and I tried finding the finest fungi on the farm. He showed me a few classic mushroom spots before we ventured across mud and stick into the deeper woods.
Eventually Miles, eagle eyed as always, looked off to the side of the path and was like, “huh.” Then he went down on all fours and started poking around in a brush with a stick. Finally, after quite a few stabs, he brought out a potato-esque form.
“I have no fucking clue what that is,” Miles said, and then relegated holding duties to me. He began theorizing that it might be a puffball mushroom and, as I got my hands on it, the name seemed to quickly check out. It was very light and very squeezable, and I started noticing brown powdery stuff coming out of it when I squeezed.
Apparently those dusty particles were the spores and so it was indeed a mushroom. As Miles flipped through the pages of his fancy identification book, I continued to squeeze out those powdery spores. Miles couldn’t identify it past the puffball part and so I asked him how a mushroom gets to be so puffy. “Essentially the mushroom is the fruiting body of a fungi… the actual thing is a big system of mycelium that lives under the ground. Also try not to breathe too much of that in. You can get a fungal infection.” He was referring to my squeezing and so I chucked the puff ball into the woods where it couldn’t hurt me.
Miles found another puffball mushroom later on the trip, and near the end of the journey we encountered a tree of many colorful turkey tail mushrooms, though the colors were not turkey tail-ish at all. According to Miles, the mushroom fruit bodies were dead and thus bluish, but the mycelium was probably still doing well underneath. That was the last mushroom on the trip. We exited out onto the rugby field, and I couldn’t have felt more fungally enlightened.