Mushrooming at the Botanics

Yesterday was one of those "pinch me, this is my life?" moments that have come fast and furious this autumn.

The morning was spent in a fascinating lecture elucidating heathland ecology and management, which to a person from a land lacking in heath is especially interesting. The idea that the mysteries of a particular land can be unlocked by knowing their native plant species is intoxicating. I heard my name so often, as in Erica cinerea, Erica tetralix, etc., that I had mental whiplash.

After lunch a lovely veteran mycologist and researcher took the class mushrooming in the Botanics. As a class we picked more than a dozen, maybe two dozen, different species and passed them around, smelling and feeling in what I can only describe as communal sensory wonder. Our lecturer's joy in identifying each was infectious--we were all held in thrall as his eyes lit up with excitement and recognition at our finds. It's a look I've come to know as inherent to the many botanists and plantspeople I've befriended over the past year. It's a look that clearly says they are living a vocation and not just a job. And it's what drives me to join them in spending the rest of my life dedicated to a subject that I find so limitless and fascinating that I don't want to do anything else.

A good friend made a comment to me last summer when I told him I'd come home from working since 7:30 a.m. in the Botanics glasshouses only to spend even more hours joyfully tending my own garden. He said something along the lines of how lucky you are to have a job you want to do even when you leave it. This comment really struck me because although I have enjoyed most all of the jobs I've had, this is the first that I want to do all. the. time. And because a job is so much of a life, I have always wanted to find one that fits this bill. At certain points I wanted to give up, discouraged by people who tried to convince me to settle for mediocre employment and to just be happy for a paycheck, saying that "a job is just a job." I couldn't accept this, but for years I felt I was chasing an impossible dream.

Now I know I am not.