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The object in the center of the magnolia leaf is a mushroom resting on a lichen-covered twig. Buck and I deviated from our house-to-gate morning walking track and cut through the woods on this morning of dappled sun and cool breezes. Buck pointed to a huge old magnolia tree. Really, it was three trees grown together. A fallen log was wedged through the center of trio. It stuck out at least six feet on either end, giving the impression of a bench. We walked over to get a closer look at this curiosity and found ourselves in a magnolia grove surrounded by saplings of varying ages. We stood ankle-deep in leaf drifts.

A mottled circle  nearly covered in leaves caught my eye and I immediately became still. “Don’t move, Buck. Look where I’m looking. Is that a snake?” I watched the circle, half expecting it to move under the leaves.  We concluded it might be a mushroom, but just to be on the safe side, Buck took a long stick and nudged the object. It fell over. Mushroom. Yep. We knew it all the time. Darned unusual, though, and quite beautiful.

I didn’t have my camera, so used a magnolia leaf as a little boat to carry the mushroom back to the house. Buck spotted this patch of moss and suggested its outrageous shade of green would make a good backdrop for the photo. I think he was right. Now, the mushroom resting on the lichen-covered twig looks more like a piece of designer jewelry than a hidden snake.

Anybody know the proper name for this mushroom? (It does not have gills underneath, if that helps.)

Why Are Writers Like Mushrooms?

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IN SEARCH OF A POT OF LEFTOVER BOSTON MARATHON CHILI TODAY, (which I thought would make a fine lunch and I was right), I found a large bluish-lilac mushroom zipped up in a gallon-size plastic bag in the refrigerator and remembered my quest to learn its identity.

Today is a typical Gulf coast Florida so-called winter afternoon: 77°F, cloud bursts alternating with streaky sunshine leading inexorably to a front that will drop temps into the 50’s overnight, with another murky day to follow, and then Thursday, yes! Bright sunshine, with a high of 58°F and low of 40°F. This is why, even in the dead of winter, when nighttime below-freezing temps can line themselves up one against the other like frozen peas, we never pack up the shorts and t-shirts.

Perfect weather for hanging out in my study tracking down fungi identities and pondering why it is that writers are like mushrooms.

A lovely Lepista Nuda (Blewit) nestled in the clutter of the forest floor between house and gate — found January 13, 2013, Longleaf Preserve, near Pensacola, Florida.

Our friend, Elaine Spencer, and I, were making several laps to the gate last Saturday following a late breakfast with Buck and Elaine’s husband, Neal, of Mary B’s Thin Biscuits, Greek Fage Yogurt and a mélange of fresh fruit, including strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, blood and navel oranges, and sliced bananas. We were fully caffeinated and ready for a nice stretch of the leg. I spotted the unusual looking mushroom on the way back from our second lap.

We got back to the house and Elaine headed up stairs to shower and dress for a lunch outing at The Grand Marlin on Pensacola Beach. I decided to go back and take a picture of that lavender ‘shroom, harvest it and bring it back to the house so I could look at it in a good light.

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I put it on a glass coffee table out in a room we call “the snow porch.” Snow never falls outside those windows, but it reminds us of a similar room we had in the mountains of Western North Carolina near Asheville, North Carolina from 1997-2004. I’ll never forget being there one Christmas Eve and watching a rose-breasted grosbeak commandeer a feeder box full of seed on the deck as large flakes of falling snow wrapped us in the white silence of angel’s hair, a serendipitous gift.

Clitocybe nuda (blewit)In truth, writers are more like members of the kingdom of fungi, working cryptically in la noche oscura del alma. Like fungi, we only become noticeable when fruiting, our mushrooming pages the visible evidence of our efforts.

“Turkey Tail” (trametes versicolor polypore) seen January 13, 2013 at Longleaf Preserve near Pensacola.

Sometimes the fruit of our labors is showy, but tasteless, hard.

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Sometimes, no matter how intense our effort, the result is dry and dull. Like mushrooms, writers, too, may dwell solitary or in colonies. There is a nearly infinite number of unique forms within the fungi kingdom.

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When the words pour elegantly like delicate, warm madeleines, they dazzle. When they spread thickly like whole-wheat gingerbread made in madeleine molds, they are fragrant and succulent; they nurture. These spore-bearing fruits look like gingerbread butter cakes to me.

Amanita muscaria, seen December, 2012 at Longleaf Preserve near Pensacola, Florida.

A writer’s words can emerge, as mushrooms do, from many environments: from the rotting wood of life, hard bark, packed sand, the air, leaf clutter, even excrement. Words have power. Like the Amanita muscaria, they can send dreams and visions, enlightenment or the illusion of it, as well as deadly poison. Consider these words from Roger Phillips, founder of a wonderful site, Roger’s Mushrooms:

This is one of the easiest species to recognize and describe, and consequently its properties have been well documented for centuries. The common name Fly Agaric comes from the practice of breaking the cap into platefuls of milk, used since medieval times to stupefy flies. It is a strong hallucinogen and intoxicant and was used as such by the Lapps. In such cases the cap is dried and swallowed without chewing. The symptoms begin twenty minutes to two hours after ingestion. The central nervous system is affected and the muscles of the intoxicated person start to pull and twitch convulsively, followed by dizzines and a death-like sleep. During this stage the mushrooms are often vomited but nevertheless the drunkenness and stupor continue. While in this state of stupor, the person experiences vivid visions and on waking is usually filled with elation and is physically very active. This is due to the nerves being highly stimulated, the slightest effort of will producing exaggerated physical effects, e.g. the intoxicated person will make a gigantic leap to clear the smallest obstacle. The Lapps may have picked up the habit of eating the Fly Agaric through observing the effects of the fungus on reindeer, which are similarly affected. Indeed, they like it so much that all one has to do to round up a wandering herd is to scatter pieces of Fly Agaric on the ground. Another observation the Lapps made from the reindeer was that the intoxicating compounds in the fungus can be recycled by consuming the urine of an intoxicated person. The effects of consuming this species are exceedingly unpredictable; some people remain unaffected while others have similar, or different, symptoms to those above, and at least one death is attributed to A. muscaria. This unpredictability is due to the fungus containing different amounts of the toxins ibotenic acid and muscimol according to season, method of cooking and ingestion, as well as the subject’s state of mind. Ibotenic acid is mostly concentrated in the coloured skin of the cap. This very unstable compound rapidly degrades on drying to form muscimol which is five to ten times more potent. Traditionally, where A. muscaria is used as an inebriant, it is the dried cap which is taken.

1-IMG_7363And in that rare moment when elusive perfection brings life to the page, our words can curl happily up at the edges like some old, light-filled scroll, worthy of binding into a book that others will keep on their shelves, riffle the pages, sleep with and dream the created worlds.

A New Year’s Eve Wild Mushroom Tour

And why not? I have to go jump in the shower to get scrubbed and ready for kids and grandkids to join Buck and me for a New Year’s Eve “bring your own pizza” party. There will be all varieties, from artisanal to gluten-free and fully-loaded. We’ll have a blast, from ages 13 to 75.

After they leave, I’ll play around some more with fonts and colors, then say my first piece in the new year. Depending on how long they stay tonight, that piece may not get spoken until    mid-day tomorrow.

Meanwhile, I would not that ye have come to this page for nothing. So, here (ta da) is a semi-brief photographic tour of some of the coolest mushrooms in the woods. Buck and I noticed them about two weeks ago when we were out walking.  Something  was knocking many of them over like in a way that looked petulant. You’ll see.

Happy New Year — see you tomorrow and we’ll begin again!

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September’s End at Longleaf

Yesterday morning I walked our woods for the first time in more than two weeks. There were several cool nights while we were away; enough to tinge these oak leaves the colors of autumnal hydrangeas. Today, noisy rain has enclosed me in the sconce-lit dreaming space of my study, where I wear a soft old sundress and pink slipper socks, and drink pomegranate-infused green tea.

Every Blazing Star stalk in the woods seemed to come with its own bee yesterday. The drunken bees were slow and heedless of a camera-clicking person.

The forest was strung with dancing garlands. I wonder if they have tiny bulbs inside that light up at night?

A mushroom with strep throat? Blushing? Don’t believe I should touch or taste this one.

Haven’t you ever had one of those days when you were just too tired to hold your head up a minute longer?

Of course, if you stay down too long, somebody may move in.

Tiny yellow flowers sprinkled as if from a Lilliputian’s basket are everywhere I look. Who wouldn’t be cheered by these bright sprites?

I let a  rafter of 18 turkeys move through the clearing in front of the house before heading out for my walk. They bounded along, stopping every few steps to lunge at something on the ground, either a bug or a seed.  A young deer calmly watched as I moved into the woods. She probably grew up right here and has most likely seen me many times before. Our home, hers and mine.

Conga Drum, Octopus Hunting and a Walk to the Gate

One dream was of a large oak Brazilian timba conga drum. Two almond-shaped eyes were painted on it. It spoke to me in soulful bass tones. “Por favor traga-me uma xícara de café quente.”  I swear, the beautiful eyes did a slow blink.

In another dream, three pick-up trucks drove very fast into the clearing outside my study window. Rough men in camouflage spilled out, popped the tailgate and tugged on something large, a gray-lavender huge squirmy octopus. It had cartoon-round eyes and went galumphing off into the woods. I was on my feet in a flash, ran out the door. “Hey! What the hell is going on here?”  I got right up in their porcine faces.

They looked at me as though I was the strange duck. “Huntin’ ma’am. Don’t you know it’s octopus season?”

What do you think? Am I drinking too much coffee or not enough? Reading too much? Writing when I should be sleeping and sleeping when I should be talking to the Dragon or packing for Maine? Listening to weird music, like “Big in Japan” by Tom Waits? Turn that one up real loud when you’re into the head of a depressive with an attitude in his manic phase. (Hey, I’m talking about my bad guy character I love to hate, Rory Mathis. He must be a Scorpio.)

But in the midst of it all, there are still the sane-making woods walks. We changed weather channels a few days ago, and went from this:

to cooler, much dryer air and clear skies. Our monsoon season has ended. Three nights ago if we had tried to eat supper outside on the patio, we would have been ingesting disgusting black “love bugs” along with the meal. Tonight? Different story. Luscious cool breeze, slow melt sunset in peach sherbet colors, and love bugs gone, baby gone.

Here, then, a few photos from summer’s end at Longleaf.

Surely these wildflowers, so common in the woods, have a name. The naming of things is important. I’ve searched Walter Kingsley Taylor’s book, Florida Wildflowers, from Pine Flatwoods to Ruderal Sites, and cannot find its name.

The shocking purple American Beautyberry (also known as French Mulberry) is a sure harbinger of Fall. This bush is probably spindly because it’s standing in wet ground near the spring.

With abundant acorns, berries, a natural spring, and few people crashing about, the wildlife population thrives. Thousands of green acorns were blown down by Tropical Storm Isaac’s gusts. They make crackle crunchy sounds underfoot.

We’ve had so much rain this summer, I grew afraid of standing still for fear something would begin growing on me.

Looks like this fellow has his morning’s work all planned out.

Some mushrooms are pretty, in a homely sort of way.

And the underside of some are so strange I begin to hum “Also Sprach Zarathustra” while kneeling on the damp ground to get an up-close look. It looks ancient. Petrified.

Lay me down forever in a bed of ferns, my love.

I just remembered I got married once on a September 10 long ago in a land far, far away to a person like “The Stranger” in that Billy Joel song, who became a person “that I did not recognize.” The year I divorced him,  I sang Paul Simon’s “Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover” for months before I finally  filed the motion for dissolution.

Update on “Visitation” Post

Just learned from mycologist Bill Petty (who knows his ways around moths and butterflies, too) that my “moth” is actually a Junonia coenia, otherwise known as a Common Buckeye butterfly. For more info on this sweet critter, click here for the link Bill gave me.  Thanks, Bill!

Bill also identified that first mushroom on the mushroom post as an Amanita muscaria var. persicina. Bill says to properly identify the others, I need to provide photos of their underbelly, so I guess it’s back to the woods this afternoon. Oh, the things I do for “science.”

Mushrooms in the Woods Today

The conditions must be just perfect for mushrooms in our woods today. They are the most flamboyant assortment I have ever seen around here. Judge for yourself!  I don’t know what any of them are, although I do think there is at least one chocolate polypore (thelephora terrestris) that Florida mycologist Bill Petty helped me to identify last year. I’ll be sending him a note with a link to this post in hopes he will put names to the faces.

. . . and to think: I almost left my camera at the house.

Longleaf Preserve Mushroom Makes It to Florida Fungi Facebook Fame

Bill Petty is my "go-to" guy for identifying mushrooms around Longleaf. He publishes the Florida Fungi website, and now has taken it to Facebook. Bill is a retired data base systems engineer, and a naturalist mycologist by avocation. He is also a University of Florida/IFAS-certified Master Gardener and Master Naturalist in the state of Florida.

I am very pleased to have one of Longleaf Preserve's very own 'shrooms appearing on Bill's new Florida Fungi Facebook Page. Go look. It's a very cool place.

Lush Mush and a Post from the Outpost

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About a month ago, we were covered up in mushrooms of all sizes, sorts and descriptions. That is when we had good rain and plenty of it. The pendulum has swung, and now we are on the verge of serious drought.  I found the beauty in this photo underneath a big spreading live oak that borders the clearing and the deep woods. It is an open book, a balloon whisk, a frilly oyster, delicate and sensual.

Buck and Harold haven't been able to disk the clearing out front or the food plots yet this season. They need to have rain first, then disk, fertilize, plant seed and cover it lightly and pray for a little more rain, not too hard, please, a good, gentle, farmer's rain. Harold won't be toting fertilizer or seed or running the tractor this year, but he will have a major supervisory role. He is still recovering from his kidney cancer surgery. I'm happy to tell you that the surgeon was able to save almost 75% of Harold's right kidney, and excised the tumor with clean margins all around. No chemo needed. Harold is back to driving and came over to drink coffee and shoot the breeze with Buck and me several days ago. It was great to hear him going on about politics and the news of the day and to see that he still has a spark in his eye. 

Buck and I saw two spotted fawns and their mama out back just at dusk. This morning, I stood for what must have been 20 minutes and watched two bunny rabbits getting into a snit with each other over some overripe pears and grapes I put out for them. At one point, they looked like miniature kangaroos, up on their hind legs, sparring.

It's kind of early, but I am ready to turn out the light. I've been pretty scarce around these pages recently, but I set up a low round table near my desk in the study, (away from the computer, ahem), and am arising early, fixing a pot of Lady Grey tea, and getting into a rhythmn with some new writing. I've missed you all, but, oh Lord, this feels good.

My Daddy used to tell me that to catch a fish you have to hold your mouth right. Buck has told me that dogs turn around several times and scratch the ground (or the carpet) to get rid of any bugs or spiders before they lie down . I hope the day will come when I have sufficient discipline to just sit any old place, stay in the room, and let it roll.

Hope you are all well and enjoying September.

Take care,

Beth