We’ve reached the tipping point, I think, with the annuals that adorn the planters on our front porch. After giving us a summer of vigorously contained beauty, the blooms are just about tuckered out heading into these last days of September.
Not like this is any great news flash: As we’ve been hearing of late in the daily Mass readings from Ecclesiastes, ‘there is a time to plant and a time to uproot the plant.’
Even so, having personally tended the porch plants throughout the spring and summer, I find that their fading glory afflicts my spirit just a tad. ‘Vanity of vanities’: I wouldn’t mind having my meager landscaping energies rewarded with beautiful blooms for another week or two.
Traipsing about our suburban lot yesterday – as I ruminated over whether to accede to the inevitable…and move the planters to their winter resting spot on the backyard patio – I encountered something of an overnight sensation: A gargantuan mushroom, the size of a football.
Not nearly as fetching (to my mind at least) as the colorful blooms in our planters, this fungus is no less impressive in its vigor.
And it got that way in just a day or two—a phenomenon that stirred my curiosity a bit—so I set out to learn something about this massive new fungus-among-us.
A few quick clicks brought me to the highly informative Radical Mycology website, where I learned that this unexpected lawn ornament is actually a fading bloom itself: the ‘fruit’ of a complex lifecycle that occurs mostly underground.
Mushrooms, it turns out, are key actors in the ecosystem – change-agents that serve to underscore the insights we find in Ecclesiastes. Among other functions, certain mycelia have ‘adapted to break down lignin, the highly complex compound that makes wood hard and rigid, something few things on Earth are able to accomplish.’
Ashes to ashes, dust to dust – and part of that cycle wouldn’t happen without mushrooms working their magic.
I was even more intrigued, however, by this little note:
As the mycelium grows through its substrate, this thread-like structure continuously branches in all directions, forming an incredibly dense network (imagine a web with clearances smaller than any woven structure humans can produce) in the search for water and food.
Mushrooms have already figured out, in other words, what Jesus seems to being trying to teach us in this Sunday’s gospel reading: That we are all connected—the rich man, living sumptuously…and the beggar at his front door.
When we work to build walls, it signals a failure in our ability to recognize the web that binds us…just beneath the surface of our lives.
Our self-centered choices can create create a chasm that keeps us from becoming fully human, and bearing the fruit we were meant to produce.
Let us pause now…to recall that we are in the presence of the Holy & Merciful One.