Dr. Michael Gurevich, professor of Performing Arts Technology at UofM, asked my thesis adviser to collaborate on a performance art piece in the woods next month. The performance will feature John Cage-esque stories about mushrooms during a spring foray. Apparently John Cage was pretty respected amateur mycologist as well as rabble-rousing composer and author. Thus, members of the Tim James Fungal Genetics Lab were asked to write stories about cool topics in fungi in a John Cage style. Here’s my attempt:
The Iceman and the Tinder Polypore
5,000 years ago Ötzi’s wife perused the forest somewhere between Italy and Australia.
A beautiful dead Birch tree stood covered in Fomes fomentarius, the Tinder polypore.
“How miraculous,” she thought, “that life will always spring from death.”
She harvested the mushrooms for the man she loved, knowing that one day they too would succumb to microbial decomposition.
She stitched him a fine lanyard upon which she adorned the fungal fruiting bodies.
Clever she was, for the pieces of jewelry she darned not only served well for fashion, but was rumored to have medicinal benefits as well.
Her husband cherished the gift, and carried it with him to his icy grave.
Close to his heart he wore the necklace made of tough skeletal hyphae that the glaciers could destroy.
Now this piece serves as a relic from a love story told long ago, preserved in Tyrol Museum of Archeology.
Too bad the Ice Man lost the fight against parasites; maybe the polypore wasn’t medicinal after all.
Nine Times around the Fairy Ring
The children run around the fairy ring exactly nine times, never daring the tenth, waiting in anticipation to see the fairies dance their lovely dance and sing their joyful songs.
The children’s mothers warn them of the dangers that arise when bad little boys and girls cross that fantastical mushroom line.
“The fairies will make you dance until you are overcome with madness, or exhaustion, and then you will fall to your death.”
“Once inside you will become invisible to other mortals. And because you can never leave the circle, you will have to marry a fairy.”
“If you are a murderer or a thief, you shall be hanged once you set foot in the gally-trap.”
Folklore tells us that this is where the Devil set his milk churns.
This is where the witches and elves gather under full moon light, around the toadstools which mark the edges of the mycelia mat.
Underground the hyphae extend from the sacred central point where the first spore germinated.
Now this one fungal individual has exhausted the energetic resources of the soil, and so has sprouted mushrooms around the perimeters, as if marking its own gravestone.
The fairies toast at the wake, or use the sporocarps as umbrellas.
Now some do say that building a house around a fairy ring will bring your family fertility and good fortune.
But you must be quick if you are to spy them!
Ephemeral they are, for the fairies only dance tonight.
And the evidence of their celebration does not last any longer than 6 days. Furthermore, insects and deer love the taste of these 60+ species of mushrooms.
Before we worried of being enthralled by the elves’ illusions when lured to these mysterious circles, now we spray fungicide on turf grass and call it disease control.
Le dance n’est pas mort.