Monday, October 4, 2010

Mushrooms in the Fall

A bonus day of sunshine in early October, just above Snoqualmie Pass in Washington state, and the woods seem filled with treasure.  This time, after a hot, well watered summer, and recent rains, the treasure is mushrooms -- popping up rapidly, some appearing after we have passed by and found on the return to our trail head.  I think these are Amanitas and they make me think of boiled eggs, but don't eat them!  The lore of mushroom edibility is variable and not something that can be passed along in print -- it really takes a teacher and long-time familiarity with an area and a species, since the mushrooms are often hard to identify, and mistakes  can be fatal.

Above, as she emerges from the forest duff, and below, fully emerged.  Possibly an Amanita; what a pretty name, and beautiful lemony color with cottony white "gems" that make me think of meringue.  But also possibly quite poisonous.

I'm not attracted to them for food, but they have the most wondrous shapes and colors.  And I like to think of them as what they are, the fruiting bodies of a wide-spread, subsurface mycelium, popping up just to spread the spores of the organism.  What follows are more pictures, of more unidentified treasure, maybe poisonous, maybe not, but beautiful nonetheless.

They bring to mind all sorts of myths and symbols -- fairy rings, toadstools, the caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland, made all the more entrancing if you get down to visit with them eye to eye.  Many have distinctive aromas, ranging from fetid to sweetly earthy.

And as for  morphology, they are so richly varied and variable that it could consume a lifetime of study and fascination.  What governs their shapes?  How is the shape adapted to environment; is it an adaptation?  What advantages may a shape give; for that matter, is there any sort of competition amongst the mycelia?  Perhaps quite ignorance-governed questions of a layperson, but they reflect that there are still broad areas of mystery all around us, if we will only look and question.

 For my part, I can look and look and wonder, and know that some time, somewhere, a mushroom is bound to pop up in my art work, a banner of the mysteries below, the ones hidden behind the ordinary  ground where we walk, the trees that shadow our way, so secretly wide-spread that one is considered the largest living organism on the planet.  Don't you just love it?  We can never, never, never know it all!

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