Mary Beth Writes


F is for Fungi!

There’s so much more going on here than we thought when we thought we knew what was going on here.

Fungi? Fungus? Fungi refers to the whole shebang of multi-cellular organisms that have a nucleus plus a single wall cell made of chitin. Fungus is the term when talking about one branch of the ginormous fungi family. There are 144,000 known species of Fungi, which includes yeasts, rusts, smuts, mildews, molds, and mushrooms.

We hiked at Scuppernong this weekend and this is, I think, a smut.

Fungi are more like animals than plants. Plants have chlorophyll so they can make their own food. Fungi, like us, have to go out and find their supper. They do this by sending strand-like parts of their body called hyphae (‘hi-fee’) directly into their food. You’ve seen this when you dig in the dirt; hyphae are those thin white strands. Fungi secrete chemicals through the hyphae to break organic material down into simpler molecules i.e., a fungi-ready juice they can absorb directly into their cells.

Chitin is an important word in fungi-world. It’s the stiff stuff that forms fungi’s cell walls. It holds in water as it gives hyphae the structure and strength needed to push into material that weighs far more than a skinny length of hyphae. Chitin is also the stuff that makes lobsters and other crustaceans hard. It’s in the exoskeleton of bugs. Chitin is what makes whiskers (!) and is similar to the keratin that makes our hair.

 Chitin is utilized in many products but this is the one that caught my attention. Chitin is very strong for a certain amount of time but then dissolves. They use it to make self-dissolving surgical thread!

 What does fungi eat? Everything! Without fungi we would be crushed under all the stuff that has ever grown and expired. Example, these whole wheat rolls we forgot to eat. (Oops) Little mold animals are doing earth a favor, trying to turn them from yuck to energy.

 Scientists know (since 2011) some fungus families can digest plastic; some even do this in oxygen-free environments such as garbage dumps. Fungi is an option to address the unfathomable mountains of plastic garbage in our environment – as soon as we prioritize the problem and fund the development of ways to implement this solution. Some fungi can clean up oil spills and toxic chemicals. Radiation-loving mushrooms were used to clean up the nuclear disaster in Fukushima Japan, after guys found fungus growing inside the ruined reactors.

The body of a fungus is made of the many threads of hyphae which are called the mycelium – which functions as both stomach and brain. The mycelium is aware of its surroundings. It responds to changes in its environment. As conditions change, mycelium produces strong antibiotic and antiviral compounds to protect itself and ensure its existence – like penicillin which is fungus protecting itself from bacteria.

And what are mushrooms, you ask? They are the “flower” of fungi. The plant is underground and growing but it sends up mushrooms to disperse spores. Some mushrooms can cure some cancers. Others can kill you in 10 seconds. Let the picker beware.


Most of us were raised in the worldview that life on earth was organized by hierarchy. There were the unimportant flotsam and jetsam of the natural world such as bugs, small boring brown animals, weeds, dead trees, unimpressive scrap trees. Certainly, fungi were not much more than dirt. Important creatures were big flashy animals – lions and tigers and bears, oh my. And of course, the most essential of all earth’s beings – humans.

We understood nature the way we understood European political structure. The powerful king, his (sic) lords and lieges, soldiers, religious males, rich mega business men. Women of childbearing age. The children of the men listed above as soon as the women are done raising them.

Next down the hierarchical chain from humans were the big animals – probably why “trophy hunting” became a thing. Important people killing important animals feeds into this toxic loop.

At the bottom of nature’s hierarchy were plants, debris, waterways, the plentiful birds and animals and bugs and bees. And then the gooey fragile boring things that live under rocks and in the soil.

 We are beginning to understand this fraught joke. Remove humans and the earth will be fine and probably better.

 Remove fungi and life on earth will collapse.

There’s so much more going on here than we thought when we thought we knew what was going on here.

 Hyphae spread over v-a-s-t areas underground. They meet other funguses. They meet roots of other plants and trees. Always hyphae are “communicating” via chemistry. Fungi knows what it needs to thrive, it grows outward and forward to find and take in those nutrients. It chemically reads the roots of the plants it meets and bypasses as it grows. It “knows” what those plants and trees are taking in and secreting and chemically shares and exchanges that information with all the roots it meets – allowing earth’s plants and trees and forests and deserts to amplify and modify growth and defenses. This fungal network enables plant roots to access 100,000 times more soil than those plants could chemically assess alone.

Remember, these zillions of teeny intersections are going on all the time everywhere. These intersections promote healthy growing, warn of toxic sites, bring nutrients to each living thing via the plants and then the animals that eat the plants.

Knowing the health of the fungal network is one of the most powerful ways of understanding the health of earth. To that end, right now there is a world-wide project to map the current state of the fungal network in many vulnerable places on earth.

Click here to read more about the world wide fungi mapping project which is far more interesting than you think. 

 There’s so much more going on here than we thought when we thought we knew what was going on here.




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Y is for Yellowstone


Back in February I asked you to give me topics to write about that would correspond to the alphabet. Sometimes several of you sent ideas for one letter and sometimes I wrote about all of them (I’s and S’s) Here we are at letter Y for which your suggestions are Yummy Food and Yawns. The word yawn absolutely makes me yawn; no way I could write about that - I would yawn for hours. I worked on Yummy Food but could only find a scolding voice about Americans eating too much sugar. Bah. True but not interesting.

So, I gave Y a go again. Y is for?

"I was Scott Simon's teller."


First of all - Thank you to those of you who came to the Wisconsin Writers Association zoom gala last night. I HAD received an email a week ago which said I would be reading my whole story. Cutting it in half while I was reading was awkward! It was still a happy event for me and the other writers. Thanks for being there! 

X is for Xeriscape


Xeriscape is pronounced ‘zeer-eh-scape’ and it means landscaping with little to no irrigated water. Readers in the west already know about this. Those of us who don’t live in arid or desert places need to wake up to the incredible resource that water is - then begin to accommodate ourselves to “water all around and beneath us all the time” is no longer our reality. Nor is it our right. We’ve got to get smarter and do better.

W is for Wonder


To whomever suggested Wonder - Thank You!  ‘Wonder’ has been bobbing in my mind like a frog in a pond.

However, I have FOUR suggestions from you guys for X - but I do not want to write four X essays. These are the suggestions:

1.) X signature substitution

2.) xylophone on a string pulled by a toddler

3.) xenophobia

4.) Xmas. 

If you have an opinion respond with the one you would like me to attempt. I will choose whichever X gets the most comments.

There will be no gerrymandering in this election.



Grownups Noticing Their Lives


Most of you know about my former weird and lovely job of coordinating an employability skills program for Huber-qualified inmates in the Racine County Jail (that’s a mouthful). Early on I realized that most of the people I would work with were people with 1.) huge addiction problems, and 2.) underlying and over-the-top and to-the-side just lying around mental health issues.

V is for Vocabulary


For those who are new here - This year I am writing about topics, in alphabetical order, that were suggested to me by readers. Sometimes this is hard! 


My cousin-in-law Dave has some powerfully thorough avocations (for fun and profit he earned a PhD in biochemistry; you will notice this in his list). This year, among other pursuits, he has been collecting words which have appeared in our culture since 1945, which was the year he also appeared in our culture.

Tag Cloud

9/11 17 minutes 500 Words A-Z AARPtaxes AAUW abortion Acadia accident Accountable Advent aging Alaska anniversary antibiotics antlers apples appointments Arrows art Ashland August Augustine aunts baby Badlands balance Baldwin Barbara Barkskins Beauty Becky Becoming Esther Berry birthday bistro BLM Blue BookReport books boy scout Bread BrokenDays BuyAngry Cabeza de Vaca Cahokia calendars Canada canoe cat romance cats cello Chicago China Choosing Christmas cilantro Cinnabuns circus climate change clouds Clowns clutter Colonialism comet ComfortZone CommonSense community consumerism Cops Corvid-19 Courage Covid-19 Crazy creditreport creosote CrimeShows danger DarkRiver death Debate December DecisionFatigue decluttering democracy dentist depression Destination Today Detroit Didion disasterprep dogs dollhouse Dreams Duty Easter eBay Echoes Eclipse election EmilyDickinson eschatology Esquipulas exit polls eyes Fable FairTrade family farmer Fata Morgana ferns firealarm Fitness Five Flatbread Flexible flu Food Pantry Fort de Chartres frame Franc FrancGarcia friends frugal FrugalHacks Frugality frustration Ft.Ticonderoga fungi fusion Galena Gannets Garden GarfieldParkConservatory Gaspe genius geode GeorgeFloyd gerrymandering ghosts gifts girls GNTL gorgons goulash GovernorThompsonStatePark Graduation grandkids granola groceries Guatemala gum guns Hair happiness HaveYouEver? hawks healthcare Healthinsurance hearings heart heaven HelleKBerry heroes hike History home HomeRepair Honduras Hope HowCrowGotOutofJail humor hurricane Ice Cream idiosyncrasy igloos impeachment Innkeeper Instincts integrity InternetPrivacy Interview InviteMe2Speak James Baldwin Jan 6 Janus jewelry JoyceAndrews Judy JulianofNorwich Jump justice Karen kites ladder Lady Lamb LangstonHuges LaphamPeak laundry LeeLeeMcKnight lemming Len Light Lincoln Little Women LockedOut Loki loneliness LouisArmstrong Love Ludington Macaw macho Manitoulin MargaretFuller Maria Hamilton Marquette marriage Marsden Hartley masks Mayan MayaWorks meme Memories men Middlemarch MilesWallyDiego MindfulChickens Mistakes MLK moon Mother MothersDay mounds mouser movies museums must-haves Mustapha NAMI Nancy Drew Newfoundland New Mexico New York City Nomadland nope observation OBUUC Ocotillo OnaJudge ordinary OscarRomero osprey Outside oximeter Parade mayhem PastorBettyRendon Paul Hessert PDQ Penny persimmon photos Pi Pies pineapples poetry Preaching privacy procrastination Protest QE2 Quern quest Questions Rabbit holes racism reading recipe recipes recommendations Remember RepresentationMatters Reruns responsetoKapenga Retirement rhubarb Ricky rime RitesofPassage romance Rosemary Ruether Roses Roti Ruth SamaritanWoman Sanctuary Sandhillcranes Santuario de Chimayo SaraKurtz SaraRodriguez satellites ScottSimon sculpture Seasons Sermon ServantsoftheQuest sewing Shepherd Shontay ShortStory shoulder sick sickness Slower snow Social Security SofritoBandito solstice South Dakota SpaceShuttle spirituality spring square feet staining stars stele Stereotypes stories StoryStarts stream monitoring stress Survival swim Talent taxes teenager thankgsgiving Thanksgiving TheBridge TheMaid ThePerpetualYou therapy ThreeBillBoards Three Thing ThreeThings Three Things TidalBore TimeBeing toddler Tom tortillas Trains travel Traveler Tubing turtle Twilight Bark Tyrone Ukraine Ulysses Grant Umbrella UnrelatedObservations Up North urgency vacation vaccine Valentines vanilla Vietnam vision VivianWokeUpDrowning Vocabulary vole volunteer WalkingAndSeeing Wampanaog war WarsanShire weather weaving Webs wedding whines WhyAttendChurch Wiley Willa WillaCather Wisteria Won! Wonder words Xeriscape Yellowstone
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