These desiccated little smoky polypore mushrooms (Polyporus Adustus), like a resurrection fern, will spring back to life after a brief winter rain. Unfortunately, for the hardwood trees that they are found on, the time for resurrection has long past. The enzymes in the mushrooms help to speed the decay of dead and dying trees in forests all over the world, including this one in North Carolina, west of Asheville. Interestingly, they also can eat away synthetic materials, such as synthetic dies in plastics, and research is being done to see what role these common little mushrooms can play in bioremediation. This dwarf American Chestnut (Castanea Pumila) still bore leaves, and but for the polypores on its bark, the tree would have otherwise appeared healthy. But alas, it is the beginning of the end for the august old tree. The mushrooms are a symptom of death and disease, otherwise invisible until the tree succumbs.
I think of my favorite aunt on my dad’s side, Irene, who died of cancer when I was younger. I had seen her soon before the cancer took over, and she appeared healthy on the outside — albeit crusty and sarcastic to the end. I regret not knowing her better, as she was a huge influence on my dad’s life. My dad and I went to Maine to visit her and my memere, who was in the throes of dementia, and I spent most of the time in the back of Irene’s house on the rocky outcroppings looking for moose and wild blueberries. I told her that I would bring her a harvest of the blueberries, which grew low to the ground, rooted in the interstices of the rocks. I failed in my mission, eating at least two-thirds of what would eventually make it into my small bucket. I told her that I had not found as many as I had wanted (which, I suppose, was true), but my lips, stained a dark shade of purple, belied my foraging skills. She laughed and smiled her ever present wry smile, and we had an understanding. I was the chubby kid who was not to be trusted gathering fruit, and she was the understanding aunt, too kind to say anything cross. Perhaps if there were outward signs, I would have stayed inside longer to hear her stories of my dad and uncle, Harvey, and perhaps I would have been more judicious with the blueberries I promised her.
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