Tag Archive | Mushrooms


IMG_1770 (800x533)Where I live, we’ve had a lot of rain recently, so now, we have a lot of mushrooms in our community. They are growing in all the neighbors’ lawns. Some look like perfect toadstools, with a skinny stem and a wide top, shaped so that a small mouse caught in a Disney movie could find shelter during a sudden storm. Some are tall and thin with a narrow, pointed top which are best described as, um, erect. Some are oddly shaped, with tops that are wavy and irregular and almost no stem to raise them off the ground. Many are a creamy eggshell color on the top, but others are brown or yellow or gray or green or even a dusty but vivid orange-red. Some have spots or streaks that look like shadows, while others are smooth and constant.

Every time I see the mushrooms as I take the family dog on our daily walk through our neighborhood, I feel compelled to run home, grab my camera, and retrace my steps to try to capture some photos of the neighborhood fungi. Lately, I have paused before acting on that impulse because I am not sure why I have it. They are not beautiful. Even with the best of camera settings, with high-contrast lighting, saturated colors, and blurry backgrounds to make the resulting photos as dramatic as possible, they are still just mushrooms. They are plain at best and disgusting at worst. They are certainly not the subjects for the kind of photos one would want to hang on one’s wall. So why do I feel driven to photograph them?

The mushrooms are not beautiful, but they are fascinating. I think it is the similarity between those two evaluations which compels me to get my camera, and I think it is difference between them which has lately made me pause before using up more precious megapixels. Just think about the words themselves. Both beauty and fascination are nouns, and both can be expressed as adjectives, too: beautiful and fascinating. But when you try to make them verbs, things go awry. Something can fascinate, although it will require a direct object which is willing to be fascinated. But to be transformed into an action, beauty needs a little help. Although one can beautify, it sounds a bit awkward; one would be better off making beauty, or creating beauty, and then beauty itself becomes the object and the action gets put elsewhere.

Both beauty and fascination are subjective; one person might find something beautiful or fascinating or both, while someone else may not. Both beauty and fascination are a part of the equation of beholding, but they come at it differently. Beauty is something intrinsic to the object itself: a beautiful flower bears its beauty whether someone is looking at it or not. Fascination, on the other hand, happens inside the observer: an object is not considered fascinating until someone notices it, studies it, and allows it to evoke wonder or curiosity.

Besides our neighborhood mushrooms, how else might that distinction between evaluating some things as “beautiful” and others as “fascinating” be applied? Objects in nature can be either; as a gardener, I have encountered and planted specimens in my yard that were beautiful but not fascinating, as well as ones that are fascinating but not beautiful. Visual arts have a more clear purpose which can allow a judgment of either beauty or fascination; a piece might be created to communicate beauty, but it also might be designed to communicate other messages which make it fascinating, even if the piece itself is not considered terribly beautiful. Similar things could be said about writing. But what about sounds? Music can be beautiful, whether it is from a bird or an orchestra; it can also be fascinating, although only the most academic of critics would sit through a symphony or a song that is fascinating but not beautiful. And what about food, or odors, or textures? We add other senses, so that something can have a pleasing taste or smell or feel in addition to its visual beauty. And, at the same time, its flavors, odors, textures, and appearance might also be fascinating.

So what about people? I’m not sure more could be said of the myths of human beauty and the mysteries of human attraction, so I will only say this. One of the pieces of the Christian way of seeing the world I treasure most deeply is the affirmation that all people are loved by their Creator, and through that love, every person is made beautiful, no matter what he or she looks like. As with a flower, human beauty is intrinsic, and I find that truth to be one of the most beautiful. Fascination, on the other hand, happens in the mind of the beholder, and I think it is in there somewhere that we can understand such phenomena as attraction, tolerance, kinship, jealousy, pity, empathy, and a whole lot of others.

The window of opportunity to photograph mushrooms is very small. After only a few hours of sunshine, they start to shrivel, to shrink, and to fall, and no matter what colors they displayed when they were at their peak, they all turn to a mushy, slimy brown. At that stage, I do not find them fascinating any more, and I am not even tempted to take a photograph; their value to me is simply that they will decompose and add their minerals, fibers, water, and other nutrients to the soil underneath. Still, we had some rain this evening, so when I go on my walk tomorrow morning, shall I take my camera along with me?

Father’s Day

(c) 2012, Eric Beene

My son loves white flowers.  I am not particularly fond of white flowers.  There are so many fascinating, rich, deep, bright, cheerful, and all manner of other adjective-laden colors for flowers.  Why should I bother with boring, colorless white?  Besides, our house is painted white, so the white flowers really do not do anything interesting in our yard.

Last year in the week before Mother’s Day, we were feeling the effects on our wallets of an early-May trip to Disney World, so my wife and I agreed we would not exchange gifts for the springtime Hallmark parenting holidays.  However, my son, who was four at the time, wanted to get something for his mom, and who was I to squelch such an impulse to generosity and gratitude?  Since the plants on our front porch needed some seasonal refreshing, I told him that he could pick out a plant from the local big-box home store (please don’t judge) to give to his mother for her day.

We went on our guys-only shopping trip, and he instantly picked out a green plant with tiny star-shaped flowers which were, of all colors, white.  Why wouldn’t he?  He has made it clear for at least half his life that he loves white flowers.  I showed him that he could get the same plant with flowers that were brilliant pinks or rich, warm shades of orange.  I reminded him that he and I share a favorite color, yellow, and pointed out that there were healthy specimens of the same variety in that bright, cheerful color.  We paused in that conversation, looked for other departments at the store, picked out a few items I needed, and then returned to the subject of flowers for mom.  After more discussion, we headed to the checkout counter, me with my few necessities, and him proudly carrying his gift, with its plain, white flowers.

I really am, at heart, pleased with the whole incident.  My son has strong opinions about what is beautiful.  He appreciates the effects of color, or the lack of color, on the look of things.  He sees in his own way what is worthy to serve as a gift for his beloved mother.  And he knows how to express all of those opinions, all of that appreciation, and all of that vision through the natural materials of the garden.

I am reminded of this scene at the local big-box home store because of an article I read in the days leading up to Father’s Day last week.  The writer was reminiscing about her father and how he taught her about gardening.  Her father knew that his gardening was secondary in importance to his role as a father, so he made decisions about what to do in his yard not solely based on the light, soil, water, and other conditions.  He also took into consideration the opinions, appreciations, visions, and even the playful whims of the little girls in his home.

That is the kind of gardener, and more importantly, the kind of father I hope I am to my son.  A father like that can teach a whole host of things to his child:  about nature, about beauty, about hobbies, about what it means to live in a family and a neighborhood and other relationships, about play and fun.  I recognize that my son may or may not experience as he grows up the same satisfaction I get from the hard and dirty work of keeping the yard.  I know that he may find other ways to help to create, or at least to arrange, beauty and sustenance in this world.  But I believe that part of what I can give him is some understanding of the world that he can never gain in a classroom, and sharing in my own love of gardening is one way I can give him that gift.

There are plenty of times my son is less than interested in the garden.  Usually when I ask him if he wants to help me water or do other quick chores on a Saturday afternoon, he says he would rather stay inside and play computer games with his mom.  Sometimes he takes me up on the offer, but I know that his attention to what I am doing will be short-lived, and he will soon be waving the sticks that have fallen from the trees in the front yard like they are magic wands or weapons in some epic battle of good and evil.  On our frequent trips into the back yard to turn it into a zoo which must be developed, or a series of islands which must be explored, or a dinosaur battlefield which must be defended, I sometimes get a bit distracted and start pulling weeds in the flower beds.  He gets annoyed at my efforts to restore order amid the pine straw and commands me to return my attention to the game.  He doesn’t always love gardening, and he possibly never will.

But one morning last week, on the first bright day after a week or so of thunderstorms and rain, he looked out the door and saw the most ginormous mushroom ever, and it was growing in the middle of our back yard.  He was already late to leave for his summer camp, but I promised I would take a couple of close-up photos and show them to him after I got home from work.  He made me keep my promise, and I happily obliged, showing him digital images of the really big mushroom as well as a number of other mushrooms which had popped up in our lawns and flower beds.  Some had straight stems and some were slanted; some were brown, some were white, and some were some set of colors in between; some had perfectly rounded tops and others had all manner of curves and curls about them.  He looked at the photos, and then he hurried outside, first to the back yard and then to the front, looking for all of these specimens of wonder.  He found them all, coming back in to excitedly report to me which ones were still there and which ones had already fallen over from their own weight or been stepped on by the dog.

We got to talk over the next few days about how fungi are similar to and different from plants and about shapes and sizes and colors of different mushrooms.  We found some gnarly, asymmetrical mushrooms growing right up against the lavender which emitted a puff of powder when we kicked them, and we talked about spores and baby mushrooms.  We talked about poison as well as about the technique of sauteing in butter.  His mother got to tell him about her experiences picking wild mushrooms when she lived in Hungary, and about never daring to eat any of them until the local grocer confirmed which were good and which could kill you with the smallest morsel.  We might have exaggerated a bit on that last part for effect.   Mostly, we got to witness the wonder together as a family about the beautiful, unique, and even strange things that can come from the dirt of our little bit of nature.

And I feel like I might be doing something right as a father.