Category Archives: Nature

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?


by Lawrence Millman


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)


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

An Appreciation: Reading “Thoreau and the Language of Trees”

Editor’s note: Thoreau and the Language of Trees is a new book by Concord author Richard Higgins.

By Sandy Stott

As I begin this book, a patient presence of white and pitch pines stands ten or so feet from my open window. One, a pitch pine, has died, though its trunk rises still to 30 feet, and it has become a lure for a pileated woodpecker whose exploratory peckings offer a braille I run my hands over, even as their poetry eludes me. The other 42 trees of this small, yard-girt woodland vie for light, for sky, and they stir whenever the wind blows. Tonight though, they wait, stilled in the late light of this summer’s solstice. Perhaps the owl who called from them a few nights ago will visit all of us later. They are of my yard; all will outlive me; even the pileated-stippled pitch pine trunk may endure decades. Making the acquaintance of these trees takes me beyond myself.


When I taught parts of Thoreau’s work to the sometimes hurried young, I had a favorite moment in the semester: some weeks of reading into the term, and some minutes into a class, I closed Walden and asked simply, “are you ready?” Most said, yes; a few demurred: “um…for what?” they asked. “Let’s go,” I said, and they followed me out from the rectangular classroom, down the stairs and to the door. Once outside, I offered them a choice — find any natural object, get comfortable, and concentrate on it (and only it) for ten minutes. I’ll let you know when time’s up.


Most often people picked trees. I would watch them watch their trees. Some lay on their backs and looked at the canopied sky; other stood at mimicked angle a few feet from the tree; a good number climbed into a tree of choice and sat or stretched out upon a limb. A few got inches away from the trunk or a twig. For an age group often slandered for their rabbity attention, they had remarkably little trouble “getting lost” in their trees. When I read their findings later, I realized that some of them had remained with the tree for paragraphs well after I’d summoned them back into the usual school world of call and response.

I knew, of course, of Thoreau’s fondness for and scrupulous attention to trees. What I didn’t know was that as I was working with the rudiments of this tree-teaching, Richard Higgins was afoot in nearby Concord and in the pages of Thoreau’s journal making a much deeper study. Would that I had been able to bring Higgins and his tree-findings to help my classes toward their trees.

That is, I realize, a rather lengthy preamble to what I mean to be a praise-song for Higgins’s new book, Thoreau and the Language of Trees, but I have taken a personal route to praise because this attractive, compact volume has touched me. Three presences are prominent in its pages — Thoreau, Higgins and a cast of character-trees too numerous to name. Higgins shapes his short essays at the outset of each chapter with an appealing clarity, using them to introduce small groves of short readings from Thoreau. The trees rise from their words. And they rise also in a generous offering of illustrations — photographs (many by Higgins) and, familiar to readers of Thoreau’s journals, a scattering of his quick sketches.

Here is an excerpt that perhaps offers enough window into Higgins’s book for you to see your way there:

Trees brought out another side to Thoreau, one we rarely hear about. They stirred a boyish joy in him. He found “an inexpressible happiness” in the woods. “Their mirth is but just repressed.” Lichen lifted his spirits, and trees seen from a mountain delighted him: “Nothing is so beautiful as the tree tops. A pine or two with a dash of vapor in the sky—and our elysium is made.” (p. 36)

tree 2

When work has confined me, boxed me into its rectangles, I’ve always pointed to the reward of a next woods-walk as part of what sustained that work. But what Thoreau and his modern companion Higgins have done is to enrich my relations with trees, to sharpen my eye, broaden my heart and encourage my narrative impulse to include my patient neighbors. Who may or may not — who knows? — be patient with me.

I return to the page. Here, deep in the book, I’ve found that Robert Richardson’s first sentence in the Forward rings true: “There is real magic in this book.”

I look out at my 42 friends a few feet away. So many stories. Now, it is time to go out.


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

Each Town Should Have a Park: Wandering Public Lands Far and Near

By Scott Berkley

 “Each town should have a park, or rather a primitive forest of five hundred or a thousand acres, where a stick should never be cut for fuel, a common possession forever, for instruction and recreation. … If any owners of these tracts are about the leave the world without natural heirs who need or deserve to be specially remembered, they will do wisely to abandon their possession to all, and not will them to some individual who perhaps has enough already.”  — Henry David Thoreau, Journal. October 15, 1859

On the late-summer day last year when the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument was announced, former Roost editor Sandy Stott was out paddling a kayak in the Gulf of Maine. When he returned to the news that the state of Maine had added a parcel of the immense North Woods to its stock of public lands, the connection to Henry Thoreau, who loved both the northern reaches of New England and the idea of land deeded to the public good rather than held by private interests, was immediately evident. To Thoreau, the purpose of setting aside public lands was to make them “a common possession forever, for instruction and recreation,” as he put it in his journal.

When I met up with Sandy in Maine later in the fall, we went land-ward to the Brunswick Commons, a parcel set squarely between the housing developments which ring that prosperous coastal town and the manicured playing fields of Bowdoin College. The Brunswick town Commons – which have made an appearance on The Roost in the past – are encircled by all the signs of a community becoming more and more of a paved metropolis. And yet the sandy trails meandering across marshlands dense with low sedge and scraggly pitch pines seemed, as I ran through the slanting autumn light, to exist as the beating heart of the town as a whole – a region that spoke back to the encroaching development. Let every town have its forest, says Thoreau; and let it be, by extension, not separate from the town, but at the basis of this larger ecological and spatial community.

This past month, I found myself thinking often of Thoreau’s public-lands dictum and what it tells us about land use in the twenty-first century. In the past four weeks travel took me to two of our nation’s most famed national parks: Yellowstone and Great Smokies. On the move in these hallowed places of wild land, I thought about the historical importance of these National Parks, this one-hundred-and-one year-old idea. Even more, I thought about how the millions of acres in the national park system speak to the tiny parcels of public lands in towns like Brunswick, and how the town-parks speak back to these iconic locales that take up so much space in our collective American consciousness.

On my way to Yellowstone, I found one such town-park in the city of Bozeman, at the south end of the Bridger Mountains of Montana. Over the past few years a local nonprofit, the Gallatin Valley Land Trust, has spearheaded an ambitious trail-building initiative known as “Main Street to the Mountains,” connecting urban bike paths and trails in places like Linley Park and Peet’s Hill to mountain trails leading to the Bridger Ridge. As of next year, when a new connector trail is finished, a trail runner or hiker will be able to go from downtown to Mt. Baldy at the south end of the Bridgers without having to find a way to drive to the trailhead.

A new bridge on the Drinking Horse Mountain trail, near Bozeman, MT.  Photo from

A new bridge on the Drinking Horse Mountain trail, near Bozeman, MT.
Photo from

Two weeks later, in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, I recalled the significance of Bozeman’s urban trails when I visited Le Conte Lodge, perched near the summit of the park’s second-highest mountain. The continued existence of the Lodge, where up to sixty overnight guests can stay during the March-through-October full-service season, testified to the eleven million visitors who come to the Smokies each year. Le Conte itself is a kind of town, even in the cold and foggy month of March; dozens of dayhikers came to visit the Lodge, even though it was closed for the winter, every day. Bozeman’s trail network creates a park experience even in the midst of urban development, while Le Conte Lodge recalls how humans can interact with expansive wild places on their own terms: by finding a way to make a home in the mountains.

The author out running in the Smokies. Photo courtesy of Ryan Koski-Vacirca.

Back in my hometown of Concord after the second leg of this two-park tour, it was again the familiar, lower-case parks that beckoned: Walden Woods; Fairyland, with its stone engravings of quotes from Thoreau and Emerson; Estabrook Woods, where those two once walked. One quote not engraved was Thoreau’s advice to wealthy landowners, to “abandon” their holdings “to all, and not will them to some individual who perhaps has enough already.” Fascinating word, abandon – as though the common, once given over to the shareholders of a town or country, were a place to be left alone rather than used and appreciated for generations. One hopes that, in this time of increasing socioeconomic inequality and political volatility, the town common is true to its name, binding us together in the shared joy of use.

Scott Berkley, a recent graduate of Middlebury College, has worked for the past five years in the huts of the White Mountains and is at home at all speeds on woodland trails.

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Filed under Environment, General, Henry David Thoreau, Nature, The Roost, Thoreau Bicentennial