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Posts Tagged ‘faeries’

You must not know too much, or be too precise or scientific about birds and trees and flowers and water-craft; a certain free margin, and even vagueness – perhaps ignorance, credulity – helps your enjoyment of these things…
~Walt Whitman

Sometimes, it’s good to know less than more.  Acquiring more knowledge of a subject often removes a soft veil of mystery that leaves only the bare facts visible.  The magic disappears. 

The numerous types of lichens, mosses and fungi make the woods seem more magical for many of us.  Is this because we typically know less about them than other living things in the forest?  If I encounter new, unknown varieties on a walk in the woods, why does this make the excursion more enchanting?  Perhaps, sometimes, it’s best to not know the names of things so that mystery and wonder can survive.

Though correct identification is helpful if they’re going to be eaten, nature’s myriad types of fungi need not be named in order to be enjoyed for the beauty of their subtle colours and forms.  Their ability to uplift our spirits are nonetheless.  And it may just be easier to imagine them eaten by elves or sat upon by delicate faeries if their exact variety is unknown to us.

I would rather live in a world where my life is surrounded by mystery than live in a world so small that my mind could comprehend it.
~  Harry Emerson Fosdick

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fungi 10

Fall is an excellent time to see fungi in Nova Scotia’s woods.  Whether growing on the ground or on decaying trees, these life forms are varied, with some species being edible.

fungi

Of the ten types of fungi I managed to photograph in my yard in the past week, I am only confident of the identification of one, the orange jelly at bottom centre which is considered edible if boiled.  Even with the use of an Audubon field guide, I’m still wary of my ability to correctly identify the less colorful varieties.  Despite minute differences, they all look so similar to one another.

Although a distinction is often made between mushrooms and toadstools, with toadstools often considered toxic and with a tapered (as opposed to straight) stalk, there is no scientific basis for this.  The edibility of mushrooms is best determined by experts rather than through trial and error.  The adage that there are old mushroom pickers and bold mushroom pickers, but no old, bold mushroom pickers is probably true. 

fairy rings and toadstools by richard doyle

Due to the poisonous and hallucinogenic nature of some fungi, they have often been given magical properties in art and literature.  Faeries and gnomes are frequently depicted beside toadstools as in the 19th century painting of Fairy Rings and Toadstools (shown above) by Richard Doyle.  I once came across one of these ‘fairy’ rings in my yard.  They originate in the growth of fungi around the outer edge of the decaying underground roots of old trees.  It seemed pretty harmless in the light of day, but who knows what magic transpired in its midst during moonlit nights.

fungi with copper pennies

Copper penny test to determine toxicity of mushrooms as per Wind's comment

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elderberry at dawn

Do you have any plans for Saturday night?  Since it will be Midsummer’s Eve, if you’re free, you might consider standing or sitting under an elder tree.   Known as Sambucus nigra in Europe and Sambucus canadensis in North America, it’s not uncommon in Nova Scotia woods where it often only grows to bush size.  It has sprigs of white flowers in early spring that eventually give way to clusters of green and then black berries.  But why would anyone want to stand under an elder tree on Midsummer’s Eve?  According to faerie lore, if one was courageous enough to be under one at midnight, one might be able to catch a glimpse of the King of the Faeries himself.

elder branchesThis special tree has been surrounded by magic and mystery for centuries.  According to legend, the original cross was made of elder wood.  In England, crosses made of elder were nailed to farm buildings to ward off evil spirits.  Hearse drivers carried whips of elder and branches of the same were placed in graves, all with the intent of protecting the living and the dead from evil spirits.  In Serbia, they were carried at weddings for the same reason.

Danish folklore held that the tree was inhabited by a guardian spirit, the Elder Mother, who haunted anyone who dared to cut it down.  Many of these beliefs seem similar to those associated with Rowan trees, which are known as Mountain Ash in North America.

A young elder grows in my yard.  This is a good omen, as it is supposed to flourish near the dwellings of happy people.  Much of the magic associated with this tree is probably due to its many medicinal uses.  It’s easier to be happy if you have good health.

The Elder in Bloom in Early Spring

An Elder in Bloom Earlier this Spring

Getting back to the King of the Faeries… you may be wondering how you’ll recognize him should you decide to venture out under the tree at midnight.  Well, unfamiliar as I am with faeries, I can only go by what little I know of elves and leprechauns from movies.  Meeting the King of the Faeries at a midnight rendez-vous in the woods might be interesting if he looked  like the elf Legolas in Lord of the Rings.  However, it might be an entirely different sort of encounter if he turned out to be more like King Brian from Disney’s Darby O’Gill and the Little People

Legolas (Lord of the Rings) and King Brian (Darby O'Gill and the Little People)

Legolas (Lord of the Rings) and King Brian (Darby O'Gill and the Little People)

If he’s the size of one of the Little People I wonder if I’d even be able to spot him in the dark.  There won’t be much moonlight as the dark side of the moon will be in the sky tomorrow night.  Little People are known for their love of the dance and merrymaking, so listen carefully for music.

Best of luck to any of you who are keen for adventure and willing to try something completely different on Midsummer’s Eve.   Hopefully the mosquitoes won’t be too bad in your neck of the woods.

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