1 – Centennial Park Excursion
You know the feeling— it’s fall, the days are getting shorter, the leaves are turning, and you just have to get out on the land before you surrender it to winter. So on the second-last Saturday in September, I joined a group of Thunder Bay Field Naturalists on a fungi hunt (Singular, FUNG – us; plural, FUN – gee).
And, gee, it WAS fun. Two dozen of us circled Dr. Len in fairy ring configuration as he explained the strategy. Pick specimens, he said, and bear them hither for identification. We wafted like spores across the Current River, supported by a footbridge, and, following doctor’s orders, dispersed like exploding puffballs to find our quarries — mushrooms and yeasts and molds and other fruiting bodies of cryptic underground structures called mycelia — all subjects of the Kingdom of Fungi.
Yep, as I learned later, fungi are so important in the world of living organisms that they have their own Kingdom, just as the Kingdom of Plants do, and the Kingdom of Animals. Dr. Len insisted on giving us the scientific and latinate names for our finds, while pandering to our lowborn need for the incredibly diverse and colourful Anglo-Saxon nomenclature.
So, we relished the poetry of Inky caps and Poison pies and Wood blewits and Coral fungi and Indian pipes and Meadow mushrooms and Hedgehog mushrooms
and Orange milkcaps and on and on, as we stumbled on and on into the overarching forest of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence region. In two hours we must have covered two hundred metres, never straying far from the beaten path.
The autumn rains had pushed fibrous subterranean networks, the mycelia, into a frenzy of creation, thrusting their fruiting bodies (the stems and the caps) into earth’s oxygenated layer where the agarics and the boletes could manufacture spores to exhale through their gills and pores (Don’t ask if you really don’t need to know).
From time to time, Dr. Len encouraged us to get hands-on, even tongues-on, fondling a bold stem here with its ragged annulus, skidding a finger across a greasy cap there, and perhaps breaking off a piece and popping it into the mouth — someone else’s mouth, if you were really cautious. But if it was something good to eat, he told you, and several budding mycologists collected hampers of mushrooms to cart home and fry up or otherwise prepare for gastronomic exploration.
I know some of us will never look at a dead-looking white thing the same way again.