The upper falls, they say, is the third largest vertical waterfall east of the Mississippi at over 200 feet across with a 48-foot drop. The river falls at more than 50,000 gallons per second and looks like honey tumbled.
“Look,” my husband says. “There’s why.” He points to pennies glowing gold where visitors have wished on water.
Because in truth, tannic acid from decaying evergreens (hemlock, cedar, and spruce) that line the banks lends its amber color to the water.
Can it be that sometimes richness comes from rotting?
Autumn casts a golden hue over the whole scene. Taquemenon Falls in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula must be one of the most beautiful places on earth.
We climb back up the 94 steps from the brink and turn right down the leaf-carpeted path that leads to the lower falls. I wish I could bottle this moist north-woods fragrance. I scoop a handful of vegetation from the ground and breathe deep. I’m heady with the aroma. I stroke pine needles, sniff them, and I’m overwhelmed with wonder at creation’s holy hand.
We round a bend, and on the other side of the log fence sits an older man on the ground, one leg straight out, the other bent up. He’s dressed in loose faded khakis and a pale-blue, well-worn, button-down shirt. He leans over and with a jack-knife slices a mushroom from the bark of a tree. He turns it over and cuts stem from cap, looking for worms. This one has some, so he tosses it aside. He repeats the process, and finding no worms, he frisbees it into the basket at his feet.
They’re called honey mushrooms, he tells us, and they’re edible.
Mushrooms all look alike to me. I’m not even sure I’d trust myself to recognize a morel any more, even though we used to pick them every spring when I was a kid. My dad would fry them up in butter, and I remember nibbling them while sitting on the floor watching Ed Sullivan in black and white.
But this man, he’s a bit of an expert. Honey mushrooms “bloom” in the fall, he says. They’re kind of like fungus flowers. If you pick the bloom, you don’t destroy the body. It lives a deeper life unseen, below the surface.
Later I look them up to discover that mushrooms are really only a fragment of the whole. The main part is called the mycelium and can spread for miles, making it one of the world’s largest—and oldest—organisms.
The honey mushroom’s also been called the “humongous fungus” and is celebrated at its own festival in Crystal Falls, Michigan, in honor of the one that lives and covers some 38 acres under the town. They’ve named it “Debbie” and think “she” may be over 1500 years old.
Some of these mushrooms today remind me of little frosted cookies, and the basket looks like someone spilled powdered sugar in the bottom. These are spores, a typical one of which is only 1/3000 of an inch long, and every single mushroom sheds about 15 billion of them, so one author writes. The mycelium (the vegetative part) can even glow in the dark, maybe to attract insects that will help spread the organism.
Once again, I’m awestruck at creation’s intricacies. How can any of this be random?
The man says he enjoys teaching folks. We thank him and move on. Maple and aspen branches bow to the breeze and let loose their leaves in fall spirals. I think how much beauty—and life—there is in death and decay.
And in the morning I dribble honey golden on a toasted English muffin. I savor its sweetness, stare at the jar, and ponder the work of its contents’ makers.