September 4, 2012

The Curious Ways We Find Each Other: Day Two at the Telluride Mushroom Festival. ~ Alisa Geiser

 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.

There is a type of chytrid fungi whose spores release hormones to attract spores of the opposite mating type. Once these sexually compatible spores come across each other’s signals, they change their hormonal communication to say, in effect:

“Yes, I’m here, I’ve found you.”

Tom Volk, a professor of Biology with tattooed arms, wild dyed hair and a quick intelligence covers this and much more to do with spores—the primary means by which fungi reproduce—at our first talk of day two of the  Telluride Mushroom Festival.

I learn that the dank smell of rain is in fact the result of trillions of mushroom spores being released into the air.

I remember sitting at The Buck with Dev that first night, six short weeks ago.

We’d met under the waterfall and kept each other close, until we were sitting there, side by side, him drinking a Bridal Veil Rye Pale Ale and me sipping a tequila tonic.

“I’m here, I’ve found you, now what do I do with you?” Trying to figure that all out. He smelled good.

We’ve been looking at lots of photos of mushrooms and it’s time to see the real thing.

The festival’s identity tent is a bit spare—it’s been a dry year.

Still, there are tables spread with samples of various shapes, colors, smells and sizes and several experts in residence to discuss and discern. One corner houses a rank garbage can of rotting fungal mass; in another, people cook up their finds over camp stoves. As I wander past I’m fed slivers of porcini and lactarius deliciosus, little nibblets from friendly strangers.

Appetites whetted, we head to the festival’s cook-off, where competing chefs have an hour to prepare a meal using any of four mushrooms: porcini, chanterelle, oyster, and one mystery fungus. The fare ranges from sesame-fried porcini sushi rolls to a mystery mushroom pâté served on fresh-made acorn crackers. We wander about, smelling and sampling.

And then some.

The festival features guided forays and the crowds gather, thick and chattering, to be led into the woods by their favorite fungophile heroes.

Dev and I opt for a more intimate experience and forge off on our own, and though our baskets remain empty I still continue to fill my mind, hungry for it. Dev illustrates to me various identification techniques, many of which tie into lectures we’ve attended. We break stems to see if they snap or splinter, study spores dusting the ground near a fruiting mushroom, slice its gills with a fingernail to see if it “milks” (lactarius deliciosus, which we find many of, do).

Perhaps most importantly: an upwards of ninety percent of plants are mycorhizal, which means that they have an essential symbiotic relationships with particular fungi. This fungus integrates itself into the plant’s root system, facilitating nutrient exchange.

When looking for a mushroom, first look for the tree it grows with. Porcini, for instance, grow with pine trees. Bright, bold amanita muscaria with their distinctive red caps and white spots also grow near pine trees, and are a great indicator that their less flashy but more palatable friend may be nearby.

A part of this trip is Dev and I trying to figure out how we found each other. On our way to today’s foraging grounds, we stop by the Telluride Brewing Company, where Dev stopped six weeks ago to sample the beer that kept him in Telluride an extra couple hours, which resulted in him hiking up to Bridal Veil Falls . . . and hence our paths did cross.

The brewery is new and their beers are delicious. The whole facility is full of yet-to-be-filled cans for that Bridal Veil Rye Pale—it is currently the only beer that they do can (by hand, two at a time) and they had to make a minimum order. Behind the bar is John, the man who designed the can and a co-owner of the brewery.


“You’re the reason we met.” Dev tells him, half-joking, and we clink pints and share smiles.

It is so very curious, the ways that we end up finding each other.

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.”

“Masters of the Universe: Day Three at the Telluride Mushroom Festival.”

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.”


I’m a poet and a troublemaker, and I’ve sought and told many a fortune. Some call me a Renaissance woman, some call me crazy; I prefer the term gypsy. Roaming free through star-warmed mountains and dark-lit city streets is how I find my thorny bliss, and I 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 my skin. While honing my gypsy skills, I’ve 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. I’ve got a Bachelor of Science in Journalism from the University of Colorado at Boulder, I’m a Notary Public for the fine state of Colorado, CPR and First Aid certified, and an ordained minister of the Universal Life Church. Once, I baked a wedding cake to serve 200 people, and it was damn good. Take the metaphorical peek inside my underwear drawer at novapops.com.


Editor: ShaMecha Simms

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All photo credits: Dev

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