Mushrooms have been my theme for 2020. They seem to fit the general tenure of the year too. They either spark excitement or complete disdain. My year of the mushroom, which still has several months left, was kicked off by reading The Overstory by Richard Powers. I wrote a review of the book back in March. I loved it. It was primarily focused on trees, but there was a section that the scientist went into detail about the value of microsystems that live inside a decaying tree. Much of which includes mushrooms and fungi.
Then I kept seeing ads for the movie Fantastic Fungi, but I kept missing it in small theaters. Then the lockdown started, and I rented in at home. It is simply gorgeous to watch. It’s also wicked informative, but I want to sit down sometime and watch it with the volume off and let it wash over me.
I read Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver, a favorite writer of mine and someone I want to go for long walks with. I will be doing some book reviews of her soon. Anyway, there is a great scene of one of the main characters stomping on puffball mushrooms to help spread the spores.
Most recently, I’ve been taking a class with Kathryn Aalto based on her book Writing Wild: Women Poets, Ramblers, and Mavericks Who Shape How We See the Natural World. The name seems self-explanatory, but it’s about women nature writers, many of whom have been forgotten to time or written off in one way or another. In it, she quotes Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer. The section talks about how Kimmerer learned the word Puhpowee which “translates as ‘the force which causes mushrooms to push up from the earth overnight.’” That word and it’s translation send a shiver down my spine. By the way, I don’t think a day has gone by in months where someone hasn’t mentioned Braiding Sweetgrass to me. I think it’s a sign to bump it up my to be read list.
This summer started dry and matched how I felt in the inside, parched. I live near the Mohawk River that had dried to a trickle. Someone told me we went six weeks without precipitation this spring. Then the daily storms started, and mushrooms appeared everywhere I walked. There were so many colors, shapes, and sizes. I took so many pics on my phone I’d run out of memory before posting them. Over two weeks, I posted tons of photos of fungi I found on my travels. It was so cool to have people be surprised that there were so many varieties. And not in the world, but just in my area, and those were only the ones I happened to spot.
A few weeks later, a friend sent me the call from Tiny Seed Journal about their Moss and Mushrooms Edition. I had a week turn around and decided to go for it. I tried to think of a world without mushrooms. I researched what it would be like, and it’s not great. Actually, it’s pretty bad. So, I wrote The Tree Eaters, which my husband affectionately calls a post mushroom apocalypse bedtime story. I also submitted a couple of photos, and they accepted on titled Resiliency.
I told my cousin I was working on a story about there being no mushrooms, and she said, “Good, get rid of them all.” This was a refrain I heard often. But I think, in general, we have three thoughts about mushrooms. Whether or not we like to eat them, which I do. That they can be poisonous. And that some can get you high. But mushrooms are so much more interesting and important than that. They help us survive.
I shared the piece with several people, and I was excited to hear the responses. When My favorite reaction was the word “Bleak.” Yup, a world without these miraculous fungi would be grim indeed. I hope to continue on this path of learning more about the marvelous mushroom. I’m open to learning from others as much as I can. The more I understand, the more I look twice at the little umbrella-shaped creatures underfoot when I’m out in the world and appreciate all they do for us.