This is my view as I write this post…
I just spent nine days in the beautiful town of Girdwood, Alaska. This year’s Fungus Fair was the best they’ve had in a while. An explosion of fungi! Last year was considered a “bad year,” because there was not too much to see. I have never seen such a diversity mushrooms in my entire life. Truly jaw-dropping. I came to Girdwood, Alaska, to help Kate Mohatt and her friends with whatever they needed for this year’s fair. In between Fungus Fair tasks, I took trips down to Whittier to conduct a general survey of non-native black slugs. It’s about a 30-minute drive through a beautiful landscape with snowcapped mountains, waterfalls, and trees with leaves starting to change color. I was in heaven. I hiked all the trails and sidewalks I could find looking for this invasive being. The hope of this general study is to get a snapshot of the black slug distribution in the area, and to use that information to determine the gravity of the situation. Then a strategy can be developed a strategy to manage the species. It’s studies like this one, coupled with more in-depth explorations, that are important for making well-informed, useful, forest and species management decisions. Based on my preliminary survey, the distribution of the species is concentrated in one area of the town. In my opinion, however, that is just part of the answer. Weather conditions play such a huge role in how successful one is at finding these slugs. Most of the week was a downpour, then the weekend was, or at least felt like, desert summer heat. Both extremely wet and extremely dry conditions are not conducive to a good slug hunt. Regardless, I still found slugs concentrated on a certain side of town. That’s an interesting and possibly promising find in terms of management, but it’s for the scientists to decide as it can be extremely hard to completely eradicate an established species. In any case, the question of whether it is even of importance to the health and success of the ecosystem there remains unanswered.
Did you know that there is a secret, undiscovered world of famous and utterly intelligent mycologists? The mycological realm is one of discovery, identification, and harvest. There are those interested in nothing else but the “eatability” of fungi, while others have devoted many years of their lives to discovering and identifying as many species as they can. It is, in fact, the second most diverse groups of organisms on the planet, with an estimated 1.5 million species. The fanaticism that what I lovingly call a fungus freak eventually succumbs to involves a wide range of interests. The world of fungi delves into
fashion, fiber, cultivation, art, food, senses, and scientific understanding and discovery. This year proved that the fungus following is ever-growing, as hundreds of people attended the various talks and forays given in Girdwood this week by some of the best mycologists in the country. The display table at the Glacier Ranger District was a thing of beauty, with all of the otherworldly structures and colors of this mysterious alien world out on display. Lactarius glyciosmus smelled distinctly of coconut, while Clitopulus prunulus smelled of fresh cucumber or watermelon rind. The cap of Hemimycena delectabilis was smaller than a dime, while that of Boletus edulis was larger than my head. Such an amazingly diverse group of organisms.
The sun is setting as I write this last sentence. My only regret during this chapter was missing seeing the beluga whales in the waters off of the Seward Highway, but my sadness is subdued by my initiation into the world of the fungus freaks.