December Week 1 – What is a mushroom?

What is a mushroom? For me a mushroom represents a line, a circle, a curve, a particular color, or a section of a pattern within a composition that tells a bit of nature’s story through my camera lens. Photographing them is a great deal more than a “point and shoot” art. Dec 1 - Mush on Log 2 copy

I love it when I find an interesting mushroom pushing up pine needles from the earth below, or sitting on decaying logs, or protruding from the plushy green moss beneath the redwoods. When I find one, I look at it from every angle to discover a unique composition for my camera. Often this requires kneeling down, sitting on the ground or lying on my stomach.

Dec 1 - Mush on Log 3 copyThen, too, I’ve learned that browsing mushroom field guides alone isn’t sufficient for identifying most fungi, since mushrooms seem to have so many look-alikes. An expert mushroom hunter explained that one needs to make a “spore print,” a skill I haven’t yet acquired. Not to worry, my mushroom images are not created primarily for identification purposes, but rather they are like pigment on nature’s pallet presenting me with gorgeous entrances into the essence of the earth herself.

Andy Goldsworthy, one of my favorite artists, uses things in nature to create his art. He’s created things out of driftwood at low tide and then, when the tide comes in, the beautiful art structure is dismantled bit by bit in the natural flow of the water. Goldworthy has worked in freezing temperatures, using his hands to melt the edges of icicles in order to connect one to another, creating stunning sculptures. The sculptures’ longevity, of course, depends on the weather.

Dec 1 - Mush on Log 4 copyIn photographing mushrooms I admit to doing a bit of artistic gardening – bending a mushroom up so I can be right beneath it’s gills, tenderly moving a bit of green moss to enhance the background, or gently rolling back a piece of decaying bark to discover the point where the mushroom stem connects to its host.  Sometimes my scene-enhancement activity requires dusting off the top of a mushroom so that only one or two of the needles that it has pushed up from the ground remain on its cap.

What is a mushroom? It is the fruiting body of fungus. Fungi are a unique group of organisms, distinctively different from plants, animals and bacteria. Most mushrooms can be placed into one of three categories based on how they take in nutrients: saprobic, parasitic and mycorrhizal. I think the images I am presenting to you today, all growing on the same decaying log, are the saprobic type. This kind of fungi absorbs nutrients from wood, dung, and plant litter. They are crucial agents of decay and of the production of humus which becomes a part of the soil structure needed for plant growth.

Dec 1 - Mush on Log 1 copyI don’t know if the fungi are conscious of the importance they play in the web-of-life. “Climate is a driving force for the evolution of our unique fungal flora,” according to the field guide, California Natural History Guides – Western North American Mushrooms. Therefore our awareness and care of the climate and our partners in the web-of-life are important components of our spirituality and stewardship as well as they can be the focus of our art forms which are often the prophetic voice of the good earth.

For additional mushroom images visit my Fungi Art portfolio.

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