November 26th, 2005

lion

The gospel of the small

I have now been mushroom collecting with tylik several times. By which I mean I tagged along while she conjured mushrooms from thin air, and put them in bags. You look at a patch of perfectly plain grass, and you turn around to look somewhere else, and when you glance back over your shoulder, she has pulled four pounds of mushrooms from your square foot of plain grass and is already nibbling on one of them.

After the most recent time, the universe came all apart at the seams: suddenly there are mushrooms everywhere! I can see them now. Little slatey purple deer mushrooms. The pale frost-ringed lactarius glyciosmus that flakes like glass and smells like peppermint. The russulas with their broken magenta caps, and inky caps unwriting themselves in long black streaks. Sulfur tufts pale and yellow-green like malachite in a fire, suillus slimy and wider than my handspan, luminous pale gold honey mushrooms, and fairy-ring mushrooms marking out their circles underfoot.

It's like learning to read a new language, where all the words are written in the lacy skeletons of fallen leaves and the hidden feather tracks of tree roots and the ghost-pale smudge of spores against dark red earth.

There's this oft-quoted study - they were testing how well people could remember the placement of pieces on a chessboard, and - surprise! - chess players were much better at it than non-chess players. Which seems obvious, but it means that the chess players aren't just memorizing combinations of piece and location. They're looking through the crackle-glass depths of the board, to where meaning lives. They're reading it, like the rest of us take irregular ink blotches for love letters and limericks and livejournal posts.

So: somehow I have learned to read the gospel of the small - the way light curls around a leaf, the way soil catches between your fingers, the bone-pale carven labyrinth of daedalea gills. This makes me very happy, even if I suddenly have to be terribly careful where to put my big, clumsy feet. :)