Two years ago, we had a bumper crop of acorns here in New England, and this year, we seem to have more mushrooms than usual. This week has been damp and humid, with misty mornings and drizzly days. On my morning dog-walks, I’ve been on the lookout for fungi and have not been disappointed, the work of decomposition happening at every step.
Looking for mushrooms is like looking for Easter eggs: you never know what strange thing will appear on any given morning. Some mushrooms look like saucers landed from another planet; others resemble alien outgrowths from otherwise healthy-looking trees.
Even though I know mushrooms and other fungi don’t appear out of nowhere–fungi, like icebergs, hide most of their mass below the surface, in a spreading web of mycelia–it always comes as a surprise to see Something where there once was Nothing. A sudden eruption of fungi reminds us of the invisible forces that are always present, lurking underfoot.
All year long, mycelial mats have wormed underground, ferreting the food that fungi consume. Lacking chlorophyll, fungi suck nutrients from the living or steal them from the dead, and when the conditions are right, fungal mycelia send up fruiting bodies to spread spores. The mushrooms and other colorful fungi we see above-ground are reproductive parts, with a fungus’ true work happening in secret, underground. Mycelial mats are workhorses, toiling (and enduring) in secret, while their ephemeral fruiting bodies garner all the attention with their fleshy (and transient) exuberance.
As a composition instructor, I teach my students how to craft sentences and paragraphs to communicate meaning, word upon word. Fungi of all shapes and sizes are experts in decomposition, reminding us through their sudden autumnal emergence that everything eventually falls prey to parasitism, death, and decay.
Click here for more photos of fall fungi. Enjoy!