Tuesday, March 23, 2010

In Praise of Mushrooms

There's something so mysterious about mushrooms. Not a plant, not a root, but a spore, they appear as if by magic. Mycological societies are incredibly popular in Europe, where the mushroom community bespeaks culture and tradition, where mushroom varieties have been catalogued for many generations. Not so much in North America, where the problem of identifying mushrooms is two-fold: a lack of previously established guides and the vastness of the region. To find a mushroom in the wild and determine if it is edible, even with a guide, is risky business. My great-grandmother used to send the children off to hunt mushrooms, soaking their finds in a tub, and throwing in a coin. If the coin stayed clean, the mushrooms were edible. If it turned green, she said she didn't believe in old wives' tales and ate the mushrooms anyway.
We took the safer route last year, purchasing a block of shitake mushroom spores on line for $30. After watering the darn thing twice a day with well water from Potic Cottage, I emerged with two mushrooms (what's that, $15 each?!), until the basement flooded and generated a third. At that rate, I might as well buy a shaving of black truffles.
Why all this talk about mushrooms today, you might very well ask. As I gear up for a week in the studio, I'm looking to all sorts of places for inspiration: field guides, photography, museums, literature, the garden, the city skyline, dreams, children's drawings. I'm not sure if anything will come out of it in terms of a painting or two, but I can say I'm quite enjoying the quest.

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