Just after the middle of September it seemed like someone decided to flip the switch on the weather, and in a matter of 24 hours the 80 to 90 degree summer was over and a 50 to 60 degree autumn had begun. It was the perfect time for me and my husband to join a guided mushroom walk at Erickson Fields in Rockport.
As we gathered with about 4 dozen other nature enthusiasts, our guide gave an overview of the mushroom family and described how to take spore prints. He began the process of a spore print that we could view on our return, but alas when the trip was over the wind had blown the experiment off its perch. When Kirk talked about field guides, he mentioned that his favorite guide was the National Audubon Society Field Guide to Mushrooms since it showed different stages of the mushroom across its lifespan. This was important since a mushroom changes so much over just a few days that it looks very different in a very short amount of time. And then we were off towards the fields and woods.
As we walked, he talked about Amanitas, Boletes and Russulas and how they formed a symbiotic relationship with the forest. In this relationship a fungus in the ground gives a tree phosphorus, nitrogen and other essential micro-nutrients while the tree gives the fungus sugars they create during photosynthesis. We found several varieties of each along our journey, including the most famous and highly poisonous Amanita, the Destroying Angel.
Kirk was a highly enthusiastic and humorous instructor. But as usual when I am faced with scientific talks that include 40 to 50 of my closest naturalist friends, my mind began to wander. So, while he was waxing poetic about the Turkey Tail fungus I was studying the creative efforts that a previous wanderer had left on a nearby stone. Aside from my own personal limitations, everyone in the group was caught up in our leader’s enthusiasm and it wasn’t long before people were standing by a personal discovery, waiting for our teacher to identify their find.
Making our way through the preserve we discovered Coral Fungus, Birch Polypore, Black Trumpets and various forms of Shelf Fungus. Along the way, our guide would become ecstatic with some unique find or would keep our interest with his humor. For example, when we came across a wonderful find of Birch Polypore on the remains of a Birch tree he would say, “I’m a professional naturalist and in my professional opinion these trees are dead!”
At times, things would get a bit overwhelming for me and I would pause and look deeper into the woods and take in the hint of autumn that was just beginning to color the foliage. After the allotted two hours for this walk our guide kept on going with no signs of turning around. My husband and I decided that our brains were full and made our way back towards the parking area. Along the way we stopped to get a better look at the first item Kirk had pointed out, a cluster of Inky Cap mushrooms. Nearby was a beautiful array of the deepest purple New England Asters that I had ever seen. It had been a great morning of learning new things and immersing ourselves in the beauty of nature.