Category Archives: Fungi

Lupa Goes Places: PSU’S Museum of Natural History and OMS’s Fall Mushroom Show

Despite my busy studio and writing schedule, I do get out of the apartment sometimes! Honest! And recently I got to get my nature nerd on by going to a couple of really delightful local natural history events.

On Saturday, October 24, Portland State University’s Department of Biology held their first Museum of Natural History Open House. This consisted of the department throwing open the doors of classrooms (stuffed full of all sorts of gorgeous specimens) to the public, and students from the graduate program showing off presentations on their favorite topics, ranging from beetles to lichens to a diversity of pollinators. Since Portland currently lacks a decent natural history museum, this was something I wasn’t going to miss!

I took a LOT of photos, more than I can reasonably fit here, but I wanted to share a few of my favorites:

woodpeckers

I love old bird study skins, and I also really think woodpeckers are awesome. So this little display of study skins from native woodpecker species was right up my alley. From left: downy woodpecker, hairy woodpecker, pileated woodpecker, northern flicker, and red-breasted sapsucker. Of these, the sapsucker’s the only one I’ve yet to spot in the wild–but it’s on the list to look for! Also, notice the red stripe on the cheek of the flicker? That’s how you know it’s a male (the “moustache” stripe can also be black in some populations).

hippos

There were, of course, a LOT of skulls and articulated skeletons. I was really excited to see adult and baby hippo skulls in person for the first time. Look at the gnarly tusks on the adult–those are several very good reasons the hippo kills more people every year than crocodiles! Don’t let their lazy appearance fool you, either; a hippo can easily outrun a person any day of the week.

molly

Molly Radany, who tipped me off about the event in the first place (thank you!) put together this awesome harvest-themed info display about Pacific Northwest pollinators. Lest you think it’s only the honey bees we need to be saving, her work shows that there are literally dozens of insects responsible for making sure native plants and crops get pollinated and come to fruition.

jars

The same lab that housed Molly’s pollinator display also had shelves full of jars upon jars of wet preserved specimens, of which these are just a tiny portion. They’re not everyone’s cup o’ formaldehyde, but they’re incredibly valuable for helping students study the anatomy of different species without having to go through the time-consuming process of taxidermy. And for a lot of these smaller amphibian, reptile and fish specimens, wet preservation is a much better option than dry taxidermy anyway.

orca

This orca skeleton seems absolutely delighted with the balloon it was given for the festivities. The entire room was full of marine mammal skeletons and skulls and was one of my favorite spots in the entire event. I wish I’d had more time there; we got to that room just as the event was wrapping up.

snehk

Not every critter in the place was deceased. Several displays included live animals, including one dedicated to the study of the hibernation of Canadian garter snakes. The researching professor brings back a few every year for study, and returns them in fall in time for hibernation. This little noodle was poking its head out of the substrate at just the right moment.

silliness

Yes, I was inspired to run with the caribou. Seriously, though, I really enjoyed the Museum of Natural History event, and I truly hope it ends up being repeated.

mushrooms1

Then this past Sunday (my birthday!) we ended up at the Oregon Mycological Society’s Fall Mushroom Show at the Forestry Center. This photo doesn’t really show the scale of the event or just how many people were there. It was pretty darn busy, and it was tough to get in at any of the info tables–which is good, because it shows a lot of interest! I made it to part of the myco-remediation talk (there were several talks I would have liked to attend). Since the lights were out I didn’t feel right taking pictures; needless to say, the talks definitely added to the event.

mushrooms2

Here’s a different angle, showing one of the many beautiful fungus displays OMS put together for the event. Seriously, there were hundreds of species represented, all put together in these amazing life arrangements.

mushrooms3

Unsurprisingly, the identification table was one of the most popular, always packed every time I went by. Here you can see just a few of the field guides an ambitious mycologist might have in their arsenal, and in the background one of the microscopes showing spores under high magnification. I wish I’d had more time at this particular table–maybe if I show up earlier next year.

mushrooms4

This table of Amanita and Agaricus specimens was  especially pretty.

mushrooms5

And of course my favorite table of all–the books!!! My sweetie got me a copy of Mushrooms of the Pacific Northwest as a birthday gift. I feel a bit overwhelmed by all the many sorts of fungi we have here, particularly since so many of them look really similar and can only be told apart by tiny details like spore prints and microscopes. Still, it’s a good basic guide to have with me out in the field.

All these events have helped me to be more motivated to get my own natural history-inspired event, Curious Gallery, ready for its third year. It’ll be held January 9-10, 2016 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Portland, OR. If you’d like to display your cabinet of curiosities-themed art in our fine art exhibition, or present a talk, workshop or performance on topics concerning nature, culture, and/or art, or simply join us for a weekend of curiosity, education and beauty, all of the relevant information may be found at the official Curious Gallery website.

Is Hunting Antithetical to Nature Spirituality?

I had someone over on Tumblr ask me whether I thought hunting could be compatible with a nature-based spirituality, in this case druidry. I wanted to share my answer to their inquiry, since it’s an awesome topic:

I don’t see it as being contradictory at all to be both a practitioner of nature spirituality (druidry or otherwise) and a hunter. People have this idea that if you kill animals it must make you not like nature. But these same people forget a few important points:

Nature is not just animals; nature is also plants, fungi, bacteria, viruses, stones, waterways, weather patterns, even the spaces in between atoms. And all nature-lovers have to kill to survive, even if they’re killing plants, or fungi, or the bacteria residing on the makings of their fruitarian diet. What makes nature spirituality so awesome is that it encourages us to consciously embrace our place in the rest of nature, not as conqueror and superior, but as just one more ape among a whole host of vibrant and amazing beings.

As we are uniquely conscious (as far as we know, anyway) of the effects of our actions, we can feel sorrow at taking a life, even if it’s in the process of furthering our own existence. Nature spirituality offers us a framework to work through the emotions and thoughts associated with that reality, whether that’s grief at death, or the joy of dispelling hunger, or the gratitude at having another day to enjoy this amazing world we live in.

One of the misconceptions people have is that all hunters are callous when it comes to the rest of nature and the animals they kill. Sure, there are always going to be yahoos lacking in empathy who just want to see something die. But they’re the minority. Most hunters, at least in my experience, genuinely love being outdoors and respect the animals they hunt. You don’t get to know a species in the detail that’s required to successfully hunt it without having some appreciation of its strengths and characteristics. Again, nature spirituality offers ways to celebrate that life and the appreciation we have for the gift of meat that prolongs our lives.

Does that mean everyone following a nature-based spiritual path is going to agree on the issue of hunting? Of course not. It’s not a monolithic religion, but a general umbrella for both pagan and non-pagan paths that center on the sanctity of nature. Just as that tent includes hunters and omnivores, there are also vegetarians and vegans. And there are folks whose focus is more on agriculture than hunting, or who otherwise simply don’t account for the hunt as a part of their practice or philosophy.

IMO, what’s most important is respect, particularly for every being that dies to feed us, from the most powerful elk or bison (even those that are farm-raised) to the tiniest bacteria. Nature is composed of endless cycles of life, death, and rebirth, and we’re allowed the solemnity of death because we know what is lost and gained in that transition.

Like my writing on nature spirituality? Want to encourage me to keep writing? Then I invite you to preorder my next book, Nature Spirituality From the Ground Up: Connect With Totems in Your Ecosystem, due out from Llewellyn in January 2016! More details and preorder info here.

The Litany of Nature; Or, Time For a New Journal

Townsend’s chipmunk.
Bleeding heart.
Chicken of the woods.

Earlier this month I experienced an important milestone: I filled up my hiking journal.

Most hikes I’ve gone on in the past seven and a half years, I’ve toted along an increasingly battered, well-loved spiral-bound blank book that was a gift from my aunt who has always indulged my love of journals. The covers are decorated with art by biologist and artist Heather A. Wallis-Murphy, rendered in lovely watercolors. (I highly recommend her journals, cards and the like on her website; you’ll need to order via snail mail, but it’s totally worth it.) And the pages are nice quality paper, perfect for jotting down notes and sketches.

Old man’s beard.
Sword fern.
Douglas squirrel.

I first started writing in this journal in September of 2007, a few months after I moved to Portland and began exploring the wilderness areas in the Columbia River Gorge. I was just getting into neoshamanism at the time (that’s about when I started blogging at Therioshamanism, the predecessor to this blog). So my excursions into wild places were punctuated by spiritual impressions and beings and meanings, and my journaling reflected that. There were rituals, and meditations, and other things besides simply hiking. There were reflective essays on how I’d developed since the last hike, complete with “Here’s where I am now, Journal!” walls of text. I did record the animals and plants I recognized; only a few at first, but more over time.  Still, those took a backseat to the longer-form writings.

As the years went on, the content of my entries changed. They were less about “me, me, me!”; instead, the focus shifted to more observations on the world around me. In my previous relationship which I’d been embroiled in at the start of the journal, I’d gotten into the bad habit of navel-gazing so hard that I ended up processing in circles. The same problems kept coming up over and over again, but ultimately were never solved (hence the end of that relationship). I began doubting the effectiveness of all these abstract symbols of the wilderness, and thinking maybe–like the constant “internal work”–they were distracting me from what was really important.

Fly agaric.
Lobaria pulmonaria.
Mountain chickadee.

It took years to finally get to the point where I felt I could admit that what I really needed wasn’t what I had been striving for–a more structured neoshamanic path. Instead, I yearned for a falling away of abstractions and symbols and other things that distanced me from the purest manifestation of nature. I required nothing less than immediate and direct contact with the physical world, not in myths or superstitions, but in soil and species and the ever-shifting clouds overhead. I wanted only the deepest, least cluttered connection I’d had as a child, when the sacredness of nature first became known to me. And so I lost my religion, and in doing so gained the world.

My journal entries shifted as well. I stopped trying to wax eloquent on theology and the dramas of my everyday life. Instead, I began to do more listing. Animals. Plants. Fungi. Even geological formations. Everything I noticed and could identify, I made note of. Even if I didn’t know the exact species, I took note of field marks and looked it up later when I was home with a reliable internet connection. It didn’t matter that no one else could read my horrible chicken scratch scribbled handwriting. What was on those pages was the blossoming of a curious mind that had been entangled for decades.

Red elderberry.
Common raven.
Black morel.
Sandhill crane.
Red admiral.
Hemlock.
Maidenhair fern.
Cooper’s hawk.
Miner’s lettuce.
Evernia prunastria.
Steller’s jay.
Skunk cabbage.
Mule deer.
And more.
So many more.

journals2In the years since that shift, my time in the woods has been better, more productive, more calming. I no longer care whether that bird I saw was really a spiritual messenger and I shouldn’t offend it. It is enough that my path crossed with that of another living being, one I might not get to see in my everyday sphere of existence. I no longer try to map out the Upper, Middle and Lower worlds. I content myself with vast, interrelated ecosystems, more full of wonder and magic than I had remembered from childhood.

And in my journal, I could trace that growth. My lists of beings I could identify was no longer a small handful, but dozens, and with many more to be learned and known and understood. Animals were no longer the main focus; I beheld entire systems, of which the wildlife was only one part. I recorded my excitement at seeing a new-to-me species or a behavior I hadn’t witnessed before. And I became hungry for even more.

My new journal is another Wild Tales creation, this time with eagles as the theme. It is pristine, but for the first few pages. These carry the memories and lists of my Oregon desert adventures, transcribed over from temporary paper while the journal arrived in the mail. Already the corners are a little bent from being shoved into my day pack in my subsequent hikes; my name and number adorn the cover, just in case I lose it somewhere. I suspect I’ll fill it up a lot quicker than the last one. I’m hiking more often, and I have a lot more to record. There’s the litany of nature to record, after all.

Yellow-headed blackbird.
Sagebrush.
Sunburst lichen…