Monday, September 30, 2013

Fog and Mushrooms

               The radio says “clear skis.” But I look out at a soft gray fuzziness blanketing the lake and foliage of the opposite shore. A Slightly lighter gray highlights where the sky meets the treetops. Though we are told that temperatures will rise to the mid-seventies, there is no way I’ll be swimming in a lake that is now giving up its warmth to the air.
                Yesterday we spent an hour following an entertaining mycologist around a small path in the Frelinghuysen Arboretum. The mushroom walk—a highlight of the Fungi Fest—began amusingly  because our area of New Jersey has had so little rain lately that, naturally, there are few mushrooms growing. So mushrooms of various genera and species had been carefully placed along a small, looping path, with accompanying signs to identify them.
Amanita - Poisonous!
                I’ve always been a mushroom fancier. I do like to eat them, but I also enjoy their very different looks in the wild and the way they seemingly pop up in unexpected places over night. In my 20s, I collected mushrooms when I hiked, identified them with a guide book I still own, dried them and placed them into cute jars, usually on a bed of moss and soil. I labeled them on the bottom of the jar with a sketch to identify each mushroom within. I called this art “Forest Floors” and attempted to sell them—without much success.
                I learned a lot at the mushroom walk. If I were to make “Forest Floors” now, I’d be more careful of the mushroom’s surroundings. Now I know that some mushrooms only grow on wood and that many have a symbiotic relationship with trees, giving antibiotic protection to the trees while helping themselves to the trees’ sugars. And species specialize by tree type.
                Many of the people on the tour with us were members of the NJ Mycological Association, MNMA, and regularly go on mushroom forays. They all oohed when looking at the hen-of-the-woods colony placed next to an oak. Apparently it makes a welcome feast and there is no mistaking it. I think we had some growing next to a tree stump in our backyard. Maybe it will return next year.

                Looking out now, there is no lake, no opposite shore. Fog has enveloped and softened everything. Perhaps there’ll be rain – and mushrooms.