Behind Neville Place, built in the early 1920s as a hospital for the aged, there’s a mixed forest of beeches, oaks, a few birches, maples, on relatively flat ground. The old folks’ home is still a home to quite a few old folks, whom Ranger Jean has been galvanizing into tree study. The posters on the ground floor identifying “parts of a tree,” and “what makes a maple a maple,” are, in all their construction-paper glory, an ode to rootedness in nature surviving even the bastions of institutional living. Besides, 80 is the new 50.
I’ve been on mycology walks here several times before with Larry Millman, author of Fascinating Fungi of New England, a man who “keeps a post office box” here in Cambridge
and wears one of those vests with many pockets. It’s a dizzying experience. One here!—quick, another there!—lovely, tooth-tingling latinate names mingling with farcical and fanciful amateur nicknames for the citizens of the fungal kingdom—and here a disambiguation, there a new discovery.
Over 200 species of fungi reside at Fresh Pond. Mr. Millman seems to be on first names with many, though he says that anyone, including himself, professing more than a seventy-percent identification rate should be hauled aside and tempted to ease off on high-falutin’ mycological nomenclature mania.
There were a few kids at the gathering, but not enough. We found a sleepy hornet queen, enormous; excavations made by woodpeckers (vectors for fungal spores), a slime mold named for its resemblance to insect eggs, and other ephemera, amusements, and the erstwhile camaraderie of strangers outdoors.