Since moving back east, many forgotten memories are being revived. With a bank full of past imagery triggered everywhere I go, seeing things I never noticed growing up is the most surprising.
Mushrooms popped out of the ground everywhere I looked the first winter and overwhelmed me with joy. It was easy to imagine how Alice felt in Wonderland. Life in the arid west had erased these wonders of nature from my memory. Growing up in New York City had prevented a meaningful relationship with these magical beings.
After Superstorm Sandy, the fungi population came alive in New Jersey, where I spent some weekends. The state was devastated by Sandy's rampage, but it's rains forced a colorful display of underground mystery to break through the earth's surface. Mushrooms of every color, shape, and texture covered the earth here.
Their magical nature was eerily consistent to how people described hallucinogenics like mescaline and mushrooms in the late 60's and early 70's. Their whimsy and color was embedded in their biology, coupled with the diverse nature of each strain, making each sighting feel like the world was being born anew.
The irony is these strange creature like things had been waiting underground for just the right environment. They were not new at all. They were only now visible to the human eye. They could be seen. Expressing their nature on earth only manifested if the conditions were right for their arrival. Even then, their life span was limited and progressive. Their brilliant color dulled and their vibrant elasticity drained by their second day of life in the open air of our planet. This left many questions about these magical beings that live underground. Living out west had taught me to pay attention to the earth and its changes. Without vigilance to the tiniest of changes, it's impossible to understand how our natural systems work. Without paying attention, assumptions are made that lead us into the dangerous territory of thinking we know something.
Fungi reminds me of how much we don't know, and how paying attention to the tiniest of details in the soil will awe us if we look. It can transform how we experience the world beneath our feet.
The wonder that grew from these hunting trips inspired me to more intentionally look at others the way we were searching the ground for mushrooms. It required looking deeper and beyond our normal sight to notice them amidst the leaves, moss, undergrowth, and broken twigs or branches that cover the forest floor.
It was also important to expect them.
Looking at other people - including strangers - as if their goodness and gifts were just waiting to surface is only the tip of the iceberg. Meeting them and holding the expectation of discovering their whimsy, color, and gifts - can cause miracles to happen - in your life and theirs.
After a few years of mushroom hunting, the process of looking has turned into another form of contemplative practice and meditation. The wonder the earth brings continues to surprise me, even in the tiniest of details.
I'm happy to say the same thing has happened with people. Go on. Expect the wonder and delight you'll find in others by simply looking for it beyond the obvious markers we use to see people. I know you already know this, but it doesn't hurt to be reminded of a practice our ego loves to let us forget.
I encourage you to try it and see what pops up in your sightings. Come back and share when you see something that makes you quicken with delight. Happy Hunting!
By the way, this amazing specimen was near our house just waiting to be seen by those who'd appreciate its hospitality and beauty.
I bet David Sanborn, Dizzy Gillespie, and Kenny G would love to score this gig.