Thanks go to Ed. Russell Bennetts for selecting this work for publication at Berfrois. If you’d like to skip right over to the story, here is your link.
This story was originally formatted as a poem, which I do with a lot of my drafts. Something about line breaks and counting and being mindful and spare is important in a draft.
I often go for walks, and have many sporting and open fields nearby. I encounter puffball mushrooms once a year, but it wasn’t until I listened to a 99% Invisible podcast about “Stuff the British Stole” that my thinking tilted. That stuff includes the fascinating and elaborate mechanical toy, Tipu Sultan’s Tiger. It is life-sized, has a bellows, and releases a growl. The puffball is a fruiting body that if left lying around will fill with air and spores before it’s terminal ‘puff’ released them into the air. I started thinking of the puffball in a new way, as a mechanism with a job to do, a mission underway, a desire. A toy tiger.
And my cuckoo clock needs its bellows refolded and that was on my mind too. What’s going on inside a chalet clock? I learned the ‘cu’ and the ‘ckoo’ are two different notes because they are two different bellows. Then there is the fruitfulness of marriage, although time tick tick ticks.
But tbh, what really brought it all together was Ron Padgett’s new poetry collection, So Say So; that gave me the key. First off, this little hand-stitched book is a tactile pleasure. And one of the poems has each thought begin with the word imagine, and it follows the life of a book as it lays dormant then changes owners, and the old and new lives are connected. I began thinking of the puffball as perpetual, as matter that matters.
This is the 2nd time I’ve mentioned Ron Padgett on my blog. His poems are so comfortable. So cozy to read by a warm hearth with a footstool. He is very calming, and his voice is upbeat and unpretentious, and I like his work.
When Editor Bennetts accepted the story, he said he liked it in particular because he had been watching the new Attenborough series. It’s called The Green Planet, and you better believe I hot-footed to teh googles to see what’s that about. I have always enjoyed plants, the earthy pleasure humid greenhouses hold (you better believe Lady Chatterly had my attention in that greenhouse scene), and grew up in a flower store. It was my family’s business while my father was alive. I was always intrigued by fiddleheads, snapdragons, rabbit foot ferns, and jack-in-the-pulpits. All odd flora native to my place on this earth, the terminal moraine where once there was the glacial Lake Passaic. Puffballs are very much of my world, but I overlooked writing about them.
And now I have a son who, like my father did, studies plants, and trees. And he and I had a long conversation about mushrooms and root systems one day at brunch. I had been researching their potential for a cure for cancer for another story, and it was my child who taught me the word mychorrizae.
Honestly, I write about plants and flowers a lot. I should get off my duff and put a collection together, but blah blah covid blah blah work full time blah blah blargh. :^) What a time to be alive! And alive is all we need. All the puffball needs. All our hopes into the breach once more. I hear Captain Tenneal from MXC waving his sword and shouting “LET’S GO!”
There is so much we don’t know, yet it’s so rewarding to be attentive to one another. I learned the word narthekophoros the other week, was amazed by how this ancient word touched my life, and immediately said to my partner that I wished I were a vampire, only to keep learning new words forever.
But to be mortal, and comprehend gifts as they are blithely tendered toward us? as the earth pushes them into our sight? a joy.
Thank you for reading, for stopping by. It means a lot. I hope you enjoy “Forager.” Link to it here.