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Sunday, May 26, 2024

Shore Musings

The Third Kind of Life

The Third Kind of Life

By Collin Hall

Shore Musings is a column the by the editor of Do the Shore about life on the Cape May peninsula.
Shore Musings is a column the by the editor of Do the Shore about life on the Cape May peninsula.

In today’s Herald you’ll find an article about Linda Conover, the owner of Wood Song Mushrooms, and the ways that she educates locals on fungus and the mushrooms that burst forth from them. She has an amazing story of perseverance; she turned mushroom production into her full-time gig after years of squeezing it into the margins of her full-time job.

I was stoked when I first learned about Linda and her company. Fungus, distinct from plants and animals, is a truly remarkable form of life. The cells that compose fungus are completely distinct from plant and animal cells. It’s great that Linda educates fools like myself about living breathing species that look completely alien, but thrive just the same.

The largest living organism on Earth isn’t a blue whale, it’s a soft, fleshy fungal colony that lives underneath the Malheur National Forest in Oregon: the Humongous Fungus. The “fungus” isn’t a giant mushroom or anything like that. It’s a network of interconnected fungal filaments that comes together to form mycelium, the fancy name for a fungal network. All the fungus that creeps underneath the Malheur Forest in that 2000-acre range shares the same DNA and works towards the same goal: spreading itself as far as possible.

This hyper structure feeds on the trees and plants that live above. Venture to this section of protected land and you’ll see what I mean. Mushrooms, the “fruit” of the mycelium, ooze and grow out of any crevice in the area.

Most of my life was spent acutely unaware of this third kind of life. Before my Herald gig, I was a reporter in rural Ohio for the better part of a year. I’d write just about any story that came my way. Had to fill the pages. One older gentleman called me with a breaking scoop: “there’s a massive mushroom in my yard, you’ve gotta come see it. You’ve gotta.”

I drove there during the wet glowing hour in my decaying Kia Spectra, days before the thing overheated for the last time. His house was old, paint flaking so bad it was clear the owner had no intention of repair. An old man answered the door and stepped out onto the stoop to greet me.

He was large, fat in the way old men get when they stop leaving the house. He wore a white robe, stomach hanging out, and boxers that hugged his legs. It was a lot to take in.

“Yeah – I’m here with the Gazette to see the mushroom you called about?” I said it like a question.

“Hope you don’t mind that I’m mostly naked,” he told me. “The woman who helps bathe me and puts my clothes on and all that couldn’t make it today.”

His spit of land was beautiful. An old barn sat on the flat field behind the house. Old cars, collector’s items if they had been kept in good shape, and tractors sank into the Earth. But they looked good, they fit the vibe.

And beside his house was a truly massive puffball mushroom, a foot in diameter, emerging from the ground like a wart.

“You can take some of it home to eat, if you want,” he told me.

I didn’t – but only because I wanted it to keep growing.

Content Marketing Coordinator / Reporter

Collin Hall grew up in Cape May County and works as a content manager for Do The Shore, as well as a reporter. He currently lives in Villas.

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