Woodear mushrooms (genus Polypore) are some of my favorites. As I’ve shared an earlier post, they release a protein which breaks down wood, thus any tree that you see with wood years on them are goners. Although this is a bit depressing, it is an amazing testament to the cycle of nature.
I found these two little polypore mushrooms on a picnic bench on a friend’s property in Brevard, North Carolina, where my parents have stayed for seven years, and where we have visited numerous times. The bench was not particularly old, but it was beginning to get weathered in these two little woodear mushrooms appeared to be a bit confused as to the medium on which they chose to grow.
In nature, as in life, it pays to be adaptable. When I was younger, I was adaptable. Not too much fazed me. As I grew older my anxiety grew, and I began to be much less adaptable. I would get grumpy when plans changed, much to the chagrin of Anna and her family. I think this change was brought about by my extended blue period, which I am thankful to say I am on the other side of these days. What once came so easily to me when I was younger, I now have to work for. Adaptability as an adult is a learned skill, and once lost it is hard to relearn.
This photograph of the “turkey tail” mushroom (Trametes Versicolor) was taken in the Nocatee Preserve on Christmas morning with Kemper as my photographer’s assistant. I gave him my old Nikon D40, which was the first DSLR that I ever had. It has seen Alaska and many other beautiful places, and it served me well until I upgraded to my current D7100. Kemper took to photography like a duckling to water. As I am drawn to paths and mushrooms and other natural wonders, he is drawn to sticks and mosses and the sky.
A number of his photographs turned out, though we need to work on focusing a bit more. His hands are a bit small yet for back-button focusing, and so I reset the camera to focus on depressing the shutter button by half. I think he gets so excited when he is ready to take a shot (as evidenced by The Pose).
I love taking photographs of mushroom, because they have some of the most beautiful variety of any natural phenomenon. Some are medicinal, while others are deathly poisonous. Some are edible, while some are deathly poisonous. Some are beautiful, and some are beautiful and deathly poisonous. The turkey tail has gorgeous growth rings that show up especially well in black and white. Like many woodear mushrooms, they are harbingers of doom for the tree that they grow on, but even as such, they are beautiful to look at and to photograph.
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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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