Meridian Star

January 11, 2013

‘You went hunting and found what?’

By Otha Barham
The Meridian Star

— This would be another in a string of hunting days during a certain deer season in which I am having a hard time collecting venison for the freezer. I have been doing everything right, I believe; getting to my stands early and staying late, watching the wind direction thus controlling my scent dispersal, keeping quiet and vigilant. But deer are not appearing and I am ready to change my approach. I will do a little "still hunting."

    Still hunting is a misleading label that hunters apply to a tactic of slipping along slowly (but not always being still) and watching carefully for game that might be moving through an area, feeding or even bedded. I am doing this on my hunt, combining the strategy of slipping slowly with waiting, actually "still," for periods of time in likely looking spots.

    I find myself in a typical pine plantation where the trees have reached a size that shades out the briars. Walking is easy and quiet on the carpet of brown pine straw. Ahead I see a break in the pines; a strip of white oaks and other hardwoods bordering a small stream. I decide this is a good spot to watch for moving deer. So I sit down on a comfortable, straw-covered slope and lean against a pine tree to watch and wait.

    Just as with any activity where waiting is required, such as doctors' offices and airports, distractions are welcome to pass the time. I notice a mushroom that has pushed its way through the pine straw just four feet from where I am sitting. Curious things, mushrooms; a fungus with hundreds of cousins with Latin names, that pop up in all kinds of places because they rain microscopic spores that are as easily moved about as air.

    Typically, this one has a cap with gills (where the spores stay), a stem, a mycelium, a volva and a ring. Almost nothing in nature is as simple as it looks. Its parent dropped spores that moved into the soil with the aid of rain water. One germinated and produced a mycelium that searched out moisture and nutrients for growth and today I am looking at a mushroom. Mushrooms, including  this one, have a thin layer of mushroom skin that is holding the spores beneath the gills. When it is ready, it will rupture this "veil" and release the spores.

    Either before or after the spores are "unveiled," a deer will find it and gulp it down. Deer somehow know that mushrooms have vitamins and nutrients and they search them out like kids seek Easter eggs in the woods.

    So it is just sitting there, much like an immobile stool for toads and not bothering me with the details of its existence. But I know enough about the genius of nature to appreciate this one among many creations. Thus I am glad that when the deer are in hiding, a mushroom is there to satiate my searching.

    Returning  to civilization, someone asks, "Did you have good luck?"

    "Yes, I saw a mushroom."