Mushroom Month: a John Dunn Story

Tinder, an ancient word in our language, formed from Scandinavian roots that mean flammable material, such as was formerly used to gain a light from a spark, consisting of scorched linen impregnated with saltpetre.

Wonder flamed suddenly and spectacularly in the two lads in the month of September, as if it were fire ablaze like tinder in the flowering dogwood.

Matt, a big five, and Dan, a mighty four, started to school that September, Matt up in Senior K. and Dan, by the lower gate, at Jr. K.

I watched from the stone steps of our veranda across the street from their house as they set off to the top of our little dead-end street to catch their school bus.

Perhaps the case is that they started to school after Labour Day, and by the second half of September the teacher had introduced the strange part of the curriculum called “Show and Tell.” For they live on one side of our dead-end street, and we have the house opposite on the other side, so that there’s nothing but grass occupies all the vacant space between our two houses.

The second half of September is mushroom time in the townships, particularly on those old pastures that had been reserved for the horses before they followed their teamster lads to the shanties for the winter, that is, in the days when white pine was king of the Valley, and horse power was measured in hands, and the brand name was Clydesdale. But, in the manner of a last meal given to a condemned man, with ice cream and steak and onions and mushrooms and HP sauce, the teamsters and their horses enjoyed the reprieve of late September’s steamy nights and the magic that left everyone if manna from heaven dropped during the night as plentiful and majestic in taste because the horse pastures were dotted all over with white-capped mushrooms, plump, firm, and easily plucked to fill an entire basket. What a heavenly treat.

In this period, Mushroom Month, the magic has its profound effect on us humans in more ways than the one of improving our gastronomic palate. That, of course, is important enough, but it’s seldom noticed that the second half of the month of September is the very time when KG teachers want to stir up imagination in both Junior and Senior KG. They make a game of it, and call it “Show and Tell.”

Inspiration for Show and Tell comes speedily to tender young shoots of lads, and lasses too, at KG level. Magic, they discover, sits in the unusual, and most of all, the magician’s prize in showing off something completely unbelievable

On Thursday, Maureen, the mother of Matt and Dan, took to raking the fallen leaves, and discovered in the grass the discarded skin of a garter snake. Not a big snake, an eighteen-inch garter snake that had outgrown its skin during the magic of late September, and simply sloughed it off and squirmed away towards our place. She gave it to Matt to take to Sr. K, and, by all accounts, Matt scored in the game of Show and Tell.

Nature study is a favourite area in this field of study. Acorns abound, bell-shaped, with and without their little skull caps. And lustrous milkweed pods nod in the sun.

Watching a puppy grow and developing horse sense, a filly stretch its front fetlocks and run, or, for that matter, even watch a garter snake curled up, sunning itself on a bare rock in September, all these are exciting, but greater by far than the sum of ten of these occurrences, is the contribution a neighbour such as I was could make to two Kg scholars named Matt and Dan making a success of Show and Tell at Senior and Junior Kg. Respectively.

And the success was all due to the formula – – M + D + I

Where M is the month of September, and M is also Matt who is five, and already has one year of Kg under his belt and now is in Sr. Kg.

I is for Inspiration, that descends in huge barmy waves in the second half of September, when this barm is squared with the magic that makes wild mushrooms dot the horse pastures at the foot of the Pakenham Mountains, well, there’s great power. Imagine that power harnessed for Show and Tell. And two lads like Matt and Dan as operators.

Mushroom magic in late September is thick as pea soup. Besides, it is a gift from the Creator, quite rare in our species. It is said that when the moment came in the distribution of talents for that resplendent magic to be distributed, there were only a few people hanging about, and they were all men, perhaps a dozen altogether, idly talking, as if waiting for handouts at the end of an auction sale. Magic was in the air that day, so extraordinarily heavy and pungent was the magic of that day that the wonder of it hung all about the orchard and on the fruit trees of the Great Hanging Gardens of Eden, and it remained there even after the original claimants of the deed for that country, Adam and Eve, had been expelled for non-compliance with one of the by-laws.

There was this one tree especially, where the magic hung about like a great golden hue in the second half of September, and the fruit, in clusters of luscious golden fruit on the branches, so luscious that it tempted even the snails in the garden to rise up in revolt against this discrimination against them.

As it turned out, only the tallest lads in the gaggle of a dozen men could even reach the golden fruit, no more than half of the dozen, and to these, and these alone, was given the gift of the mushroom magic in the latter half of September. The reason was because the talent lay disguised in the great golden fruit.

Since that time, of course, there came the time of the great flood, which ended when Noah’s Ark grounded on the slopes of Mount Ararat and all the seasick creatures he had sheltered during the height of the flood got their first chance to stumble off the Arc and took the gangway to the slopes of Ararat, and settled in their minds that never again would they leave ‘terra firma’. In the scattering of Noah’s family, survivors of the great flood, many chose to live on the islands of the planet and to grow potatoes to go with the fish they had come to rely on for sustenance and which they had found every day in the galley of the Arc. Others chose to live at the foot of the new mountains of the world, those just recently unveiled, places where they would never see fish on the table again, but where they would enjoy the pleasure of the hunt as well as the bounty of the potato, both roasted and in salad with greens.

Thus it was that the settlers found Mushroom Magic at the foot of the Pakenham Mountain.

So even though hundreds of Noah’s Emigrants found a home on an island in the Atlantic, called Eire, and with the potatoes on the land and the fish in the sea, they developed a wondrous talent for story-telling in favourite sons, called seanachies, whose talent in the magic of September made them renowned throughout the Kerry Mountains and in the plains of Athlone, the Curragh, and the west country of Connaught, it was only discovered that virulent strain of the September Magic had been transplanted in one of the Emigrant families from Waterford or Wexford who came to these parts in 1823. They came because the Mississippi bisects the county of Lanark, and two of their number, both seanachies, discovered the magic place where steam rises from the falls at a bend in the Mississippi, and this in mid-January, and they noticed that the steam did not freeze in the fierce frosty air of that day on contact, but that it seemed to create a barm that was sure to infect imaginations of any youngsters in this place on the Mississippi with a falls.

When they built a school for these youngsters, the teacher introduced the scholars to Show and Tell in the latter half of September, the month which in Pakenham is almost always called Mushroom Month, in memory of the first of the settlers who brought the magic of Mount Arrarat to the foot of the Pakenham Mountain.

One of the number of that noble band escaped from the notion of potatoes and went off, led by another kind of magic he had discovered in another land, a land called Vermont. It contained a collection of Mountains too, all Green, and, in that country, this escapee became known there as some gent, a wrinkled little man of mystery and magic, with a spray of Old Dutch in him, Rip Van Winkle.

That day has been commemorated ever since because it occurred in the middle of Mushroom Month, and has been known ever since as Morning Magic.