Sunday, September 11, 2011

Mushroom Story

Underground somewhere in Oregon stretching over 1600 football fields is a single being that is estimated to be over two thousand years old. It could very well be the largest living organism in the world (and one of the oldest you would think). Evidence of its existence, the part you and I can see, is a fruiting body, stout and perfect, showing its face to the world for only a handful of days. Otherwise, the rest of the time, this body lives entirely underneath the world we can see.

What is it you ask? It is a fungus. The honey mushroom.

There are three major classification kingdoms that house the things we eat. Animalia, Plantae and Fungae. This is on a visible-to-the-eye level at least. We eat all kinds of other things unintentionally from smaller worlds of course. There is a fair bit of controversy around who’s related to whom and how far back the shared lineages go. There are strong beliefs that the whole evolution thing is a crock because God did the whole thing in a handful of days. But one thing that fascinates me is that we animals are considered to be closer in relation to fungus than we are plants. Fungi behave; they make decisions about which way to grow, with whom to mate, when to reproduce, when to dress themselves up in pink or orange or blue.

Most fungi live entirely underground as bits of stringy cells expanding over large areas called mycelia. The mushrooms you see (and not all fungi make mushrooms) are just ephemeral bodies meant to cover off one aspect of their reproduction. Short-lived and relatively minor in the fungi life cycle.

But they are all that we can see.

The other interesting things about the fungus world is that the number of different species are said to be well over a million, yet only 5% or less have been classified or named to date. These fun guys are relatively unexplored in a world where we thought we knew everything.

Don’t get me started on their importance in soils and growing food. That’s a whole other blog post if not a library of books in itself. Suffice to say they play a pretty important role.

It is estimated that humans use less than 10% of their brains. This idea was first entertained when a huge metal post when through the brain of Phineas Gage in 1848 and he came away talking and interacting normally with folks around him.

So what goes on in the other 90% that we don’t use? Cool stuff that they could make television shows out of if we were able to access the information? Like could we talk to ghosts? Predict the future? See God? Make up good songs? Read minds?

All that we cannot get a handle on yet must live in there.

I recently took a hike with my little family down a beautiful trail leading to a spectacular view of the Ottawa river valley. Oiseau Rock was the name of the trail. The previous day had been relatively wet so what we thought would be a day of gazing through green carpets of forest and over meandering blue water below majestic rock cliffs, was instead a day of staring at the ground. Because today was the day the fun guys were having a picnic.

This is a season when our time is so precious and the hours of fun we cobble together as a family so few (outside of sharing farm work, of course). My daughter got on a school bus for the first time this week. Our tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and zucchini are in full swing and saving them for the winter is something I consider essential. The cold weather is starting to blow in and fall fleeces and warm boots are being dug out. The cows are getting tired of their grazings and have started breaking down their fence to visit the greener grass on the other side. The chickens, pigs, and soon a cow are heading into the freezer.

But these are just all the things we can see. This work is the veritable mushroom in our lives if you will. What we couldn’t see was that a relatively short drive away we would find a trail that brought us into a world of magic and wonder.

Magic hidden in the brush

Should you need to get out of the rain

Tiny Magic

Magic in the Trees


Through the Eyes (and into the hands) of Children

I see now why fairies are said to be responsible for arranging mushrooms (in a fairy ring). It makes sense that those little blue forest Smurfs chose mushrooms as their homes. Certain mushrooms have other magical qualities that can take your brain on a wild ride if consumed. Chanterelles or morels sautéed in butter? Mouth-watering to say the least.

Just when I was beginning to think that magic was hard to find, one journey on one day showed me quite the opposite. The stolen time we found to take a walk met the small window of opportunity given by these soil dwellers to allow us to appreciate their beauty.

There is so much more to see than meets the eye.

Ten years ago a terrible act of terrorism sent the world spinning into a state of war, grief, fear and uncertainty.

I imagine that there is so much more to the world than we can think with our brains. There is so much more going on than we can explain. There are so many ways of looking at the world and being in it. So much difference that can be embraced instead of feared.

Today, lets spend more energy giving magic a chance.

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