MUSHROOM TOXINS … Here in Telluride, we’ve all been excited to learn from Paul Stamets how fungi can help save the world, and to resonate with studies from John Hopkins and other research institutions suggesting some shrooms can be a powerful medicine, used in an appropriate setting with experienced guidance … But we forget that this botanical kindom (I leave the “g” out on purpose) is also the generator of poisons that can do great harm to plants and animals. Including us … This month’s Scientific American chronicles the threat of a new airborne yeast invader on the move – Cryptococcus gattii. Once limited to the tropics, it suddenly jumped ship in 1999 and started appearing in a new, even more virulent form on Vancouver Island. And now it’s spreading to British Columbia, Washington and Oregon, where a separate strain not related to the Vancouver Island strain has developed … This fungal yeast lives on certain trees, particularly Douglas fir. Animals breathe in its spores or its microscopic dehydrated yeast cells, where the dispersal units lodge in air sacs deep in the lungs. As a colony grows and forms nodules, the victim begins to cough, experience breathing problems, nausea, fevers. If some cells hitchhike through the bloodstreams on macrophages, they can invade the brain. And as the article notes, “Brain infections are often fatal.” Thousands of porpoises with yeast-packed lungs washing up ashore on Vancouver Island in 2001 were the first clue that something was terribly amiss. About 100 people have become infected since the outbreak was identified, and almost 30 percent of them have died. And, perhaps of even greater concern, about 20 percent of those dying were healthy and active outdoorspeople prior to infection … As SA writer Jennifer Frazer notes, “To a great extent, we have only ourselves to blame for the growing menagerie of pathogenic fungi menacing plants, animals and people – and not only because we have had a large hand in climate change … Our shipping addiction has created a de facto fungal dating service” … Clearly, mushrooms can help save the world, but they might do it by cleaning house on an invasive species – a species like us.
MOUNTAIN TOWN NEWS … If you don’t know Allen Best, then you’re missing one of the best regional journalists in Colorado. He puts out a summary of all the news in ski towns around the west for a modest subscription <mountaintownnews.net>. It’s the way I keep up on mountain happenings in our region without having to read stacks of newspapers … Here’s a recent bit from Crested Butte. In a recent election wrap-up, the Crested Butte News identified that “more than 700 Buttians” were voting … Now, I’ve always favored Tellurider over Telluridian, although some local inkheads have preferred the latter. But Buttian? Especially if you shorten that first vowel – ouch!
JOHN MCLAUGHLIN … I miss that good man. He was a bit of a coffeehouse fixture around town. A loner. But a wonderful fellow once you got to know him. We’d trade books. I still have A Path of Beauty: A Study of Chinese Aesthetics that he turned me on to. In fact, it was finding that marvelous book under a stack of unread tomes in my studio that reminded me of John. That, and an old envelope I also found in his unique calligraphy. He’d send me clippings of environmental items and other news from a Norwegian newspaper that he subscribed to. He thought they would interest me. And they always did. Often becoming fodder for this column … He was a marvelous illustrator with a very bold, distinctive style. I have several of his pieces in my county office in the Miramonte building. We were working on a project to do an illustration of the old, crooked spruce up Leopard Creek with Dolores LaChapelle underneath it, and a poem of mine accompanying. But before we could get to it, he passed away in a storm on a trek across Norway – a top to bottom hike that was a dream of his … During the holidays, it’s hard not to think of loved ones lost & gone, as well as honoring all those still with us.
TEA CEREMONY … While down in New Mexico last month, I got to visit one of my publishers – JB Bryan of La Alameda Press. He and his wife, Cirrelda, came to the Gary Snyder reading in Bourque (as locals call Albuquerque). JB’s press has a lovely broadside of one of Gary’s poems that he traded for some books a while back. All the circle of poets I know hold Snyder in the highest esteem … I have stayed in JB & Cirrelda’s mountain home in Placitas, where another wonderful poet, Larry Goodell, lives. And it so happens that on their property there is a small adobe shack, a kind of mini-zendo. My buddy, Mike Logghe, was traveling with me. Mike is a veteran of the Shroomfest, and his wife is a marvelous poet friend who’s just completed a two-year stint as Santa Fe’s Poet Laureate. It also happened that he’d helped JB build the adobe shack. And he’d been promised a chance to participate in a tea ceremony – a Japanese ritual of incredible power and refinement. But it hadn’t happened. I’d managed to wrangle JB into having us both up for tea, and so for the first time in my life (in spite of having a grandmother who was born in Japan) I experienced a traditional tea ceremony … Of course, my poet buddies may love the traditional aesthetic of borrowed rituals, but we can’t help trying to make them our own. So, it was the lifeless demonstration of exactitude that I once witnessed as “a tea ceremony.” It was full of life and New Mexico touches that made it our own, and its lineage was part of an esteemed tradition. And it was wonderful. Delicious. Meditative. Uplifting. One of those special experiences that come in a lifetime when least expected. But are deeply appreciated.
THE TALKING GOURD
that is supposed to be
- Jeffrey A. Lindenmuth