Saturday, September 16, 2006

Who knows upon what soil they fed their hungry thirsty roots?

There is something immensely satisfying about the cycle of the seasons, that wonderful mix of progress and recurrence that makes of nature a kind of rhymed verse. The stanzas take us forward, the refrain reassures. And here they are again, the Amanita muscarias in the pine grove. I dutifully blog them for the third year in a row. (1)(2)

Mushrooms are the grave robbers of the plant world, the night stalkers, and it is appropriate that they come in autumn's failing radiance to skulk with goblins, witches, incubi and succubi, dancing in fairy circles. There is something darkly sexual about the mushrooms. The phallic stinkhorn. The vulval earthstar. And those wicked little men of the woods, which I have never seen except in foreign handbooks, the crowned earthstars, Geastrum fornicatum, marching in lascivious gangs, with open mouths.

Our ancestors who lived in the dark forests of Northern Europe may have seen the mushrooms as spirits of the dead in macabre resurrection. Appearing overnight, in spooky garb, these Lords of the Flies evoked, somehow, mysteriously, thoughts of malevolence and lust. We have inherited from that time a roster of names -- destroying angel, fairy helmet, jack-o'-lantern, death cap, witch's butter -- that invest mushrooms with an aspect of evil rivaled only by that which we associate with snakes.