/ Stories by Age / Multiple Ages /
I’ve long loved mushrooms, it seems like “always”. Like most Americans I only knew the mushrooms that one could buy in the store: the mushrooms that one expected in restaurants. I was near thirty when that changed for the first time.
Teaching at Colby College in Waterville Maine I had the privilege of skiing with a couple of really good skiers. One was my student, already a ski pro at Sugarloaf. Buzz was blazing fast, bold beyond sanity, carried scars from major racing accidents. One tree had pierced him like a spear, carrying his spleen out the other side. No, no: the spleen is supposed to be inside the body; not outside in the forest!
The other was my buddy Hubert, German, German professor, professor of German. Buzz and Hubbie both taught in the Sugarloaf ski school. Hubert was grace and perfection: the most lyric skier I’ve ever known well. He helped to develop my skiing, but not by constantly niggling me about details. Hubbie was my great teacher thanks to a very reserved pool of teaching tools. One, he simply let me ski with him, try to keep up. Two, and key, once and only once was there a “lesson” delivered in words. Hubbie said, “You know, if you cut a quarter inch off your ski poles, it might help you get your weight forward for the pole plant”: and he demonstrated. I saw like never before that he planted his pole way-forward by the tip. My skiing, already pretty good for a mostly self-taught adult-beginner, was instantly transformed. My rhythm, my edging, my saftey improved in a leap. I don’t think I ever did actually trim the poles, the length was trivial: it was getting my weight moved ever forward that elevating my skiing. Forward, face the downhill, attack the danger, edge against it.
Anyway Hubbie and I joined the Colby people climbing Mount Katahdin for the weekend, 1968 or so.
Hilary packed us a beautiful sirloin and a pound of butter. Hubbie had said that we’d pick mushrooms on the ascent, eat them with steak after our descent. Hubbie said that he didn’t know mushrooms in general but he did trust he ability to recognize a particular species of them regarded as safe in Germany. One here, one there, by the time was completed the ascent we had way more than a couple of pounds of them. We gorged on them. Binged.
OK. So on a couple of other occasions, camped among mountains, I tried studying the mushrooms I saw, tried to identify them against a field guide from the Hunter NY library. I’m still alive, survived whatever poisons I may have ingested, till I arrived, by bewildering accident, in Sebring FL: 1989, 1990 … And here, popping out of the ground right in front of my tent-trailer, were gorgious cream and tan capped mushrooms. I bollowed the Sebring Library mushroom field guide, tried my damndest to be careful, and judging it safe, I ate one. A big one. Again, with steak.
And that’s my story. Except for the punchline. Further purusing of the field guide led me to conclude that my own campsite mushroom was not the mushroom I thought safe, but a similar looking species marked as poisonous.
Now, there’s a more subtle lesson here riding piggyback: mark that phrase – “marked as poisonous”: “marked as”.
Do we live in a world with perfect markings? Starting when?
Labels and prejudice don’t separate well. We have different expectations for wogs and WASPs. Jack the Ripper flourished because clearly his victims did not mark him as dangerous: the whores saw a “gentleman”; not a slasher coming toward them. How many black guys on the street get shrunk from? We survive by assessing probabilities, but our assessments are imperfect. We presume the cute puppy is not vicious, we presume the rat is vicious. Experience and statistics don’t match. We are always forced to decide ahead of not after the outcome.
In other words: we’re prejudiced against mushrooms, we presume them guilty, not innocent.
Furthermore, because of that prejudice, our official labelers, doctors, nurses, government bureaucrats … teachers … More Jews get labeled by Nazis than Nazies get labeled by Jews.
Furthermore still: humans exaggerate “dangers” survived. I wade fish, the water is full of snakes. I hear people in the boat, especially “twelve year old” boys, say “that’s a water moccasin!” No it isn’t: it’s a brown banded water snake. The twelve year old wants to be thought of as having survived a trecherous strech of life: more likely he survived an ordinary stretch of life.
The woman comes out of the ER claiming that the doctors told her she’d narrowly avoided death. … The doctors belong at comic.con. Masked adventurers all. Soldiers, cops, priests, would have you believe that you owe them our very life.
Our life is an adventure, and we are the hero.
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