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Annual mushroom bloom still enchants

Every mid-October I become a stalker.

I circle the old madrone stump in my side yard looking for clues. Early in the morning I run outside to see whether there’s been a change. But there’s nothing. I wonder: will the mushrooms even come up this year?

I confess I’ve even gone out at night, after dark, with a flashlight and circled the old dead wood to see whether there is any sign of the life that springs forth annually, just in time for my November birthday. In the couple of weeks ahead of that date, I’ve never found even a single clue of the spectacular mushroom bloom to come.

Many mushrooms, like the honey mushrooms that manifest in my yard every autumn, seem to appear overnight. Actually, of course, it takes several days of just the right combination of water and light for the ancient fungal organism to produce the “fruiting bodies.” The activity that causes this annual display is hidden from my eyesight, a mystery that continues to enchant me.

And “enchant” is a good word to use with mushrooms. An artists’ subject for generations, mushrooms are depicted as the home for gnomes and as umbrellas for woodland fairies. They encourage even the most intellectual of scientists to embrace the possibilities inspired by childhood imagination.

I like to think this burst of life on my birthday is Mother Earth’s way of acknowledging my existence, of saying that my life matters. I like to think it’s a marker of my time on the great cosmic wheel. I like to think it’s connected to me and my consciousness during this vast evolutionary story.

But I suspect it has nothing to do with me. Rather this yearly occurrence is a display of something much more ancient, something I can witness but never fully understand. In fact, the largest living organism on Earth is a honey mushroom phenomenon in Oregon’s Blue Mountains. Thought to cover about 4 square miles, this underground fungal growth is somewhere between 2,000 and 8,000 years old. If harvested, they say, it would weigh more than 200 gray whales.

My honey mushrooms pop up overnight. One morning in early November, there they are. They manifest fully mature, clustered together in cozy pyramids. Piled on top of each other, they suggest an impermeability. They provide tight layers of protection for one another, something I wish we humans would do.

But just as quickly, the mushrooms disappear. Present for a few days, or a couple of precious weeks, they darken and fade, melting into the ground beneath, their brief display an example of life’s ephemeral nature, like a dazzling aria heard only once, or a flash of love-at-first-sight, or the pure aroma of a newborn’s sweet breath. Fleeting, just like a life being realized, just like a life marked by a November birthday.

Anne Batzer lives in Sams Valley.

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