Saturday, 6 October 2018

My tree, my dirt, my earth, ... my fungus

Fungus observations from the U.S.A.! (With self-indulgent preamble.)

This was my view a week ago last Wednesday, in my seat. Waiting for Bruce Springsteen.

After over a year of trying, the "verified fan" in my life got the golden email: a chance to get tickets for Springsteen on Broadway. Front row tickets, as it happened.

After fifteen years of listening to Springsteen and four stadium shows (Nashville, Montpellier, Limerick, Cork), I'd developed a genuine appreciation for The Boss. I'd heard chunks of his autobiography, on long car journeys with my verified fan. But nothing quite prepared me for the power and profundity of this show.

Anyway, no one's here for the Springsteen On Broadway reviews. If you're interested, you can find plenty on the internet. And if you want to judge for yourself, it's reportedly heading to Netflix in December.

But I did want to say something about how Bruce's magic trick worked on me...

He talked about how when he was Growin' Up – there was "a towering copper beech" in the Springsteen family's front yard: "the grandest tree in town". He relates how he would climb into its upper reaches, wander amongst its branches, and "Here I find my escape from all below."

BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN LOVES TREES! I also love trees. Perhaps this is how the magic works: by speaking to those things which are universal, but also personal.

This tree "my tree" – bookend's Bruce's show, and his autobiography. He told us how one evening he drove back to his neighbourhood, "to find my great towering copper beech gone, cut to the street"... "A square of musty earth, carved into the parking lot blacktop at pavement's edge, was all that remained."

In a way that only Bruce could, he elevates this observation to a grand, arcing metaphor for life, death, and those things that are eternal.
"We remain in the air, the empty space, in the dusty roots and deep earth, in the echo and stories, the songs of the time and place we have inhabited."

What do I think about, when people start waxing lyrical about trees and roots and earth? FUNGI!

We left the show wanting to know more about where this magic came from. So later that week, we hired a car and hit the New Jersey Turnpike, headed for Freehold, New Jersey: 'My Hometown', as Bruce had sung.

And what I REALLY wanted to see, was the musty earth.

So it was that I found myself crouching on the pavement of Randolph Street, Freehold, New Jersey. Staring at a patch of dirt. The dirt was in fact a pile of mulch. And much to my delight, it was teeming with bird's nest fungus.

Back in our Brooklyn apartment, once my nerves had recovered from that drive along the New Jersey Turnpike, I set about trying to identify them, with some help from Michael Kuo's key to the Bird's Nest Fungi of North America and the New Jersey Mycological Association discussion group on Facebook.

It had been suggested that I could have two different species here. However, I found a description of Cyathus stercoreus here which shows the fruit bodies are light-brown and shaggy when young, and Michael Kuo's description talks about them having a "white lid", which I think you can see in the photo. And I found another image of C. stercoreus here which looks very like the young fruit bodies in my photo. As they mature, they take on the goblet shape, holding the spore-filled 'peridioles', lending them their bird's nest appearance.

Hard to be certain with identification from photographs, but I think I may well have found the Dung Bird's Nest Cyathus stercoreus. It's a rare find in the UK, but widely distributed in North America.

It's not quite as poetic as if I'd found some mycorrhizal mushrooms, a living connection to the dusty roots and deep earth. The tree that was "gone but still there". But I'll take it.

Some little pretties by the tree on Institute Street which featured inside the Born in the USA album. Hard to tell what these are from a photo. Maybe young Fairy Inkcaps Coprinellus disseminatus?

For the record
Date: 28/09/2018
Location: Freehold, New Jersey

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