Posted by: salamandercandy | October 4, 2006

A cheer for less than an eyeful

There is a word that exists in today’s parlance for those entities that hold a certain charm or magnetism: Charismatic. Placed in front of a word that describes animals large enough to see comfortably with the naked eye and you get a description of what the vast majority of the teaming masses regard as wildlife: Charismatic Megafauna. Admirers to these beasts are everywhere. Fans of dolphins proclaim their lusty approval with a sticker above the brake light of their car. Glasses and t-shirts from national parks are covered with elk and bear, symbols of the majesty of nature. Web pages across the net are fronted with pictures of cute amphibians crawling over Skittles. But all of this is not to bite the hand that feeds me. I am myself an avid avian enthusiast. I spend a tremendous amount of time looking at birds wherever I happen to find myself, or purposefully place myself and can’t get enough. I am a self proclaimed list whore, trying to see as many species as possible on outings. But this behavior is not totally unexpected. Humans are emotional beings. We connect with those things in the world that match up to some internal metric we are scarcely aware of tallying. This is apparent whenever we stoop to pet a dog trotting by or delight when grebes do their mating “dance” across the water of a still lake.

But what if we turn our glance away from those things that are so much like us, and consider those things that are very much removed from our realm of experience? Insects can serve as a vessel to drop a level, for they are still intimately tied to so much of what we deal with on a daily basis. They are food for our food, such as young salmon and other freshwater fish. They consume large quantities of the crops we grow for our own consumption (incidentally one could have a similar discussion about attention paid to plants and their ilk, but I won’t follow that discussion here…). There are even a few that are afforded the popularity normally reserved for the Charismatic Megafauna. Butterflies and Dragonflies are starting to make inroads above the tail lights of automobiles and on the lower backs of women all across our country.

But we all know that it doesn’t stop there. The closer that we look, the more we see. And I now find myself in a world where the things that are truly fascinating spend the majority of their time as thin filaments and tiny spores encasing and running through the larger world. The fungi are ubiquitous, and most people only consider them when choosing toppings for a pizza or kicking them off the lawn after a rain. A dead fly or a brown spot on a leaf is just that when seen from the corner of the eye on the way to somewhere else. But stopping to give closer scrutiny reveals tiny threads of hyphae and conidia bursting through the plates on the fly’s belly. There are tiny black dots within that brown spot on the leaf. They even connect and engage in intimate relationships with the Charismatic Megafauna. Woodpeckers that rely on rotting wood for grubs and larvae carry within their beaks yeasts and the spores of fungi that perform that decay they rely upon. And this is the way of the fungus: obscure, minute, and hardly noticeable.

However, for the west coast and much of the North American continent, the obscure, minute and hardly noticeable are about take center stage. The rains of autumn bring with them the growth of mushrooms. I encourage you to pause before kicking the funny looking caps that burst forth on lawns and in the woods at this time of year. Stoop down and look at the fungus before you. As you gaze upon this toadstool you are connecting with something that is a microbe, growing symbiotically with plant roots or decomposing leaf litter, and at the same time large enough to register a response in our minds, even if it is only as a surrogate soccer ball. When taken in the hand you are holding something that deals daily with bacteria, amoeba, tiny mites and other life forms burgeoning beneath our feet and in the air around us, a reminder that the unseen is important, a sign that it is in fact omnipresent. They may even move you with feelings of beauty and appreciation for the natural world if given a chance; call them Charismatic Mycofauna.

born of the ground
clinging to tree root
finding a way through
seasons past
to become the reincarnation
of spring
alive in the moldering earth
of autumn

a gilled expression of an ancient
and fundamental need
a pored mouth
kissing the world
lips alive
and teaming with
tomorrow’s glory

rain heralds your entry
cues the turning done to the earth
by your jostling
but truthfully you never leave
a foots step away
an abstraction until fall
the unforeseen player
in all that we are

resplendent in so many ways



  1. Great info, thanks a lot!!! I wish I will have such a writing skills.

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