27 October 2015

The Vegetative Nature of Mothering

Day One

I’m glad I’m a mother. When I was a young woman I didn’t know what I wanted to be. There was no grand plan or searing ambition. What I was certain of though, was that I wanted to have children. I didn’t want to be married, just to be a mother. The early reading of Greer did for any romantic notions of marriage (if only I had walked that particular talk). Deep in my bones I was sure I would love children of my own.

I’m grateful, and surprised, that I got my heart’s desire.

But of course, as with all good fairy stories (aren’t our lives nothing but baroque tales?) there is a painful price to pay. Now, in middle age, with those children young people themselves, making similar life altering decisions, I’m paying that debt: obsolescence. My job is done. The children have gone. Motherhood, active mothering, only lasts a couple of decades. It’s time now to return to the woman I was before.

And yet, that’s not possible. Not completely. Motherhood has changed me. Not simply in terms of ageing, but who I am. I am scarred, shaped by the last 20 years, hollowed out by caring. Germaine would not stand for that thought. She would give me a rousing lecture, interspersed with a few ‘fucks’, on my intrinsic value, and my other equally important roles in society. Yes, Yes, I know. Give me time and I will come up with another desire to fulfil. But right now, in Autumn, I’m going to retreat underground and gather my strength.

Much like the real topic of this blog post: Coprinopsis atramentaria, the Common Inkcap.

[Laboured Metaphor Alert]

Fungal identification is not a skill of mine, so I’m not sure these mushrooms that recently popped up in Garden65 are Inkcaps, but for the sake of this post let’s assume they are.

Common Ink Cap
Day Two
They are called Inkcaps because of the black stuff that oozes from their caps (pilei). This really can be used as ink. Their taxonomic name, atramentaria, means ink, or more gothically, ‘dark substance’. It is not what you would automatically think, a product of decay, but rather, self-digestion. It is what is left over after the mushroom has deliberately eaten itself (can we sense the metaphor coming?).

Day Three

This is a process called deliquescence, which is a kind of liquefying. In a finely co-ordinated move within a few hours of the spores reaching maturity the volume of hydrolytic enzymes begins to increase. These enzymes breakdown the flesh of the cap. As the disappearance progresses the spores, more resilient to the enzymes, are released from the protection of the underlying gills (lamellae). Thus, the Inkcap sacrifices herself to send her children out into the world.

The End. 
Note Black Ink Left Behind

As drama queenie as this metaphor might be, it is not a tragic one. For, of course, the Inkcap doesn’t disappear entirely. The fruiting body is spent, but the organism continues to do useful mycorrhizal work, underground. It will reach up again into the light with new children when it’s good and ready.

[Metaphor continues with discussion of ideas and projects as children ...]

As an aside, and perhaps a further complexity to the tale, a squirrel ate the remnants of the mushrooms.

Halloween Inkcaps