*from The Bee-Loud Glade, Atticus Books 2011
Early the next morning, I set out mushroom hunting. I lay on the ground where a cluster of orange-spotted white mushrooms huddled by the trunk of a tree, and I watched them for an hour or two, maybe longer, trying to imagine the way they might think. They didn’t move much, but I’m fairly sure I saw one of them grow; I saw it grow, or else I watched a mushroom move that wasn’t really a mushroom at all—if beehives and bird nests could be cameras and speakers, why not a microphone disguised as a mushroom? A few months earlier I might not have noticed a mushroom growing, but I’d become attuned to a slow-moving world. I’d definitely never noticed any growth in the wide range of mushrooms produced by Second Nature, companion pieces for bushes and trees and fake fallen logs and often just the right touch for a convincing lobby display.
I watched, and I waited, and I discovered that a growing mushroom likes to be dwarfed by something taller beside it, likes to live in that something’s long shadow. These particular mushrooms, the whitish ones with orange spots, depended on the tall, solid tree they’d grown against (I think it was a maple, because it dropped helicopters, and its leaves looked like the logo on bottles of pancake syrup) for its protection and shade and, I assumed, nutrients and water supply. Sometimes they were also half-covered by grasses and moss, close to concealed and easily missed by an eye not looking for them.
So I learned a lot about mushrooms and their shy lives. I learned that they’re quick to cower and quick to hide, that they’re willing to keep quiet and small so long as they’re left to grow—not too tall! not so big!—in relative peace. They prefer dull, drab colors, colors that won’t grab attention, and the ones with bright tops, orange domes and red-speckled saucers, I guessed were more often than not only setting a trap to keep danger away from their less eye-catching kin. Those, I thought, were the mushrooms most likely to be poisonous—the ones that grabbed all the attention.
Thinking like a mushroom came quickly to me, and it worked. In the first place I looked, brushing aside a soft curtain of moss and weeds, I found three perfect mushrooms crouched in the shadow of a large rock. They were so close they were practically—but not quite—touching each other, and as soon as I leaned close and disturbed the air around them my nostrils filled with the sweet scent of secrets, of wine cellars and old canning jars and the thrilling surprise of turning a stone to find a bustling community of potato bugs and millipedes thriving beneath. The excitement of life where it wasn’t expected.