Category Archives: Living Deliberately

Mars and the Spider

By Tom O’Malley

Tom O’Malley in the birth room at Thoreau Farm.

In this time of war, I am not surprised to see the planet Mars burning brightly in the night sky. Ah, Mars, the red planet. No other heavenly body calls up such fantastic images in the human imagination. My Mars is the Mars of Ray Bradbury, a frail, sand-tossed world where elegant alien creatures await the demise of their species aboard fabulous ships that ply the wine-dark waters of their evaporating canals. Mars. I have seen your polar caps through the lens of a small backyard telescope, and have conjured pictures of ice and water flowing down to byzantine towns along the equator.

I remember back in 1969 when Neil Armstrong was kangarooing on the lunar surface, enthusiastic NASA men were predicting human landings on Mars by 1980. I planned to go myself, until I found out that advanced Math was required in the astronaut world. So here we are in the 21at century, and there are no footprints on the red planet yet!

Last year, Mars was one of the brightest objects in the night sky. I did not want to pass up the opportunity to get a good look at our celestial neighbor, so my daughter Nora and I headed out to our cabin in the country to get an undistorted view of this mysterious planet. We arrived a bit before dark. Everything was quiet as the sun descended into the treetops. Our resident barred owl hooted welcomes to the evening.

Back up in the woods, the chickadees and jays settled into their night time perches. Off in the distance, a lone coyote barked. Nora and I sat on the porch step waiting. She looked back to the house.

“Look,” she cried.

I turned, half expecting to see the god of war sitting on our roof. Instead, a daddy long legs spider meditated on the gutter.

“Let’s check it out,” I urged.

We approached cautiously.

“Is it sleeping?” asked Nora.

The spider remained still.

“I doubt it. I think it is just practicing patience.”

Nora thought about that for a moment.

“Then I think you should kill it now,” she urged. “Crush it before it gets into the cabin.”

I was shocked at first. Perhaps the approach of Mars had somehow transformed my daughter from a cheerful teenager to a blood thirsty spider killer. Then the spider moved gracefully along the gutter line. Her tai – chi movements, so slow and deliberate, charmed my Nora. Her bloodlust disappeared.

“No. Let’s not kill the spider dad. It’s a dancer!”

My heart buoyed. Peace was restored in our valley.

As we studied the spider, so domestic over our doorway, Mars crawled above the horizon, a drop of blood beaming in the darkness. It was the brightest object in the sky.

Perhaps war and peace are not really opposites. After all, the mythical war god and Venus were secret lovers. Imagine the weary warrior pulling off his armor at last. Finally, he opens his battle scarred arms to the goddess’s soft embrace. Mars had never allowed himself to be so vulnerable, so unguarded. And from this union, the grizzled warrior, perhaps, found peace at last.

That night, Mars beamed bright beyond hope. Nora and I sat silently and watched its journey through the Zodiac. Our spider danced undisturbed along the wall. And at least for these few hours, Mars put down his tools of war and embraced the steady heart of love.

Tom O’Malley is an adjunct professor of English at Canisius College. 

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Filed under General, Living Deliberately, The Roost

Transcendental Mushrooming

Lawrence Millman, (orange and brown cap) examines a mushroom that has teeth.

While the rest of the country was distracted on Super Bowl Sunday, a small band of Thoreuavians led by mycologist Lawrence Millman headed into the Estabrook Woods for the inaugural Super Cup Fungus Sunday.

To its credit, the group found nearly 60 different species on the Winter Mushroom Count, despite the snow and icy conditions.

Pursuing fungi on this particular grey New England day was an exercise in Thoreauvian Olympics. Much time was spent sauntering, which is akin to walking a step faster than a teenage boy (hoping to miss the school bus), yet slower than the octogenarian couple (aided by canes), who seemed to be skipping past us in the forest.

Millman and the mycophiles stooped, knelt, and stretched to examine every rock, log, tree trunk, branch, and pile of decayed leaves with a jeweler’s loop or hand lens. When they found a fungus or a mushroom, (Millman says its futile to make a distinction), each fungi hunter would regard it with great enthusiasm and call out to the others, and explain the significance of the discovery.

“Here’s a dog’s nose,” said Millman, holding up a fistful of the rare black fungus, as if it were ambergris. “It grows almost exclusively on old oak logs.”

Millman would know. He gave “Peridoxylon petersii” its common name “Dog’s Nose.”

During the entirety of the mushroom count, voices echoed throughout Estabrook Woods, eager to announce a find: “False Turkey Tail,” “Parchment,” “Brown Witches Butter,” “Milk-white Toothed Polypore,” and so on.

Did you know one variety of fungus glows in the dark woods like phosphorescence in the ocean? It’s called “Night Light.” Another is an orange jelly substance. You can smell it and touch it, but don’t eat it.

Lawrence Millman (standing) and (from right,) Emily Schmidt, Ryan T. Bouchard, James Mitchell, and Zaac Chaves study the fungi samples found in the field at Thoreau Farm. Photo credit: Joe Warfel

For the uninitiated, and even for the experts, there was a lot to learn on this walk. Millman and the others collected several samples, carefully slipping them into paper bags or carrying them in wicker baskets. There were eight fungi which needed further study to be identified.

One woman was pleased to locate a little brown mushroom, or LBM, as Millman (who is also an Arctic explorer and writer) and the other fungi folks affectionately call it. The LBM was found under a cluster of pine needles, yet the group was more interested in the black specks of fungi or “White pine splotch” found on the tips of the needles.

“Are there truffles in these woods?” asked one of our companions.

“Yes, but not the kind you’re interested in,” said Millman.

Millman is loathe to identify which mushrooms are edible. And, won’t.

“Edibility is the least interesting aspect of a mushroom,” he said.

One of the hunters, the editor of the Boston Mycological Club Bulletin, explained to me sotto voce that many expert foragers will go along for years happily consuming mushrooms without incident, until the one time he or she mistakenly eats a poisonous one and either gets violently ill or dies.

The hunt stopped dead in its tracks when it encountered a pine tree encased in a veneer of dried sap and lichen.

One of the mycophiles, a grad student, took his loop and examined the tree for fungus with the stance of a dermatologist  looking over freckled skin for a bad mole. It was a painstaking process, but he went about the task with extreme patience and was able to discern specks the size of black pepper. Yes. It was fungi, sprinkled along the bark.

This young man and the other mushroom counters on the walk reminded me of  Henry David Thoreau — stopping, studying, examining, and recording the natural world around us, and doing so with great joy.

If “Joy is surely the condition of life,” there was evidence of life all around us on the Winter Mushroom Count.

What did we find in Estabrook Woods?

SUPER CUP FUNGUS FORAY: INVENTORY

by Lawrence Millman

ASCOMYCETES

Bisporella citrina (Lemon Drops)

Camarops petersii (Dog’s Nose Fungus)

Chlorociboria aeruginescens (Green Stain)

Crinula caliciiformis (anamorph of Holwaya mucida)

Holwaya mucida

Hypoxylon sp.

Lachnelulla resinae var. resinaria

Lophodermium pinastri (White Pine Splotch)

Mollisia cinerea (Grey Cup)

Orbilia inflatula

Phaeocalicium polyporaeum (Pygmy Parasite)

Propolis farinosa

Rhytisma americana (Tar Spot of Maple)

Rosellinia subiculatum

Sarea resinae (Resin Cup)

Sarea difformis (Black Resin Cup)

BASIDIOMYCETES

Amylocystis lapponia

Cerrena unicolor (Mossy Maze Polypore)

Collybia sp.

Conferticium sp.

Cylindrobasidium sp.

Daedaleopsis confragosa (Thin Maze Polypore)

Dacrymyces sp. (Orange Tree Brain)

Datronia mollis

Dendrothele nivosa

Exidia recisa (Brown Witches Butter)

Flammulina velutipes (Velvet Foot)

Fomes fomentarius (Tinder Polypore)

Fomitopsis betulina (Birch Polypore)

Fomitopsis pinicola (Red Belted Polypore)

Galerina cf. marginata (Deadly Galerina)

Ganoderma curtisii

Gloeophyllum sepiarium (Rusty-Gilled Polypore)

Gloeoporus dichrous

Haplotrichum sp. (Botryobasidium anamorph)

Hydnochaete olivaceum (Olive-Toothed Polypore)

Irpex lacteus (Milk White Toothed Polypore)

Marasmius pulcherripes

Marasmius sp.

Mycena galericulata

Mycena cf. leaiana (Orange Mycena)

Mycena griseoviridis

Mycena sp.

Mytilinidion cf. parvulum

Neofavolus alveolaris (Hexagonal Pored Polypore)

Panellus stipticus (Night Light)

Phellinus ferruginosus

Plicatura crispa (Crimped Gill)

Schizophyllum commune (Split Gill)

Spongipellis pachydon (Spongy Toothed Polypore)

Stereum complicatum (Crowded Parchment)

Stereum ostrea (False Turkey Tail)

Trametes conchifer (Nesting Polypore)

Trametes suaveolens (Anise-Scented Polypore)

Trametes versicolor (Turkey Tail)

Tremella sp. (Witches Butter)

Trichaptum abietinum (Purple Toothed Polypore)

Trichaptum biforme

Xylobilus frustulatus (Ceramic Parchment)

 

Total: 59 species

Here is the list of Super Cup Fungi:

Chlorociboria aeruginascens (Green Stain)

Orbilia inflatula

Bisporella citrina (Lemon Drop)

Mollisia cinerea (Grey Cups)

Sarea resinae (Orange Resin Cup)

Holwaya mucida

Sarea difformis (Black Resin Cups)

Lachnelulla resinae

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Environment, General, Henry David Thoreau, Living Deliberately, Nature, The Roost

What Would Henry Think, Say and Do in 2018?

By Ken Lizotte

This month, as we transition into 2018, the various social and political challenges addressed in the book What Would Henry Do? published by Thoreau Farm Trust last year in time for Henry’s 200th birthday, loom today no less significant.

This unique collection of 41 essays — by many of this century’s great Thoreauvian thinkers — ponders critical issues by speculating how Henry might respond to them. After a stressful year of disruption on the national and international scene, the essays in our book might be more essential for us all to contemplate now than at any time in each of our lives.

Thoreau Farm Trust President Ken Lizotte in the Writer’s Retreat at Thoreau Farm.

As I explained in my introduction to the book, back in Henry’s time “societies in every corner of the earth had long been dominated by agriculture, ensuring a life where most everyone remained in one place from birth to death, living on and working off the land just outside one’s door. You interacted with the same friends and neighbors day in and day out, you thought the same thoughts, adhered to the same credos, held similar assumptions.

“Yet as Henry grew and matured in his little hometown of Concord, Massachusetts, the world around him seemed to break into pieces … For Henry and others, such upheavals both confused and disconcerted, raising new questions such as: What should I think about these times? What should I say about these times? And what, if anything, should I do about them?”

Today, at the dawn of a fresh year, we’re faced with the same sort of questions. How we answer them will either solve or exacerbate the many problems of our times. So on behalf of the Thoreau Farm Board of Trustees, I invite you to join us as we facilitate a dialogue throughout the coming year via panels and discussion programs, or by engaging with our blog, or during a quiet visit to Henry’s house and/or Walden Pond, or simply carrying the ideals and messages of Henry with you as move about the many corners of the earth.

Available at Amazon.com.

Who can be found between pages of our book? For starters there’s: Wicked author Gregory Maguire; Laura Dassow Walls, (author of the current best-selling Thoreau biography, Henry David Thoreau: A Life);  Larry Buell, author, (most recently, The Dream of the Great American Novel) and expert on Transcendentalism, Emerson and Thoreau; Robert D. Richardson, author of acclaimed biographies of both Henry and Ralph Waldo Emerson; Frank Serpico (yes, that Frank Serpico, former New York City police detective); actor-activist Ed Begley Jr.; and a former U.S. president who goes by the name of Jimmy! And many more.

Available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, the Shop at Walden Pond, the Concord Bookshop and independent bookstores throughout the US and Canada.

Ken Lizotte is President of the Board of Trustees at Thoreau Farm and lives in Concord, Massachusetts, with his family.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under General, Henry David Thoreau, Literature, Living Deliberately, The Roost