September 1, 2012

Masters of the Universe: Day Three at the Telluride Mushroom Festival. ~ Alisa Geiser

Photo credit: O En

Morning routine at the Telluride Mushroom Festival looks something like this:

8 a.m. Wake up and guiltily realize that during the night I’ve stolen Dev’s sleeping bag again. Try to give it back without waking him, only to find he’s already awake.

8:30 a.m. Laze about in bed while Dev prepares us coffee. He’s brought along a single-origin Ethiopian that he roasted himself, and I like to watch from the tent as he weighs out the coffee, hand grinds it and presses it through his AeroPress into the thick white mug that we share in the still mountain air—the Uncompahgre Range watching over us, wildflowers blooming and pine trees gathered close.

The result is, in a word, incomparable.

10:15 a.m. Roll into Telluride and race to catch breakfast somewhere, anywhere before our first lectures. The Butcher & Baker serves breakfast burritos made heavenly with sweet potatoes and corn, but they go fast and early, resulting in occasional heartbreak.

10:30 a.m. Whisk into our first lecture and switch into work mode. Today we begin with a talk by Britt Bunyard entitled “Puppet Masters of the Universe,” in which I learn that the vast majority of fungi belong to the phyla glomeromycota, about which almost nothing is known.

Interestingly, they are possibly the most important of the seven known fungi phyla. They engage in essential symbiotic relationships with the majority of terrestrial plants, with whom they are integrated at a cellular level.

Next lecture: Tom Volk on “Fungal Superheroes.” Many of us are familiar with the culinary role of mushrooms—providing a valuable source of flavor, nutrition and protein. Perhaps we are less familiar with their role in medicine: fungi are essential to the production of a variety of antibiotics, steroids, anti-cholesterol drugs and oral contraceptives.

And what about industry: cacao beans must go through a fungus-facilitated “fermentation” period before being made into chocolate. Stone-washed jeans are created not with stones, but with a fungus that digests denim, albeit irregularly. Inks, dyes, wood recycling, bioremediation.

I began to think of fungi as the Oompa Loompas of the world—discrete, industrious, often ignored, but take the time to listen.

After the lecture, we ride the gondola up the mountain to sneak in a little bit of exercise and forging before the annual festival parade.

The stroll down, of course, takes longer than expected due to a variety of distractions and we end up running headlong down the dry ski hills, pulling in sweating and invigorated just as the costume-bedecked crowds are beginning to move down Main Street to the dancing beat of truck-towed drummers.

The vibe is smiling and silly with kids, dogs, hula-hoops and plenty of costumes that several days at the Mushroom festival have prepared me to comprehend.

Afterward we score some short showers at the Telluride Town Park Campground ($3 for five minutes of hot water) and head up the gondola to catch the sunset. It is one of the most beautiful I’ve seen.

Dev and I sit close as our time together begins to wind down to its finite reality, sip a fine Colorado wine from the bottle and listen to each other’s voices above the sweet warble of a fellow festival-goer playing flute to the burning orange and bruised purple and rolling haze-softened hills.

Note: elephantjournal.com received this admission to this event for free, in return for a guarantee that we would review it. That said, we say what we want—good and bad, happy and sad.

All photo credits: Dev

Read about Alisa’s other adventures at the Telluride Mushroom Festival:

“Mushroom Beer, Lithium Hot Springs, & Bolivia by Bike with a Basket & a Knife: Day One at the Telluride Mushroom Festival.”

“The Curious Ways We Find Each Other: Day Two at the Telluride Mushroom Festival.”

“Fifth & Final Post: Telluride Mushroom Festival.”


Alisa is a poet and a troublemaker, and she’s sought and told many a fortune. Some call her a Renaissance woman, some call her crazy; she prefers the term gypsy. Roaming free through star-warmed mountains and dark-lit city streets is how she finds her thorny bliss, and she won’t complain about a heavy pack or empty belly as long as wild winds scented with love or pine or soul-taut whispers are tickling her skin. While honing her gypsy skills, she’s served as managing editor for Westcliffe Publishers, helped eco-magazine elephantjournal go national, worked for Martha Stewart, documented an illegal humanitarian aid mission to Cuba, and claimed a Guinness world record with Carmen Electra. She’s got a Bachelor of Science in Journalism from the University of Colorado at Boulder, she’s a Notary Public for the fine state of Colorado, CPR and First Aid certified, and an ordained minister of the Universal Life Church. Once, she baked a wedding cake to serve 200 people, and it was damn good. Take the metaphorical peek inside her underwear drawer here.


Editor: Jamie Morgan

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