When he was around the age of 7 or 8 my little brother Colin got hooked on mushrooms. A friend introduced him to them and he fell into the rabbit hole. No, not the psychedelic kind or the idea of pairing them with steaks. The classification of them. His friend had recently received an Audubon guide for mushrooms as a gift and my brother’s life wouldn’t be complete until he got his own copy.
Even prior to this, mushrooms had made their presence known around the Christie household. The house we lived in while I was in grade school had the strangest orange foamy textured straw mushrooms with what looked like green sludge coating the tip. They lived behind our garage and Colin and I would take shovels and slice them in half, only to retreat to the house due to the pungent smell they produced. Upon him getting his own copy of the guide, Colin and I went to the woods a few times to attempt to classify different fungi we came across. When golfing, him, our older brother Jack and I would see different varieties on the course. We’d do our best to remember what they looked like so that when we got back to the house, we could sift through the pages of his book and determine whether or not they would have been good on a salad, given us some whacky-wide-awake dreams or just flat out killed us. The mushroom craze had become a bit of a brotherly bond.
As is the case for nearly all of the odd obsessions that grow from the ground of youth, this one faded over time. The guide has been through two house moves and is likely sitting dusty in the back of Colin’s closet. However, after years of silence, things always seem to find ways to surface again.
The other day I got a photo over text from Colin. He’s 17 now, I’m 24. I live in Washington, he in Michigan. He was down in the laundry room, the only none finished part of the basement, when he came across an old and familiar friend.
A multitude of mushrooms had sprung up from the floor surrounding the drain in the middle of the room. Their resiliency and tenacity on full display as they seemed to rise almost inexplicably from cement. My curiosity of these creatures piqued all the more when my mind wandered to the possibility that they crawled up form the depths of the drain. How could life manifest itself from such nothingness? Sure, I’ve read that bacteria occupy any and every surface on the planet. But this was a tangible living reality that my brothers sense of sight needed no instrument to observe.
Guide long gone, I downloaded an app that was $5 that advertised it’s ability to tell you what kind of mushroom you were looking at simply by taking a photo of it. The reviews were high. I had to know what this mushroom was. And I past on that sense of urgency to Colin.
App downloaded, picture uploaded, and no results found. The app couldn’t tell me what this mushroom Colin had discovered was. I let him know and he became enamored by the possibility that he had discovered a whole new species. And even though we both knew that was very likely NOT the case, there’s a lesson to be learned in the thought and the whole obsession that surrounded this basement discovery.
I’ve been occupied a lot lately. Task after task. Very many of which are life giving, some definitely not. And it’s in the next next next mentality of this task based life that life has given me the chance to witness and acknowledge something that has been left neglected in the back corners of my mind. All through the muse of a mushroom. And that is…
Wonder, awe and an appreciation for the unlikely.
Life has become so task based that these three realties and the curiosity that glues them together have been left neglected in my day to day routine.
I’ve been thinking all day about those mushrooms. How they may have slithered up the drain. And my mind wanders to places of wonder I haven’t ventured to in years. What else could be down there? Portals to different worlds? Magical creatures and beings? Is this really a new species? They are obviously not rational, but that’s part of the beauty tied to them. These thoughts are the thoughts I couldn’t help but let my mind to entertain in my youth. But up until this little mushroom encounter, they had fallen to the wayside in exchange for the task of the everyday. Now having encountered them again, and simply aligning with the joy that comes in that type of wonder, there seems to be more color in the day. More vibrancy. More opportunity for the unexpected.
I become curious when I think about when the brain and social psyche choses to not entertain these realities. When along our journey do we chose to move from joy in the unlikely to accomplishment in the mundane? The satisfaction of accomplishment is immediate and the cycle keeps going, there’s always something more to do. Creating the story of the unlikely takes time, takes a mind that’s open, and, in a society of accomplishment, it doesn’t really hold any weight or authority. And as we become more inclined toward accomplishment rather than creation, it makes sense the former takes precedent. But maybe that whole context of emphasis is skewed.
I believe it’s in the places of imagined worlds tied to the mushrooms, tied to the wonder of the everyday, that we discover what it really means to be alive.
I have a friend who had a really hard time after graduating college with the idea of being human. He saw himself as a hinderance to the natural way of the world. More than anything, he saw himself and humanity as hindering the ability for the flow of all other life to exist as it should.
So one day, fitting with the theme of the rest of this, he found a particular type of mushroom and popped it in his mouth. And he immediately lost all sense of creativity or wonder or awe or whatever you want to call it. He simply and only felt the reality of survival. Whether that was finding the next task to accomplish, the next meal, place to sleep, you name it. His experience with reality was on task and task alone. And when he came back to his natural state, he realized the beauty of being human that he had missed before - that we have a chance to imagine and create and discover. To open our minds to more than simply the task in front of us.
Now I’m no psychedelic advocate, however nor am I ever going to proselytize against it. But I believe my friends story reveals something that is important, even if difficult for us to accept.
In our advanced and civilized state, in this go go go world we occupy, we’ve placed so much on the task that we’ve lost a sense of our humanity. In the focus and emphasis we place on rising up the corporate ladder or proving we are capable in x, y and z or growing our savings account or any of the other things I’m sure you could label, we’ve lost our unique ability as humans to be open to the possibility of more than simply the reality of what’s directly in front of us. We’ve lost touch with our imagination. Our ability to wonder and be curious and think of the story behind the story.
I want to wonder about the mushrooms in the basement. I want to give myself to the stories my mind paints about worlds that arise from deep within the drain. I want to think, even if I don’t truly believe, that the species my brother found is new and has never before been discovered. Not because I want to be carrels and ill-informed, not because I want to neglect the need for rationality, not because I want to not get done what needs to be done…
But because I want to always leave room for the possibility that there could be more than simply what lies directly in front of me.