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04 March, 2009

Fun Guy

Ahh, the humble mushroom. Beloved by some, reviled by others, but mostly just ignored. In Hawai`i and Virginia, my faves were the pepeiao on kukui wood, the wood ears on oak. Dunno if they were the same species, but they were easy to ID, and the tasty reward for dank fieldwork and rainy rotting weather.

And now here I am in the fungal kingdom. An embarrasment of riches, and me too ignorant to sort them out from the occasional killer. Like these, which look like grey chanterelles. I wanted to eat them, but not even mushroom lovers advise people to just go pick and eat without a high degree of confidence. And it's not just the risk of death or an unplanned trip that puts me off--as a kid my wife touched some mushrooms, rubbed her eyes, and her lashes fell out. Life without my luscious lashes would be unbearable.

And these seeming sulfur caps. Could be delicious. I generally do too much crawling around through brush to collect fungi and return to the office micophiles with anything more than mush. I can come back with photos, but if anything, it's more frustrating to find tasty mushrooms and not get to eat them than to not find them at all. Frustrating to know that the expertise is a cubicle away, but never in the same boondocks at the same time.

So for now, I have to satisfy myself with the pleasure of seeing the manifold forms sent forth by mycelia eating the detritus of forests. Giant trees are definitely cool, and they do the heavy lifting in the forest, but it's the fungi that clean up the mess. Besides the wood and leaves and turds, they can process diesel spills, and there has been recent progress in identifying a species with promise to eat nuclear waste. And of course, without mushrooms to help eat wood and other organics, archaeology wouldn't be challenging enough to be worth the effort...

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