Friday, January 23, 2015


Mushrooms appear in the windows of every pharmacy in Paris in the Autumn. Each display is a showcase for mushroom hunters so that they know which mushroom to pick and which to avoid. I've never hunted mushrooms to eat, but I loved looking at the photos of the various kinds that the Parisians savored.

I view mushrooms as another affirmation of life. They come up when the leaves have fallen, when even in California there are few flowers in bloom, and they poke their heads up in anticipation of the glory of life. As a child, I learned not to touch mushrooms. I haven't learned to distinguish a poisonous one from one that can be eaten so I still adhere to that rule, but I like to scavenger with my camera for them anyway.

With all the rain we had in December and with the temperatures hovering in the 60s and 70s now, mushrooms sprouted in all kinds of places in our neighborhood. I see them as I walk the Iron Horse Trail. They hide among the dry leaves on the sides of the trail.

I delight in seeing the heads pop up, spotting our lawn with their white umbrellas, sometimes poking up through the dry fallen redwood leaves. As they start to release their spores, they open up and change shapes. I want to paint them.

Here is one stuck between the cracks in a log.

My favorite is the one that reappears year after year on the hillside behind our house. It starts out shaped like a bullet, then gradually the bottom edges fan out to an umbrella before it topples over and grows dark.


There are other, darker mushrooms that grow to six or so inches under the camellias. They are hard to see. You have to believe that they are not rocks. 

We occasionally have fairy rings on own lawn, which tells us that the soil needs nourishment.

For now, I just take photos and bring them back to my workroom and start painting their amusing shapes. As I work, I find that mushrooms are not easy to paint. They are like painting round stones -- hard to develop the form and the values that make they look three-dimensional. I keep at it though, I know they are good practice for me, and these sketches are a way to acknowledge their appearance every year. I am showing you my efforts, even though I cringe at some of the over-worked areas. My practice in letting go.

I've just finished two good books that I'd like to recommend if you, like me, journal by taking photos, making sketches, or by writing about what nature tells you about life.

True Nature by Barbara Bash

A Trail Through Leaves: The Journal as a Path to Place by Hannah Hinchman.
You can read about her at 

Both are good reads, especially if you plan to take an art/nature retreat somewhere soon. I've already made plans for March in Pt. Reyes! is a great source for information about our local Northern California mushrooms.

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