CA Mushrooms
CA Mushrooms

Book Review

Sam's Corner:
The Public Journal of a Mushroom Guru

By Samuel S. Ristich
Compiled and edited by Eric Von Magnus.
Bar Harbor, ME: V. F. Thomas Co., 2002. 152 pp.
ISBN 0-9664874-5-1 (soft cover).

In the northeastern United States, certain mycological personalities have been elevated to the rank of minor deity by the resident fungophiles. One meeting with Sam Ristich several years ago was enough for me to understand why he is one of those accorded mycogod status (there's even a major foray named after him). If you haven't been fortunate enough to meet Sam, here is an inexpensive way to get a glimpse of his persona without having to travel to North Yarmouth, Maine, for a consultation with the Guru of Sligo Road.

After Sam retired from his career with the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research in 1980, he moved from New York to North Yarmouth. Finding no organized mycological society in Maine, he sought out opportunities to continue his mushroom teaching through venues such as the Audubon Society. Eventually, a group of folks inspired by his classes banded together to form the Maine Mycological Association (MMA) and initiated its newsletter, Mainely Mushrooms. Since the beginning, Sam has been the group's spiritual leader.

This book is a compilation of Sam's contributions to Mainely Mushrooms from 1986 through 2000. They are presented chronologically along with occasional color photographs of Mainely Mushroomers. A short biography, a brief history of the MMA, and three indexes follow the main section. The presentation is no-frills: 8-1/2 x 11 inch pages, done with a word processor and spiral bound. The cover is graced by examples of Sam's famous sporeprint art.

The 53 entries cover 134 pages and give a good idea of what makes Sam special-his infectious enthusiasm, generous nature, and fascination with small oddities that are rarely noticed, much less appreciated. For instance:

Atherton Winter Wood Fungi Walk: Those of you who missed this fantastic walk will be regretting the loss for a decade, even if for nothing else than to hear me yell "HOLY COW" 42 times, as I found each mycological jewel. One prize was Aleurodiscus oakesii on hophornbeam (see my photo in Audubon Field Guide). It resembles a Peziza but belongs to the leather fungi-a cousin to Stereum. But the most exciting finds were the tiny orange specks on the pores of Turkey Tail. When I put my 15x hand lens on the specks, I uttered one of my Holy Cows-exclaiming "These are frozen midge larvae" -a tiny fly. I took the specimen home and wrapped it in moist paper. Two hours later, I got the surprise of my life the larvae were "resurrected"! For 3 nights prior to the discovery, night temperatures ranged from 10 to 15 degrees below zero. Amazing "antifreeze." Ain't nature sensational!'! (14)

Should you doubt the impact that Sam has on those around him consider this. One to-remain-nameless disciple brought hack from a trip to Peru not brightly colored Andean woolens, but dung from llama, rabbit lox and deer for Sam's scat-magic protects Order this hook and not only find out what fungi coaxed out of those gifts but also "what in the H—" muckaloos and how many times Sam has retired from his MMA leadership role (hint: more times than Michael Jordan's retirements from the NBA-Holy Cow!).

To order Sam's Corner: The Public Journal of a Mushroom Guru, send $20.00 plus $4.00 postage/handling (plus sales tax where applicable) to:

V. F. Thomas Co.
P.O. Box 281
Bar Harbor, Maine

Please mention the Maine Mycological Association when ordering so that the club receives a portion of the proceeds.

Review by Steve Trudell, Seattle, Washington
Originally published in The Mycophile 44:4, 2003