February week 1 – pushing up through all that litter!

Way Caps - Marin County

Way Caps – Marin County

California has so many different climate zones that one can usually find mushrooms blooming almost any time of the year. Mushrooms, however, need water to develop, and, until recently, most of our state was void of water.  With the rains of the past few weeks, mushrooms are popping up and showing off their shapes and colors,

Feb 1 - Death Cap copy

Amanita pushing up through the needles

There are two principal mushroom fruiting seasons – autumn into winter, and spring. In each of these seasons different mushrooms appear. Autumn mushrooms usually form 1 to 2 weeks after the first major rainfall. They will continue blooming until it becomes too wet or too cold. The spring mushrooms (which I have yet to photograph) become prolific after the snow melt in the mountains or spring rains in the lowlands.

The diversity of the fall mushrooms far exceeds the spring varieties. In addition to water, mushrooms need access to nutrients, and, to get the nutrients they need, many mushrooms have a symbiotic relationship with particular species of trees. Therefore it ought to be pretty predictable where and when certain mushrooms are found. Although mushroom hunting, once a little-practiced activity, has become extremely popular, fortunately for photographers, some of the most beautiful mushrooms are poisonous and therefore pretty much left in place.

Perhaps red and toxic go together (not a political statement). In the category of “pretty but poisonous” are the Red Russulas, Fly Amanitas, Red Boletes (though most of the other Boletes/Porcini are delectable) and Waxy Caps. Some of the mushroom identification books say the edibility of these varieties is “unknown.” Any takers?

Feb 1 - Rusella copy

Russula after the winter rains finally arrived

I love the way mushrooms have to push their way up through the forest litter or the muddy soil of the meadows. Some mushrooms develop below the duff and poke through only at maturity. Some grow underground, and others fully develop above ground. But to me they are all very pushy – making their way through needles and grass and fallen limbs.

Feb 1 - 2 Waxy Caps copyIn this case “pushy” is a very admirable and necessary trait for survival. Just like women, they need to take charge and be tough. But article after article reminds us that our society, embedded in patriarchal practices, thinks women are too pushy when they assert themselves, but, on the other hand, they are seen as wimpy and weak if they are too quiet.

Catherine Rampell, in her SF Chronicle column, The Millennial View, wrote recently: “Too tough, too quiet – women can’t win.” Why should a woman need to strive for a personality balance, not being too macho nor too feminine? Unfortunately, in politics as in every corner of life, women are still being judged by “masculine standards” which we can never embody because we neither want to nor need to. I am with the mushrooms – keep pushing up through all that litter!

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